Leadership is Like a Good Suit

(Or The Fallacy of Leadership Style)

Tux + foam fingerThere are a lot of articles and posts written on the subject of leadership style.  Most of it is based on a faulty premise: you are your leadership style and your leadership style is you.

In other words, people are led to believe that they are defined by their leadership style and they should hone that style into a sharp cutting tool.  However, a sharp tool is not always the best for every job.

“One Style to Rule Them All”

We need to flip the narrative.  Your leadership style does not define you.  Instead, circumstances define your leadership style.  The most important condition that will drive your style is time.

Leadership style exists on a spectrum from democratic to base coercion.  The democratic style can be effective if there is time for discussion.  Democratic decisions can create a sense of involvement and inclusion for the group that contributes to cohesion.  A coercive leadership style is sometimes necessary when time is critical.  The less time there is available, the greater the urgency.  With more urgency, there is little chance to communicate with others or explain, immediate action is required.

Coercion does not mean bad leadership within certain conditions.  It should be the exception, not the norm.  Coercive leadership will be accepted in crisis.  An authoritarian style can be effective, during emergencies, in a healthy organizational culture.  The group will trust that leaders are acting to resolve the crisis and are doing it for the benefit of the group.  Also, once the crisis has passed, then time can be used to review and explain to everyone the circumstances and why decisions were made.

One way of making coercive leadership acceptable is by practicing emergency procedures.  Fire drills, a media crisis, medical emergencies, or leadership succession plans are all examples.  Communicate long before the potential crisis, communicate to review afterward.

You make style choices all the time appropriate to occasions: formal wear for galas, business attire for meetings, casual fashion for a first date, large foam hands for sporting events.  For each occasion, the selection fits.

It is this point that makes me think that leadership self-assessments are the wrong measurements.  Having a leadership style will not predict success.  Using the correct leadership style will minimize failure.

Choose the leadership style that best fits the occasion.


Kenneth Wrede

























About Ken Wrede
Kenneth Wrede


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