In Peter G. Northouse’s 1997 book, “Leadership: Theory and Practice,” a wide variety of leadership styles are analyzed for their merits. After each style is evaluated, a determination is made on which style is best in particular situations. Each chapter could stand alone, discussing a single leadership style and its best application. It is a unique and helpful way to organize a book on leadership. The book is strong on theory and practice, helping the reader understand the why and the how of leadership practice. It also proceeds based on the oldest theories of leadership to the newest theories on leadership. As one progresses through the book, the more sophisticated the ideas become. It is heavy on academic research, complete with graphs and charts, but the prose is written clearly, intended for a popular audience.
In the brief introduction, Northouse defines leadership as “a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal” (p. 3) With that basic understanding as the starting point, Northouse branches off into the many theories about how best to do leadership. My biggest criticism of the book is that these categories of styles of leadership are somewhat artificial. The author tries to make distinctions between the dynamics of leadership as though it is a buffet line. For one situation, you can use the roast beef, mashed potatoes and green beans. For another situation, it calls for the ham, french fries and corn. Still another is fish, rice and carrots. People’s behaviors and personality traits can not be so easily changed in and out as needed. Nor can a person lead so differently from one situation to another. A danger of trying to be everything to everyone arises. No leader can be that because we all have unique personality traits that refuse to go away. In Edwin Friedman’s book, A Failure of Nerve he talks about the strength of a personality in the role of leadership—and that always comes with advantageous and disadvantages. There will be traits about myself in my professional roles that will no doubt rub some people the wrong way, but I will also have some traits that people respect and follow. When you work side by side with people for any period of time, you get to know each other very well. Grace, understanding, and patience inevitably come into play. It is part of being human, working together and trying to accomplish a goal together. We make allowances for each other and we move forward. We should always be striving to improve and learn and add to our professional abilities, but Northouse seems to imply that we can swap out our personality like we change our shoes.
Kathryn Shulz’s book, Being Wrong speaks to the subject of making errors, admitting them and correcting them. Then we move on a little wiser. But it is within our genuine selves that we make these mistakes and learn from them. She says, “Like most fears, our fears of wrongness is half real, half spectral” (p. 180). Northouse might agree with that statement but his solution would be different than Shulz or Friedman. The point they have in common is the undeniable aspect of morals when it comes to leadership. Morals matter and it is essential. They can be developed, refined, and expressed and the successful leader does all three. It would be interesting to study the question of morality under different types of situations that call for different types of leadership.
10 responses to “Leadership Varieties”
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Ty Troy for your insight into personality of a leader to influence in the followers. I strongly agree with your perspective that “Morals matter and it is essential. They can be developed, refined, and expressed and the successful leader does all three. It would be interesting to study the question of morality under different types of situations that call for different types of leadership.” In your opinion, what are some qualities of morals that a Christian leaders need to communicate as an essential these days?
Jonathan: Great question; for Christian leaders, I think transparency is a quality that is needed. Of course, characteristics like honesty and integrity also matter. How about the old fashioned work ethic? Let everyone see how hard you work and how much you care!
Troy, thanks for your post and I agree with you that “lines” around the leadership models are artificial. It’s hard to imagine one person fitting neatly into any one category. Do you think your church has a dominant style based on those listed? Many folks this week referenced the need for moral/ethical Christian leadership, especially in light of recent falls by certain leaders. What do you think is the missing ingredient in those cases? Is there a common theme or are there as many reasons as there are situations?
Roy: I re-read my post and I think I might have been a little harsh on my analysis of this book. It was a very insightful read. I think my church falls under the Situational Approach. The church I attend has a lot of involvement in the community and they have their ministries doing all kinds of activities and each one is a little different. The senior pastor has the attitude, “Let’s do what is required to the best of our ability.” It works well in the end: “Get ‘er done” type of mentality.
Troy: I really appreciate your reflection and processing of the reading this week. I always learn from your posts.
You state “We make allowances for each other and we move forward.” Do you think leaders, especially Christian leaders, ever go too far into making allowances for others in the name of grace that it moves into enablement of unhealthy or toxic behaviors? How would you distinguish between a healthy allowance vs unhealthy ones?
Kayli: good question, and yes, I think sometimes the ‘grace’ does go too far. In those cases it isn’t grace, it is more a refusal to hold people to accountability for their responsibilities. That doesn’t do anyone any good. What could be a learning situation in fact becomes letting someone get away with being lazy. A strong leader allows for grace but also pushes people to grow and mature. You know?
Troy, your writing skills are on display sir. 🙂 Thanks for this post.
Plato is credited with this quote: “No matter how hard you fight the darkness, every light casts a shadow, and the closer you get to the light, the darker that shadow becomes.”
In my experience, the pursuit of morality casts a large shadow that causes disciples to split their light and darkness, usually indicated with words like “sanctification” and “Christlikeness”. It also tends to “shadow” populations of people deemed to be immoral. My ministry is done primarily alongside many who are excluded from moral community.
Can you imagine an alternative approach to the integrative work, which Christ invites us into?
Michael: Thank you and I know what you mean about morality and casting shadows. One thing the leadership at my church does well is that they focus on the job and ministry at hand. Do the work, make a difference, make your faith practical. That helps prevent the issues that arise that you described in your response. It ‘s a good church to work at and I’m glad I’m there.
Hey there Troy. I hear you in your frustration with the book regarding the buffet style of leadership. I interpreted his portrayal of the different leadership styles differently, more as a palate of leadership styles. Based on the style of painting, and the painter, different brushes, colors, and kinds of paint will be used. That would be my take on the book. As I was reading through it I was seeing themes in nearly every chapter that I have incorporated into my style of leadership. What I saw as beneficial was having it spelled out, reading the summaries, as well as the pros and the cons, and then challenging myself to consider, “In light of his perspective, what changes could I implement to be a more effective leader?”
Eric: that’s a great analogy, painting and brushes. I have quickly reviewed the book again and I like it more than my first time through. Leadership is a complex, intricate thing and there is so much I have to learn…