While there are many styles of leadership, ranging from team-oriented to dictatorial, sometimes the best approach is to be flexible.
“I don’t think there is any one best leadership style,” explains Don St. Clair, vice president for enrollment management and marketing and adjunct faculty member of organizational leadership at Woodbury University. “The smart leader surveys the situation, surveys the organization and then chooses the style that is most effective for that moment.”
Smart Business spoke with St. Clair about what makes a good leader, how a person can improve his or her leadership skills and how an organization should groom leaders for the future.
What are some of the characteristics of an effective leader?
Effective leaders need to be able to communicate well and need to have a clear vision of what they want their organization to do. Also, they need to have good organizational skills, they must be very courageous, and they have to be highly ethical.
What type of leadership style tends to be the most effective?
One camp says that there is a best style, which is a team or coaching leadership type of approach. This involves a high regard for the person being led and there’s a focus on task orientation. The other camp favors situational leadership. I favor the approach which says there is not one best style that is effective. The style of leadership that’s most effective is dependent upon the person you’re leading, the organization you’re leading or the circumstances in which you’re leading.
How can a person enhance their leadership skills?
This is another area where there has been a great deal of study over the past 50 years. One camp thinks leaders are born. We’ve all heard of born leaders and may think of people like John F. Kennedy, Mother Teresa, or Michael Jordan. There’s another group, however, that thinks leadership can be learned. I think there is a middle-ground that you can take here. There are certain characteristics that we’re drawn to such as people who have a vision, have the ability to communicate their vision clearly, are honest, and have a good ethical compass. Some people are born to some extent with those characteristics. However, these characteristics are also ones that can be learned to a great extent.
How important is it for a leader to lead by example?
There’s simply no substitute for alignment of words and actions. We’re in a day and age, where more than any other time in human history, what we do is on public display. I remember as a child sometimes people would say to me, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ I knew even as a child that was a losing proposition. You have to demonstrate leadership. No matter what you say, what you do speaks much louder.
What advice would you give about tailoring one’s leadership style to accommodate individual differences within an organization?
This is really hard to do and it requires a great deal of commitment and work. One of the reasons it’s so hard to do is all of us have a preferred style of leadership that is second nature to us. We may be very directive or even dictatorial. We may be very easygoing or team oriented. It’s important to recognize when a style works and when it doesn’t. Go back and do an inventory on when your preferred style hasn’t served you very well. You have to be perceptive enough to recognize what your preferred style is, when it hasn’t worked well, and then be flexible enough to adapt that style when necessary.
How can an organization most effectively groom future leaders?
It’s important to look at people who are good at what they do; they could be proficient in sales, marketing, customer service, strategic planning or any function of your business. Then it’s important to develop their leadership skills which can be accomplished two ways. I’m a big fan of mentoring. The best way to teach future leaders is one-on-one. Also, you can have people engage in formal education through degree programs in leadership and seminars on leadership. A combination of structured education in leadership and management skills, along with mentoring, is the best formula.
DON ST. CLAIR is vice president for enrollment management and marketing and adjunct faculty member of organizational leadership at Woodbury University. Reach him at email@example.com.