What is the best leadership style?

As many of us have experienced in the workforce, each manager has their own style of working. I have had managers who have big personalities who were quick to anger but you always knew where you stood. I have had managers who wanted to micromanage everything I did. I have had managers who largely stayed away from me so long as I got my work done.

But which of these styles is best?

To answer this, we will take a look back at a classic war film, Twelve O’Clock High. This 1949 black and white war movie follows the 918th bombing division. The film ultimately is a great look at two vastly different leadership styles. This group has fallen on hard times, with bad luck seemingly around every corner.

Early in the film, we see Colonel Keith Davenport as a defeated man. Another disastrous mission has resulted in the death of some of his men and he chalks up the reason as bad luck. Davenport so deeply cares for his men that he comes up with reasons for men to not go on missions and has become indecisive for fear of making the wrong decision that results in the death of his men. His defeatist attitude has spread throughout the bombing division.

After a conversation, it is determined that Davenport has become too close to his men and he is replaced with his friend, Frank Savage.

Savage quickly lives up to his name, increasing discipline throughout the division. Davenport had grown resistant to discipline for even costly mistakes so this comes as a huge shock to the men. Such a huge shock, in fact, that every pilot requests a transfer to a different division to get away from Savage. However, Savage has become a master of the red tape. He prevents the men in his division from running from their problems, forcing men to close the integrity gap- the difference between who they say they are and who they actually are.

This pushes the men far outside of their comfort zone. Being forced to see themselves as they truly are, combined with more intense discipline and training, the men begin to see results.

Now, does this make Savage the better leader for all situations? He clearly saw the better results so that makes him the better leader, right?

Not so fast.

Truly great leaders recognize that how to best lead their team/organization changes as the environment changes. Savage’s tactics saw success. However, he must be aware that the tactics used to get the group in shape likely would be overly harsh over the long haul. Managers must be able to be flexible, or play a different role, as question 3 put it, to find continued success. There are many contemporary examples sports fans will note where a coach (like Pat Burns in the NHL) come in and nearly immediately take a bad team and turn the culture around. Pat Burns won the equivalent of the coach of the year award three separate times while coaching for three separate teams. However, his motivation tactics and style wore on the players and he never lasted more than 4 seasons at any of his four teams. Different styles of coaching/leadership/management are required for different situations.

There are many contemporary examples sports fans will note where a coach (like Pat Burns in the NHL) come in and nearly immediately take a bad team and turn the culture around. Pat Burns won the equivalent of the coach of the year award three separate times while coaching for three separate teams. However, his motivation tactics and style wore on the players and he never lasted more than 4 seasons at any of his four teams. Different styles of coaching/leadership/management are required for different situations.

When in a position of leadership, this is something we must keep in mind. different situations call for different actions. Companies that are growing rapidly need to be managed differently than a startup, which must be managed differently from a company that has matured.

Have you had an experience where you or your manager didn’t recognize the need to adjust their management styles? What came of it? Let me know in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “What is the best leadership style?

  1. Pingback: More Data, More problems? | Brandon's Pursuit of Better Leadership

  2. Pingback: What Does It Take To Be a Great Leader? | Brandon's Pursuit of Better Leadership

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