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Any worthwhile study of leadership begins with the realization that there is no foolproof formula for success. The “right” way to lead is most often a function of the organization and its people, and therefore highly dependent upon a large combination of stationary and moving parts. Many factors come into play, including the product or service provided by the organization, skill levels and experience of the work teams, organizational environment, and the personal attributes of the firm’s leaders. As these things change over time, good leaders are usually able to adapt by instinctively modifying their styles as required. If there is such a thing as a common denominator for success, it is trust between the workforce and its leadership. But there are many leadership styles that can achieve this result.

Leadership Styles

  1. Visionary Leadership. Simply put, a visionary is one who is able to see beyond that which most people accept as the norm, and is also able to inspire others to share his vision and help him make it a reality. This type of leader is very adept at inspiring others and influencing team members to improve or change. He is emboldened by his vision, often in the face of disagreement or inertia, to lead the way across a new road into sometimes uncharted territory. In doing so, he tends to walk a fine line between the ideal world he envisions and the real world with all of its obstacles and impediments.  History is replete with Visionary leaders: Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, just to name a few. The corporate world has had its share of visionary leaders too. Some of them include Lee Iacocca (former chairman of Chrysler Corporation), Sam Walton (founder of WalMart), and Helmut Panke (former chairman of German auto manufacturer BMW). Modern examples of corporate leaders who have adopted a visionary style are Steve Jobs (Apple) and Sir Richard Branson, whose successes with Virgin Group Ltd. is described here.
  2. Supportive Leadership. This style is characterized by leaders who are able to recognize those situations when people require more support than direction. This type of leader will never hesitate to express sincere appreciation for a job well done or to console an employee who happens to be going through a rough time. Supportive leaders are usually great listeners who also have an uncanny ability to tune in to the emotional signals around them. They make it a point to know their team members well so that they can take an active interest in them. An example of how this leadership style can be very successful is the Hewlett-Packard Corporation. Its co-founder, Bill Hewlett, was noted for genuinely caring about his employees while he was CEO. As part of his executive responsibilities, he regularly walked the floors getting to know his employees and becoming involved with their issues on a daily basis.
  3. Servitude Leadership. Closely aligned to the supportive style is the servitude leadership style. The two are similar in that both of them are characterized by a caring and concerned attitude. However, the servitude style is more action oriented and often has the leaders putting the needs of their subordinates ahead of their own. CEOs who subscribe to this leadership style involve their teams heavily in decision making and very often work hands on alongside their employees to get something done. A good example of the success of this style is Wal-Mart chairman S. Robson Walton, whose overriding mantra is to always listen to employee and customer needs. He has made this philosophy a guiding principle of his billion-dollar enterprise.
  4. Shared Leadership. The idea of a single figure at the top of an organizational hierarchy is no longer a given. This type of structure made a lot of sense when companies were smaller and less complex. But there is a growing trend, particularly in companies whose populations are large enough to rival those of some small nations, to institute a joint leadership arrangement with multiple heavyweights sharing power at the top. This model is often seen in large educational institutions, where the Dean and the President have cognizance over different domains but are both viewed as equal leaders. And to a growing extent, the concept is gaining popularity in the business arena too.

Over the last decade, the corporate world has seen the rapid rise of Google, which ascended to prominence under the direction of an executive management group comprised of three individuals who shared responsibility. Since that time, other companies have adopted a similar business model where company leadership is divided between engineering and sales. This structure has proven successful and has eradicated a lot of the bottlenecks and other problems plaguing extremely large corporations.

Right Leadership Style

So which of these leadership styles guarantees success? The answer is none of them. Anyone looking for a guarantee is looking in the wrong place. There are several approaches which have proven to work very well, but the key is to match the right leadership style to the right company. The sign of a good leader is someone who knows his organization well enough to find that custom fit.