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Opportunities and Obstacles of 3 Executive Styles

In the course of every career, most healthcare professionals have found themselves on both sides of the leadership equation. The experience of having a good boss or a bad boss is universal across all professions. (In moments of absolute honesty, most will admit to being less than stellar employees as well.) In leadership roles, what constitutes good vs. bad, professional vs. unprofessional, motivating vs. stifling can be subjective, situationally specific and very personal. Most professionals have developed an awareness of their own personal leadership style as well as the style that they thrive best under. No one style is best for every possible need or situation, but author Erik Titner says, “great leaders know when to moderate effectively to ensure that they are providing steady, reliable and appropriate leadership whenever it’s called for.”

In the 1930’s, psychologist Kurt Levin modeled 3 distinct executive leadership behaviors in terms of decision making and guidance.

  • Authoritative or Autocratic: This type directs and controls the process and decisions without meaningful participation by any members of a team.
  • Participative or Democratic: These leaders encourage team members to participate in all aspects of the process but retain the final decision-making authority.
  • Laissez-Faire or Delegative: This style offers little to no guidance to team members. Subordinates are given the ultimate power in governing how they want to achieve the vision or tasks before them.

These styles are further broken down by either being task or people oriented. Task focus behavior styles believe that people’s behaviors change with the role they are assigned, therefore different roles within a team or situation can bring about different reactions. People based behavior styles consider the different levels of concern that managers exhibit towards their team members and their impact on performance and outcomes. Both behavior theories recognize that managers can learn and improve their management style.

A modern twist on the 1930’s definitions are the Ghost, the Dictator and the Best Friend:

The Ghost

This type of leader will meet you at the door, show you your new office and disappear. This is a bit over the top, but it illustrates the essential feeling. The opportunity with this off hands style is for professionals who have reached that point in their career where experience and expertise are a given. Professionals who possess the individual initiative needed to work with little to no supervision will flourish in this environment. Unfortunately, obstacles occur for those who cannot survive being thrown into the deep end without a life preserver. Often, especially early in one’s career, a mentor or firm manager can make all the difference for a professional to gain the skill set and confidence needed for long-term success.

The Dictator

This executive is characterized by being decisive, precise, controlling and domineering. There is a clear line between leader and follower. The opportunities these executives offer are clear, with precise direction on who, how and what needs to be accomplished to meet his/her or the company’s goals. This approach has no gray areas, is results oriented and accomplishes a great deal. A subordinate will learn from a top producer.  The obstacles are numerous. These leaders are aggressive, overpowering and discourage innovation and participation. Because they operate from fear, loyalty is rare and turn-over can be high. If things go south, a dictator will not hesitate to throw staff under the bus.

The Best Friend

This manager wants everyone to get along. Decision making is a collective effort. They encourage and value input and are fun to work for. These professionals are very self- aware and sociable so group activities in and outside the work environment are common. The results of this style include high staff morale and team spirit. These leaders offer a solid foundation for a happy work environment and adapt well with different personality types and scenarios. This power-sharing model means that decisions are a collective effort. The obstacles occur when too much preference is given to staff vs. business needs. They often lack authority and respect because the line is blurred between friend and leader.  They can be perceived as indecisive and apologetic. Decisions and results can be slow in coming.

Leadership styles are the traits and characteristics used when managing and motivating a team by directing, guiding and inspiring others. Successful executives know what type of leadership style is most comfortable for themselves and most effective for the teams they are leading. No matter which side of the leadership coin a professional find themselves on in any given situation, developing an awareness and working understanding of the various management styles will assist in the development of insights useful throughout one’s career.

Additional information available from author Rose Leadem in her blog post about the 8 most common leadership styles.

The Challenge of Leadership is to:

  • Be strong, but not rude;
  • Be kind, but not weak;
  • Be bold, but not bully;
  • Be thoughtful, but not lazy;
  • Be humble, but not timid;
  • Be proud, but not arrogant;
  • Have humor, but without folly.

Jim Rohn, author and motivational speaker

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