What makes a good leader? Or a bad one, for that matter? That’s a long-standing debate that reaches back into history.* Of late I’ve been reading about and pondering the characteristics of leadership.
Some people are promoted, elected or appointed to positions of authority. This makes them leaders by definition or responsibility, but not always by capability, style or attitude. Simply being in a position of authority or having a title doesn’t necessarily mean these people have leadership qualities.
We’ve all had the experience of people who were promoted or appointed beyond their ability; people who became martinets, bullies or who lost control of the group they’re supposed to lead, either by incompetence or inability.
The Peter Principle states that “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” This can been seen in politics, too. We’ve watched many MPs, MPPs and councillors promoted to the ranks of the government, taking on important roles only to show themselves as incapable of handling the task. Not everyone is suited for the role of leader. Some people are simply best as followers, as supporters, minions, backbenchers or even as the opposition.
Leadership implies teams and followers, not just an office or title. No matter how lofty the title is, without followers a leader is just a lone person out for a walk.
According to the US Army Handbook (1973) there are three styles of leadership: Authoritarian or autocratic; Participative or democratic; Delegative or Free Reign (see the illustration on the right for a graphic description).
This may seem a mite simplistic. Other sites list more styles, often many more. For example, the site Mind Tools offers ten distinct styles:
- Autocratic leadership.
- Bureaucratic leadership.
- Charismatic leadership.
- Democratic leadership/participative leadership.
- Laissez-faire leadership.
- People-oriented leadership/relations-oriented leadership.
- Servant leadership.
- Task-oriented leadership.
- Transactional leadership.
- Transformational leadership.
Now while it is seldom a leader single-mindedly practices just one of these styles, and usually displays a mix of different styles that surface at different times, most leaders bend towards a particular style. Or a combination – an autocratic, bureaucratic leader, for example. There are clearly positive and negative management styles. Post-hoc and micromanagement are two examples of bad styles, for example.