Sunday, January 16, 2011

Are You A Flexible Leader?

Daniel Goleman, in an article in the Harvard Business Review, “suggests that the most effective executives use a collection of distinct leadership styles each in the right measure, at just the right time. Such flexibility is tough to put into action, but it pays off in performance” (p.78). In fact Young and Dulewicz, support this view highlighting previous studies, covering the 50 years from 1958 to 2008, by a variety of authors, (Tannenbaum and Schmidt; Fiedler; House; Reddin; Hersey and Blanchard; Senge; Jaworski; Higgs and Rowland; and Dulewicz and Higgs), which all show that effective leadership will vary with circumstance; and where recent authors have moved on from focusing on the leader/follower variables to examining the efficacy of different leadership behaviours in different contexts of change, (p.384).

Goleman highlights how effective leadership eludes many people and organisations. One reason he gives is that there is very little quantitative research to demonstrate which precise leadership behaviours yield positive and lasting results. Then you have leadership experts offering advice based on inference, experience, and instinct. Sometimes that advice is right on target; sometimes it's not. And finally you have the leaders themselves, who often are not aware of the most up-to-date leadership results and techniques that could help them become more effective in their role, be it at the strategic leadership or the team leader level.

One key area that does play a role in effective leadership is Emotional Intelligence (EI), where as Goleman explains “EI is the ability to manage ourselves and our relationships effectively; and consists of four fundamental capabilities: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skills. Each capability, in turn, is composed of specific sets of competencies”, (p.80).

1) Where Self-Awareness, includes:
a) Emotional self-awareness,
b) Accurate self-assessment,
c) Self-confidence.

2) Where Self-Management, includes:
a) Self-control,
b) Trustworthiness,
c) Conscientiousness,
d) Adaptability,
e) Achievement orientation,
f) Initiative.

3) Where Social Awareness, includes:
a) Empathy,
b) Organisational awareness,
c) Service orientation, and

4) Where Social Skills, includes:
a) Vision,
b) Influence,
c) Coaching and mentoring,
d) Communication,
e) Innovation,
f) Conflict management,
g) Relationship building,
h) Teamwork and collaboration

When it comes to leadership styles however, although most agree there is a need to flex the style to the circumstances, part of the confusion comes from each ‘author’ creating their own ‘names’ for different approaches to leadership, rather than trying to find some conformity. A common language of leadership would make it easier for both incumbent and potential leaders to understand and effectively utilise the different leadership styles.

For example Goleman highlights six different styles of leadership, (p.80).

1) Coercive leaders, demand immediate compliance,
2) Authoritative leaders mobilize people toward a vision,
3) Affiliative leaders create emotional bonds and harmony,
4) Democratic leaders build consensus through participation,
5) Pacesetting leaders expect excellence and self-direction, and
6) Coaching leaders develop people for the future.

Where as Young and Dulewicz highlight only three;

1) Goal-orientated: Where the leader sets the direction and plays a significant role in directing others (though this does not imply an authoritarian approach, but a leader-centric approach).

2) Involving: Where the leader provides a strong sense of direction, but with more focus on involving others. Not only in setting the direction, but also in deciding how the goals and objectives will be achieved.

3) Engaging: Where the leader is focused on facilitating others in, firstly, deciding the future goals and direction, and secondly, the approach to be used for achieving these desired goals.

And it doesn’t end there as there are a multitude of other suggested approaches including the ‘Full Range Model of Leadership’, where the late Bernard Bass (founding editor of the leadership quarterly journal) back in 1990, attributed four behavioural characteristics to a transformational leader: (1) charisma; (2) inspirational motivation; (3) intellectual stimulation and (4) individualised consideration. It was only later, in 2003, when John Antonakis, Bruce Avolio and Nagaraj Sivasubramaniam replaced the characteristic of charisma with, what they termed, ‘idealised influence’.

What is clear is that the global business environment is continually changing, and a leader must be able to respond appropriately. Leaders first need to learn, internalise and understand the different approaches to leadership; not from an academic, put a practical perspective. Then they can intuitively adapt to the changing environment, in the process becoming effective flexible leaders. This in turn will lead to sustainable organisational growth and the attraction and retention of the best talent. The payoff will then be in the sustainable results.


Goleman, D. (2000). Leadership That Gets Results. Harvard Business Review; Vol. 78, Issue 2, p78-90.

Young, M. and Dulewicz, V. (2006). Leadership styles, change context and leader performance in the Royal Navy. Journal of Change Management, Vol. 6, No. 4, p.383-396.

Yung-Shui Wang and Tung-Chun Huang. (2009). The Relationship of Transformational Leadership with Group Cohesiveness and Emotional Intelligence.
Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal; Vol. 37, Issue 3, p.379-392.

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