One day, a budget was put forward to a board for approval by the CEO. The sales forecast was discussed and the board asked for the Sales and Marketing Manager to give a presentation on how it was developed and to discuss the assumptions he used.
During the discussion, the manager was unable to answer the board’s questions and in the end he admitted that he had had no hand in developing the forecast. The CEO was embarrassed and angry with his manager. Wow, awkward.
I believe that no one leadership style fits every situation.
Different styles are often categorized in many ways but ultimately they are variations of just two: the Autocratic and Participative styles.
The Autocratic Style of Leadership
In my experience, the Autocratic style works best in situations where there is little time for consultation and the leader is of unusual ability.
The greater the ability of autocratic leaders, the more inclined those leaders are to rely on their own judgement.
The downsides are numerous: often those leaders over-estimate their own abilities; or they often do not nurture new leadership underneath them and so when they move on, they leave a significant succession problem for those who are left behind.
Autocrats can and often are, successful
An unusually charismatic autocratic leader can be exceptional in their ability to make an organisation perform. They may be able to achieve it for several years, even decades.
Nonetheless they create significant risks for their organisations. They can’t avoid the succession problem. No one can avoid the risk of departing for a bigger better appointment or even death.
Nor can they avoid the leadership vacuum they create underneath them. Anyone of ability will not stand for being repressed for too long. Their spirit is either snuffed out or they leave.
The Participative Style of Leadership
A participative style of leadership is difficult to achieve. It requires individuals of not just unusual ability but also unusual maturity.
Participative leaders need to have unusual maturity because they are comfortable with the idea that not all good ideas must come from them.
They are willing to hire staff that have greater ability than them, yet they are directive and forthright enough to sense when discussion has run its course and its time to synthesise a plan.
The participative style recognizes a long game
Yet the participative style recognizes that there is a long game. A long game that involves nurturing staff to become leaders of their respective areas of responsibility. The style involves giving team members the confidence to exercise initiative, express their opinions and to become leaders that nurture another layer of leadership under them.
The long game is often overlooked because so many people subscribe to the view that broad experience is what must be sought, so up and coming executives are unwisely advised to move on every 2-3 years.
Such thinking promotes short term thinking. It creates acute pressure to get quick results, so that another proverbial notch can be quickly added to one’s belt, strengthening a CV or resume for the next job application.
Participation creates engagement
The participative style of leadership encourages engagement, rewards creating a safe environment where team members can not only perform but thrive. It isn’t for everyone. It takes time to learn how to nurture rather than just pull rank.
It takes time to learn how to give people confidence that their opinions matter and will be respected, even if those opinions are mistaken.
It takes patience to tolerate mistakes while yet being committed to effective performance management. It takes time to learn to be patient and to really listen.
Participation and indecision
Sometimes detractors of the participative style mistake consultation with indecision and weakness. Some team members can’t handle being given the opportunity to speak because they are too used to being told what to do.
Being given the opportunity to offer their opinions makes them feel pressured, they may even think the opportunity to speak is a trap to embarrass them in case they don’t come up with the “right answer.”
Attempting a participative style of leadership will therefore require some perseverence and specific actions to nurture confidence amongst such team members.
The Participative Style is not Democracy
Don’t mistake the participative style with democracy. You could try it that way, but business shouldn’t be politics. Decisions should be based on the merits of each business case.
Democracy leads to popularity contests. I can’t imagine a more nightmarish scenario.
Respect comes not from enlisting support but from respecting individual input from team members, efficiently forming a way forward and being decisive.
However, poor leaders sometimes do hide behind a participative style because they lack the courage to make a decision. If you can see that in yourself, start working on overcoming this weakness straight away.
Indecision has to be one of the most prominent reasons for business failure. The cost of indecision is high. If you don’t make decisions, someone else, probably a competitor, will make them for you.
The Autocratic Style or the Participative Style?
The difference between the Autocratic Style and the Participative Style is in how you get to that decision. But both must result in a decision.
I used to play field hockey. I once played in a test between Australian Universities and New Zealand Universities. The Australian side was loaded with players from their national side. Our wiley coach realized that, and even though we aspired to play a style that required high skill levels, he knew this side was of a standard few of us will have encountered before.
We usually played a 5-3-2 formation; 5 forwards, 3 mid-fielders and 2-full backs. In the changing rooms before the game, our coach knelt on the floor, pulled out a set of checkers and explained a new formation to us.
The forwards would become mid-fielders and would spend the entire game man-on-man marking their Australian counterparts. The three conventional mid-fielders would become our forwards. The full backs would remain in their usual positions.
The Australian forwards immediately began trying lose their markers. They ran all over the field and it was frenetic chaos. I could hear people trying to figure out what formation each team was using because the only sense was that we followed our mark no matter what.
It totally disrupted the Australians as they focused on losing their markers rather than playing hockey. And despite the odds we won 4-3.
Our coach was wise enough to change his game based on the abilities of his team. In choosing between the Participative or Autocratic leadership styles, realistically assess the abilities of your team.
You may have inherited it from an Autocrat and so your team’s communication skills and the mindsets of your team aren’t up to performing within a participative style of leadership.
You may have to work out a plan on how to get them into the shape you need to work within a participative leadership style. Some may never be able to change and you will have to decide whether to keep them.
It’s not easy to change styles. It’s probably easier to move from a participative style to an autocratic one. Each has their strengths but whatever style you adopt, be aware of its weaknesses.
The participative style relies on an inherent belief: That all organisations are greater than the sum of their individual parts.
|Autocratic Style||Participative Style|