I’ve been reading a number of articles and posts recently about the different leadership styles. Most of the articles split the styles into those that are good and those that are bad. I vehemently disagree! I don’t believe that there are any “bad” leadership styles.
But before we dig into that, you may be wondering (if you haven’t been reading the same articles I have!) what the different styles are. There are a few of them, and most of them have different names depending on who you’re talking to.
Here is the list of leadership styles I use (in no particular order):
- Inspirational: sets a compelling vision and consistently inspires their team to reach that vision.
- Coach: leverages their team’s strengths and motivations to both achieve the team’s goal and to help the team members improve personally and professionally.
- Authoritarian: very top-down, directive and decisive. Little or no collaboration or discussion of decisions.
- Servant Leader: has a very “people-first” approach. Great at setting an example, and makes a point of removing obstacles to allow team members to work effectively.
- Laissez-Faire: also called the “hands-off” style. Strong on team autonomy; very little mentoring or supervision.
- Bureaucratic: very rules-based. This style works on the premise that there is one right way to get something done. It rests on a strong hierarchical structure.
- Collaborative: decisions are reached through group discussion and full team input.
As I’m sure you can guess, the Authoritarian and the Bureaucratic styles, and to some extent the Laissez-Faire style, are the ones put into the “bad” bucket. The Coach, Collaborative, Inspirational and Servant Leadership styles are in the “good” bucket.
These articles I’ve been reading have asked the reader to determine their leadership style and, if it’s one of the bad ones, they encouraged the reader to change it.
There is a major problem with this.
It assumes that all volunteers and all situations are the same. Or at least, close enough that one or two styles will cover everything effectively. That’s just not the case! All leaders need to be comfortable using all the different styles, depending on the situation.
And they need to know when to use each one.
The Authoritarian style, for example, would be detrimental to use with highly-functioning volunteers during their regular shifts. That kind of leadership, in that situation, would irritate the volunteers and drive them away. It’s the perfect style, however, in an emergency. When the building is on fire, or if someone is suffering from a heart-attack, a leader who can make snap decisions and give specific, decisive orders will be far more effective than, say, a leader with a Coach or a Collaborative style, who just wouldn’t be able to make decisions fast enough. I’ve seen leaders freeze during times of crisis because they didn’t know how to be directive!
The Bureaucratic style? Great for when health or legal protocols are involved. When serious consequences can occur if specific steps aren’t followed, or if Ts aren’t crossed, the Bureaucratic style is the one to use.
The Coaching style is great for newer volunteers, the Laissez-Faire for experienced ones. The Inspirational style is wonderful for times of change and transformation. The Collaborative one for medium and long-range planning.
There are many different situations and people that a leader of volunteers needs to deal with. Having only one or two different leadership styles that you can use means that you will only be effective in certain situations or with certain volunteers.
There are no bad leadership styles!
Only poor choices of which particular style to use at any given time. Honestly, I think that some styles were put in the “bad” bucket simply because they were the only ones that a leader ever used. The best leaders use all leadership styles, at the appropriate times and with the appropriate volunteers.
Okay. Rant over!