When we think about organisational leadership – and, indeed, any kind of leadership – we see different styles with two extreme positions. If we apply this to the way in which entire countries are managed, we can see that dictatorships would sit at one end of the spectrum, and a democratic state would lie at the other.
Is one inherently right, and one wrong? No. Both can work if managed correctly, both have their pros and cons… but the reality is that taking any ideology or approach to its absolute limit will invariably result in trouble.
Let’s look at how this translates into business environments by using a puppet and conductor analogy.
A puppet is only able to act, move or do anything at all if it has a puppeteer pulling the strings. This can look wonderful in the right environment, and lead to a fine performance. But the puppet would simply collapse without its puppet master – like an employee who can’t perform without being given detailed, constant guidance and instructions.
In some environments and instances, it’s vital that a leader can give a clear and direct lead that the employee follows to the letter – think dangerous mining operations or time-critical surgery environments, for example.
But for most situations, the ‘dictator’ mode of leadership is actually seen as a manager who can’t delegate, trust their teams or share opportunities for development.
And in most situations, this will stifle talented staff who want to develop, to work freely and autonomously – with trust – and who crave a creative, collaborative working environment.
The other end of the scale
But let’s look at the conductor – the other extreme of the scale. The conductor tells everyone in the orchestra what to do and when, and then can step back, knowing that everyone has been set up for success and that the musicians can look to the percussionist to set the pace.
This ‘harmonic ideal’ is reflected as cohesive working teams with a figurehead leader who offers feedback and suggestions, without micromanaging and dictation. It seems as though this kind of freedom might do the leader out of a job, but actually, it tends to prove that leadership is working.
In most working environments, the reality is that effective leaders need to strike a balance between the two positions. Sometimes they will need to instruct in a detailed way, and at other times they will need to ‘conduct’, without stepping away too far and leaving the team without direction. The art of great leadership lies in assessing the context and situation at play, and knowing when to be more of a puppeteer and when to be more of a conductor – recognising the skills, experience and motivation of your team to help you read each situation.
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