What’s new in leadership

Newsletter: 10th June 2016

SubscribeAmong the various articles I’ve enjoyed this week was one entitled The Pros and Cons Of New Unconventional Leadership Styles.  It suggests that as company culture changes, some managers are experimenting with unusual leadership styles.  In particular it talks about the pros and cons of three styles:

  • Servant leadership
  • The emotionally transparent leader
  • The leader as friend

Robert K. Greenleaf first coined the phrase “servant leadership” in 1970, although it’s an approach that people have used for centuries (for some reason the biblical story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet springs to mind, although perhaps a literal interpretation of this would sit very uncomfortably with most managers).  According to the Greenleaf’s Center for Servant Leadership “the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible”.

Traditional workplace wisdom suggests we leave our emotions at the door.  Of course this is actually impossible, so we learn to suppress or disguise them instead.  Another great article, Good Leaders Get Emotional, highlights the power of expressing emotions clearly but appropriately.

Being a friend to your team members is something that many new managers are warned against.  It can for instance cause problems when tough decisions need to be made and boundaries get blurred (particularly when friendship is extended to some but not all of the team).  In a conscious attempt to avoid this, managers sometimes create a barrier instead and buy into the rather dangerous mantra that “I’m not here to be liked”.  In true friendship however, there’s a trust that makes even extreme differences of opinion possible; likewise, in workplace relationships, trust accommodates the fact that different roles have different responsibilities and that the leader may sometimes need to make unpopular decisions.

I may be over-simplifying things by saying these styles reflect a leadership that displays humility, authenticity and trustworthiness.  And while these particular traits may be very much in tune with modern society, they don’t feel exceptionally new or unconventional (they wouldn’t for example look entirely out of place in assessments of Abraham Lincoln’s character).

So my challenge to myself and to you is the question “what if anything is truly new and unconventional in leadership?”.  Do please let me have your thoughts on this.

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