DIFFERENT VIEWS ON LEADERSHIP assert either a static view or a dynamic one. Leadership consistency provides a model for others to follow, gains loyalty and protects the organization’s mission and strategy. This view considers agility as inconsistent, indecisive and weak.
On the other hand, those who support the need for elastic leadership cite the need to address changing circumstances, adjust to new technology, cope with economic trends, and meet market demands. Leadership agility becomes critical when the focus is on the changing organization and the external environmental context. This point of view supports Emerson’s comment that “foolish consistency was the hobgoblin of little minds.” And in fact, there are cases where leaders stuck to outdated strategic positions that threatened their organization’s viability. Supporters of a dynamic view believe leaders who get the right results at the right time deserve the praise rather than a merely heroic one.
Now, this is more than an academic discussion. It impacts how we develop leaders, as well as our politics. Presidential candidates are currently being evaluated by their trustworthiness, straight talk, charisma, and values at the expense of their past accomplishments or expressed plans for the future—with the possible exception that a single policy position attracts or dissuades a voter overriding all other considerations. Today, our views are personal and narrow in an era of greater complexity and challenges.
In leadership development programs, personal characteristics of courage, integrity, ethics, confidence, and enthusiasm typically define leadership. One of the most often asked questions about leadership is “what are the characteristics of an outstanding leader?” which immediately channels thinking. In fact, many outstanding leaders are selected only after they have produced stellar results. So instead of a single question about characteristics, another should be added: “what results do great leaders achieve?” After all, the ability to make wise decisions and agility must not be discounted in any study of leadership.
We need to realize that leadership is not fixed or ageless. Henry Ford is often and correctly cited as an outstanding leader for his accomplishments. Yet, how many would claim that Henry Ford’s leadership of the Ford Motor Company in 1903 would be effective for the internationally focused $63.6 billion company today? Few would agree with that premise. Today leaders must display both admirable characteristics and an ability to achieve goals in light of their current situation. Learning how to use critical thinking, which includes analytical, strategic and innovative thinking, must become a larger aspect of leadership development.
A person’s personal style plays an important role, but so does the leader’s ability to successfully leverage the context or the situation. Organizational life cycles, competitive forces, economic cycles, and technology should influence what actions will produce outstanding results. We need to help leaders know when to hold on to their path and when to fold. We cannot play every hand that we are given the same way. For example, a wise leader’s decision for a start-up growing 20 percent a year and one that is facing bankruptcy will differ.
One approach to leadership does not fit all situations. Let’s update our leadership thinking and assume that leaders must possess both static and elastic aspects for sustained excellence.
What do you think the appropriate focus between these two approaches should it be equal or should one be more dominant than the other?