Articles, books and experience identify at least two types of tough leaders. Each is demanding, but in very different ways. The first type is described in these terms:
They rarely view themselves that way. But that is how their people describe them. They see themselves as being on top of things, focused on getting the job done right, and usually wondering about whom they can really trust. The people who work for them do not feel valued or appreciated. They can be called “Theory X, tough bosses, authoritarian, directive, pacesetting and task managers.”
These types of leaders can be recognized by their typical work challenges: over busy because they do not delegate, distant relationships with direct reports because they do not invest the time to build a strong bond with them, limited risk-taking and innovation below them because their reports are nervous about how their boss will react, and no strong successors because those people fled.
The second type is described in these terms:
Expects the best from me
Gets me to do my best
Challenges me to excel
Sets clear, demanding and achievable goals
Provides critical feedback in a respectful way
People working for them usually feel that they are growing significantly, are stimulated by the work and their colleagues, and go the extra mile without hesitation. These leaders view their jobs as unleashing the energy of their organization, channeling it in the most productive ways (usually through a clear, compelling vision among other ways), and reducing the obstacles to the progress and growth of people working for them. They can be called “Theory Y, participative, consultative, democratic, and high performance managers”.
Signals that you see from this type of leader are: high spirit and energy in the group, a sense of confidence and optimism regardless of the challenge, a cohesiveness and teamwork that seem natural, and ease of communication between the boss and the direct reports.
Few leaders are all black or all white, but we are likely to know both types. The first type of leader gets obedience at best from the people. People working for this leader operate out of fear and often a lack of respect and trust for their boss and sometimes each other due to the climate and example the leader sets. Anxiety runs high in those organizations. Performance can be high, but usually just for the short run. In fact, when there is a lot of pressure and urgency, sometimes this type of leadership is required.
What these leaders have to watch out for is people becoming passive, waiting to be told what to do and how to do it. Also, they are not likely to risk mistakes and therefore try fewer new ideas or to look for ways to innovate or improve things.
The second type of leader gets much more from his or her people in the longer run. People working for this leader are likely to be self-propelled to do their best. They often perform at levels that exceed everyone’s expectations, including their own. Mutual trust and respect are much more in evidence, again as a result of the climate and example the leader sets. There is a cost however, it is the time it takes to get people’s thoughts and ideas, listen to their questions and concerns, and to build alignment behind a direction. It has to be balanced with the urgency of the situation.
Have you seen either type of leader? What did the leader do and how did it impact you or others? Please share your story with us.