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Flexible Leaders Embrace and Employ Many Leadership Styles

It’s almost time for baseball again, and so I’ve been thinking about the very best pitchers in the game.

In order to sustain their success on the mound, they all seem to have a complete arsenal of pitches – fastball, curveball, slider, change-up, and maybe a knuckleball. But, just as importantly, they know which pitch to throw when, and can deliver each pitch for a strike at almost any time.

The same deft mastery is required of CEOs when it comes to leadership styles. To build great companies and drive growth year after year, they have to embrace and deploy a host of different leadership approaches, strategies and tactics – depending on the specific situation.

You can’t get meaningful business results in today’s relentlessly competitive global marketplace with just one CEO leadership style, any more than a Major League pitcher can expect to win 20 games with only one pitch. And, if you’re at the top of an organization right now, you can’t default in times of high stress to your favorite or most comfortable leadership approach.

It simply won’t work – because in the end, results matter most.

No, t The most accomplished CEOs flow effortlessly from one leadership style into another, and they seamlessly blend a half dozen leadership approaches within the same organization at any given time.

To pull off this sophisticated and nuanced juggling act, CEOs must listen hard to their customers, managers and employees; truly understand the fiber and fabric of their company’s culture; carefully assess what’s possible – and necessary – in terms of top- and bottom-line results; and operate each and every day with a huge amount of intuitive emotional capacity.

A key part of this emotional capacity means accepting the fact that different employees and business units may require, and respond to, different leadership styles. Based on my experience over the years, CEOs who can effectively adjust to this reality have a far greater opportunity for achieving excellence in their organizations.

There are a wide variety of CEO leadership styles to choose from; but I believe four distinct models are worth internalizing and utilizing:

·      The Clarifying Leader – This CEO attains his or her desired ends by being direct and providing clarity. Distinct roles and responsibilities, precise goal setting, and clear organizational arrangements are all very well established in this model, which attempts to leave little – or nothing – to chance.

·      The Communicating Leader – This CEO works within the organization’s structure to build strong and sustainable relationships. He or she seeks and provides feedback, engages in regular two-way communication, and works diligently to remove roadblocks. There’s also high trust when subordinates make decisions.

·      The Inspiring Leader – This CEO helps others get excited about the organization’s vision and future. He or she is also able to get employees and managers jazzed about their roles in the company, while inspiring them about what lies ahead. In addition, positive thinking, team development, and celebration of success – as well as increased cohesion and trust – characterize this model.

·      The Inclusive Leader – This CEO openly discusses matters with stakeholders before deciding on a course of action. The objective is to strive for, and achieve, mutually agreed upon results. And the focus is on win-win solutions, a desire for harmony within teams, and lots of ongoing collaboration at all levels of the organization.

There are no hard and fast rules about when to use each of these specific leadership styles.

But, generally speaking, when CEOs are trying to lead the business on a day-to-day basis, they need to clarify and communicate. If there’s a crisis, there also needs to be a profound emphasis on clarifying and communicating.

If, on the other hand, the CEO is attempting to manage a significant transformation, then he or she must turn to, and rely upon, inspiration and inclusiveness.

And, when an organization is trying to build, nurture and grow an under-skilled or under-experienced team with lots of untapped potential, CEOs must clarify, communicate, inspire and include.

Some of the case studies here are fascinating.

One company, for example, was competing on price in a shifting market and barely squeezing out quarterly profits. To bolster the bottom line, the CEO went out and formed an alliance with a design firm. But he had to sell this concept hard to his top 30 executives, who resisted the notion. Convincing the skeptical executives required clarification and communication, and the CEO eventually prevailed by explaining why the deal made everyday sense. There was very little inspiration articulated, because this was a single sharp-edged business necessity, not a gauzy corporate vision.

Now consider the B2B company that decided to completely re-make and re-structure itself to take advantage of new B2C markets that were emerging on the visible horizon. The CEO brought all the executives in the organization together in an inclusive fashion, and then he inspired them to journey forward to a more exciting and prosperous future.

Just like in baseball, it’s clearly impossible to win every game in business. But, as both of these stories show, a company’s prospects for improved performance and, ultimately, victory increase immeasurably if the CEO knows which leadership style makes the most sense in a given situation.


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