Here are some thoughts about leadership derived from my work with fellow professors and researchers Alan Rowe and Warren Bennis. You can find more about the LSI and leadership types here and in The Secret Handshake where you’ll also find the inventory.
When we define leadership in static ways with little or no regard to the context in which it’s operating, we often follow the wrong people or the right people doing the wrong thing.
THE THIN LINE BETWEEN DECISIVE AND IMPULSIVE LEADERSHIP
The Leadership Style Inventory (LSI) developed by Rowe, Reardon, and Bennis (1995) identifies four basic styles: commanding, logical, inspirational, and supportive. One of its major strengths is recognition of the complexity behind leader behavior. Contrary to the common view that the best leaders are decisive, when the going gets tough a combination of styles may prove best. The LSI assesses four styles suited to different types of problems.
The commanding style, most closely aligned with decisiveness, focuses on performance and has a short-term goal orientation. Commanders are results oriented. They can be very effective when goal achievement is the primary focus. They learn better by their own successes and failures than by input from others.
The logical style pertains to leaders who insist on assessing alternatives. They look to long-term goals, use analysis and questioning, and learn by reasoning things through. They are particularly effective when the goal is strategy development.
The inspirational style is characteristic of those who are able to develop meaningful visions of the future by focusing on radically new ideas; they learn by experimentation. They show a high level of concern for assuring cohesiveness of members of the organization and encouraging others to follow the vision. They are inquisitive, curious, and satisfied by finding novel solutions.
Those leaders who are more concerned with consensus score high in the supportive dimension. They emphasize openness and operate more as facilitators than directors. They learn by observing outcomes and how others react to their decisions.
Most leaders do not possess a single style, but a combination. These combinations indicate which styles leaders are predisposed to use.
American business executives tend to score high on the commanding style and low on supportive. Research using the LSI provided the following means for American executives: commanding, 86; logical, 80; inspirational, 81; supportive, 53. The means provide an indication of style predispositions. Such style patterns, however, are not necessarily static. It is possible, even preferable, for leaders to develop the capacity to adapt their styles to the demands of situations, especially when their organizations are undergoing disruption or radical change.
So, what does this mean for any leader? It means that he or she needs to be careful not to be a one-trick pony when it comes to leadership. Political leadership is not the same as business or military leadership. And none of them are all about appearing decisive.
Leadership is responsive to the situation at hand. Commanding leaders are often inclined to act quickly and if there is a fire in the building, that kind of leadership is desirable. But when there are long-term relationships to consider as well as maintenance of change, the commander often falls short.