How Flexible is Your Leadership Style?

How Flexible is Your Leadership Style?

Experts on leadership tell us that using just one style of leadership limits our success.  Different situations require different styles of leadership.  Working with different people demands that you be flexible in how you work with them.  Applying relational intelligence to your leadership style will help you be more successful in your endeavors.

Every one of us is a leader in our own sphere.  I am a leader in my family, my ministry, my community, etc.  Your influence is felt in each sphere.  Even if you don’t see yourself as a leader, you probably are exerting influence through your presence.  In this blog post I want to challenge you to think about how you influence people through your leadership style.

We all have a default leadership style.  What is yours?  Perhaps you have never thought about it before, but the way we go about exerting influence on others is usually done in a similar way.  We are highly predictable in our approach.  However, we are learning that if you understand what you do and why you do it, it may help you to become more flexible and also become more effective in leading.

To illustrate different leadership styles, I am going to use different pictures.  Pictures capture the essence of leadership style better than words.

  1. Equality. You notice that the leader sees himself as most effective when he is seen as one of many in decision-making.  They are equal.  It is a shared leadership where no one person is elevated over others.  Each person has an equal say.  Confidence is in the group.
  2. Cheerleader.  This style of leadership sees itself as effective through cheering on other’s ideas and progress.  Rather than being out in front, they recognize the contributions of others.  Encouraging and supporting are key tools in their toolbox.
  3. Command Central. This leadership style takes charge.  They are confident in showing the way and getting people to engage together to accomplish a task.  There is no doubt about who is calling the shots.
  4. Empowering. In this style of leadership, there is room for innovation and decision-making that is decentralized, but they are expected to relate in some way to a central decision-maker.  Empowering others and believing in the genius of others is foundational to this leadership style. 
  5. Helping. The leader in this picture is the person holding the ladder. They are leading/influencing the goal by contributing and assisting others in what is needed.  They don’t see themselves as the person reaching for the prize, but rather assisting others.
  6. In the Trenches. This leadership style is participatory.  The leader shows the way by example and walks with the team.  They are not out front, but desire to be alongside.  This is an empowering approach of leadership by example.
  7. The Idea Leader. This leader comes up with ideas for others to consider.  They think through problems and solutions and contribute to movement through using their minds and learning.

We all have a preferred style, and that preferred style is related to our Motivational Value System (MVS).  Corestrengths/SDI helps us to understand what motivates us (People- BLUE, Performance-RED, Process-GREEN, Perspective-HUB).  It is important to understand how our MVS connects with our leadership style.  Awareness will help us become more flexible as situations arise.  Let me give you an example of how this might work out.

I am RED so performance is important to me.  I want to make sure that we keep moving towards the goal and accomplish as much as possible.  For this reason, my leadership style might lean in preference for 3 or 6.  The other options may take longer and run the risk of getting derailed by others.  Without awareness of why I choose these leadership styles over others, I may never opt for a different leadership style.  That would limit my success.  Ironically, that is what is so important to me!  Success might be better accomplished through style 1 (Equality) in certain circumstances.  For instance, if I am not as equipped or knowledgeable on a subject, I might want to lead through the style of 2 (Cheerleader) or 5 (Helping).  It is not my default style to do so, but with awareness that other styles are available and that not one style is the most effective, I can experience the best result.

A BLUE style might rather choose the helping style (5), when the situation requires a Command style (3).  Command style might be difficult for a BLUE because it feels arrogant or hurtful to others.  But situations sometimes require taking the bull by the horns and leading with command.  If you can understand that this is “best for the people”, perhaps you will be able to try a different approach.

A GREEN style might prefer to be the Idea leader (7).  Leading through thinking through a problem or opportunity seems like the right way to lead.  However, there are times when a different and unnatural approach is needed.  Approaches 1 and 4 might seem counter productive because they rely more on others and their thoughts.

Each circumstance is different and requires us to be flexible in the way we lead others.  Also, the people we are leading are different.  This is true in our workplace, church, or even our family.  Our children have different MVS’s.  Try adjusting your leadership style around them rather than your own preferred style.  You may discover that you are more effective at working together.  The reason for this is that some leadership styles are harder to receive based on our MVS.  Think about the leaders that you have struggled to follow.  What is your MVS and what style of leadership was so offensive?  Chances are the problem had to do with their preference of leadership style based on their own MVS.  Perhaps our own MVS colored glasses tended to see their behavior as overdone (i.e. arrogant – confidence).

Try using a different leadership style.  It may feel very wrong the first time you try because it is so different than what you have used in the past.  Grow in your ability to use each leadership style at the appropriate time based on situations and the people you are leading.

Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.