Considering Four Leadership Styles and Evolved Leadership

I got a taste for leadership studies in the 1990s when I was introduced to 4 classic leadership styles. The classic styles were charismatic, authoritarian, traditional, and participative. When I was introduced to these styles, I was quite taken aback by how foreign each of these styles seemed to me.

The style known as the traditional leadership style was the most intriguing to me because of how it was generally passed along from person to person. I used to be baffled by the existence of the traditional leadership style. I accept it now, but I did not always. It is a condition of leadership in which the office rather than the person is the basis of leadership. As a leadership style, you do not have to actually have leadership qualities to be effective as a traditional leader. As such, it is the second stage of leadership after authoritarian.

The first stage of leadership is authoritarian. It is the oldest form of leadership and is the primary style for which I received formal training over several years. I was taught this leadership style in many ways in a structured environment but beyond the instruction and mentorship, I never really applied it outside of training scenarios. By choice. Though I have the deepest knowledge about this form of leadership among the styles I’ve learned, I am the first to admit it has the least relevance to modern society.

My natural leadership style is the charismatic way. Discovered it by accident one day in the 1990s (or perhaps it was all the leadership studies up to that point) giving a motivational speech in a situation in which morale was low and people needed to be rallied. At the time I was what you could call a traditional leader, I had an official appointment, but I could not rely on title alone. As time went on, I put aside this leadership style as I transitioned out of operations and into technology.

Harvard has a good discussion about leadership and perceptions around it. Their article lightly examines leadership in modern life as well as cultural considerations. I did not see any discussion on traditional leadership however.

What I really wanted to talk about was participative leadership. It has been the one style I least understood in the beginning but as I grew, I began to see a related leadership style, democratic leadership, as having the most potential. A group leads itself through thoughtful discourse and the promise of this approach is that cooler heads prevail and a larger sense of reason carries people forward. The downside though is the tyranny of the crowd and direction by committee in which the results can be far below optimal creating a hard regression to authoritarian voices. Anyway, as a society evolves intellectually, technologically, and philosophically I think it likely the leadership will evolve as well to emphasize the measure of democratic leadership suited to such growth. The parliamentary way writ large and small.

Still, you can always go in the wrong direction. Another leadership style then would exist within a participatory construct. It is thought leadership of a more refined and effective kind. It does not direct, but it is transformational. Technologists, orators, artists, makers, scientists and engineers accomplish this indirectly every time they shift perceptions around what is possible. It is the leadership of the paradigm shift in the right direction.


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