How SHOULD a Leader Behave?
Leadership is not domination, but the art of persuading people to work toward a common goal.”
― Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence
In 1977, when I was a graduate student at The University of Georgia, Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States. I have vivid memories of the celebrations on campus and the pride we felt over this Georgia peanut farmer who could not have been more different than the disgraced Richard Nixon. Of course, history would eventually conclude that Mr. Carter’s presidency was somewhat disappointing. But his long life after leaving his 1-term Presidency has shown his exemplary leadership over and over. I admire this simple man for many reasons but in this age of Trump, President Carter’s sense of morality, social justice, and integrity stand out in contrast to the man currently in the White House. Yet, Mr. Carter’s Presidency is consistently ranked low on the list of “most effective Presidencies.” What is the best leadership style? What is leadership anyway?
At my last Great Books Discussion Group meeting, we discussed “The Melian Dialogue,” a selection from the History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides. (From “Standing Down”, The Great Books Foundation, 2013) Essentially the selection describes a meeting between the more powerful Athenians and the residents of Melos, a small island off the coast of Greece. The Melian’s dilemma was to either accept subjugation or engage in a military conflict likely to lead to annihilation. The dialogue presents such age-old questions as to whether might is right and whether it is better to compromise our principles in a hopeless situation than to risk destruction. (Standing Down, The Melian Dialogue, p. 36) Sound familiar during the current debate over the government shut down? How a leader behaves is important.
After I returned home from the discussion group, I refreshed myself on Daniel Goleman’s “Six Leadership Types.” There are scores of theories about effective leadership but I like Goleman’s typology because of its emphasis on emotional intelligence in leadership.
The Six Leadership Styles
- Commanding: The leader demands immediate compliance. The style works best in a crisis or with problem employees.
- Visionary: The leader mobilizes people toward a vision. The style works best when changes require a new vision or when a clear direction is needed.
- Affiliative: the leader creates harmony and builds emotional bonds. The style works best to heal rifts in a team or to motivate people during stressful circumstances.
- Democratic: The leader forges consensus through participation. The style works best to build buy-in or consensus, or to get input from valuable employees.
- Pacesetting: The leader sets high standards for performance. The style works best to get quick results from a highly motivated and competent team.
- Coaching: The leader develops people for the future. The style works best to help an employee improve performance or develop long-term strengths.
According to Goleman, a skillful leader will switch between the various styles depending on the situation. So let’s look at President Trump’s predominant leadership style below:
A leader using the commanding style:
- Gives lots of directives by telling people what to do.
- Rarely seeks any input from the individual.
- Controls tightly through constant monitoring.
- Relies on negative, corrective feedback to emphasize what is wrong and achieve compliance.
- Motivates others by emphasizing the consequences of getting it wrong.
- Can be closed to other styles of working; and may ridicule them as “soft”.
Now, let’s look at the leadership style used predominately by President Carter.
A leader using the affiliative style:
- Places more emphasis on the individuals than the task in hand.
- Cares for the whole person.
- Shares his or her emotional challenges with the team members in an appropriate manner.
- Rewards personal characteristics and behaviors (the hows) as much as the delivery of the task.
While this discussion barely scratches the surface of leadership and how these two Presidents should behave, it does give food for thought. I wish we could discuss these issues without our emotions preventing us from respecting different viewpoints. What do you think? What other styles of leadership could President Trump employ and when? Likewise, what other styles might have helped President Carter to be more effective and when?