The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

John Dabell

Six styles of leadership

What style of leadership is most effective? According to John Dabell, the more styles a leader has mastered, the better. 

When teachers get asked what type of leader their head or line manager is, they tend to give an honest opinion!

The type of leader they identify though tends to fall into one style. As all good leaders know, you can't just be one type but need to shift and glide between styles.

In their book The New Leader, Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee identify six styles of leadership split into two dissonant styles and four resonant styles:

1. Pace-setting

“Do it my way.”

This leader builds challenge and dynamic goals for people, expecting excellence and often exemplifying it themselves. They pinpoint poor performers and demand more of them. When needed they will roll up their sleeves and rescue a situation themselves.

They tend to be low on guidance, expecting people to know what to do. They get short term results but over the long term this style can lead to exhaustion and decline.

2. Coercive

“Do it because I say so.”

This leader soothes fears and gives clear directions commanding and expecting full compliance. They need emotional self-control for success and can seem cold and distant.

3. Visionary

“Let’s remind ourselves of the larger purpose.”

This leader moves people towards a shared vision, telling them where to go but not how to get there. They openly share information and give knowledge power to others.

4. Affiliative

“People first, task second.”

This leader creates human connections and thus harmony within the organisation. This style is very collaborative and focuses on emotional needs over work needs.

5. Democratic

“Let’s work it out together.”

This leader values a range of inputs and promotes participation, listening to the good, the bad and the ugly.

6. Coaching

"Let me help you develop”

This leader connects wants to organisational goals, helps people find strengths and weaknesses and ties these to career aspirations and actions. They are good at delegating challenging assignments.

The most effective leaders

Goleman et al say that visionary, coaching, affiliative and democratic styles create the kind of resonance that boosts performance whereas the pacesetting and commanding styles need to be applied with caution.

Typically, the best, most effective leaders act according to one or more of six distinct approaches to leadership and skilfully switch between the various styles depending on the situation.

There is no one size fits all so leaders need to select the style that maximizes their effectiveness in a given situation. The more styles a manager has mastered the better.

What does the research say?

According to research produced by the Centre for High Performance, there are five different 'types' of head teacher: the philosopher, the surgeon, the architect, the soldier and the accountant.

The researchers interviewed 411 school leaders, scrutinized their education, background and experience and logged their actions and impact using 24 performance measures and 64 investment variables across a seven-year period up to 2015.

  1. Philosophers are the largest group and are inspiring heads who like to talk about pedagogy. They try to lead by example as senior teachers and don’t see themselves as managers. They tend to leave the staff and students alone.
  2. Surgeons are incisive and dramatic decision makers with a laser sharp focus who try to turn schools around quickly by cutting and redirecting. These tough and disciplined heads show no mercy and waste no time introducing new rules, firing 1/10th of staff and excluding final-year students. They typically move the best teachers to the final year, reduce class sizes and increase revision for quick wins.
  3. Architects are scrupulous and careful planners with an eye for detail. They take a holistic, 360-degree view of the school, the community it serves and its role in society.
  4. Soldiers focus on the bottom line by trimming back every ounce of fat and tightening the budget. These tenacious leaders like efficiency and order and drive down and cut costs to meet the school’s budget constraints.
  5. Accountants focus on the top line and try to increase the size of the school by recruiting more students as a way of improving the financial equilibrium. These resourceful and systematic types try to grow their schools out of trouble.

The test of a leader is that when that person leaves, we should be better off than when they started

You might be a passionate wordsmith, a surgical mastermind, a creative financier or a tenacious cost-cutter but the research found out of the five leader types, only one had any real long-term impact –the architect. 

These visionary, unsung heroes are also the least rewarded because their grand designs take time to build and results aren’t instant.

The nine C's of leadership

If we want to know what great leadership and management looks like then we often turn to those outside of education for guidance. Business leaders, football managers and ex-special forces personnel all have their own take on how to get the best out of others, themselves and the organisation.

We could ask Sir Richard Branson, Sir Alex Ferguson or Ant Middleton for a few ideas and they would all give us something practical to put into action and inspire us. They all have their own unique perspectives and experiences to share that can transfer to other worlds.

Someone else we could ask is Lee Iacocca, one of most powerful and celebrated of US business leaders.

Lee Iaccoca's book Where Have All The Leaders Gone? and in particular his nine C's of Leadership, 'qualities every leader should have'. So if that's the case then what leadership qualities should school leaders have?

A leader must have courage. The courage to sit down at the table and talk, to defend what is right even when it might be unpopular

1. Curiosity

A leader needs to be curious, to step out of his comfort zone and to listen others' different, possibly challenging ideas. Without challenging our thinking and belief’s, how do we know we are right?

A leader has to show curiosity and listen to people outside of the "Yes, sir" crowd in their inner circle. A leader has to read voraciously, because the world is a big, complicated place.

If leaders don't put their beliefs to the test then how do they know they are right? As Iacocca says, "The inability to listen is a form of arrogance. It means either you think you already know it all, or you just don't care."

2. Creativity

A leader has to be creative, go out on a limb, be willing to try something different, try something new and to think outside of the box. Part of a leader’s role is to manage change. Circumstances alter constantly so a leader needs to adapt and creatively deal with those changes.

Things change, and you get creative. You adapt.

3. Communication

A leader has to communicate and that means facing facts, facing realities and telling the truth. People don't want to hear soundbites.

They communicate the truth, suggest strategies to move forward, inviting others to share their ideas and become involved as part of the solution.

4. Character

Character means knowing the difference between right and wrong, it is about our moral and ethical strength. It is what is deep inside us, both when things go well and wrong. Ideally our reputation and our character should be mirror images.

This is about doing the right thing for the right reasons. It's doing things right even when no one is looking.

5. Courage

A leader must have courage. The courage to sit down at the table and talk, to defend what is right even when it might be unpopular.

Iacocca says, 'Swagger isn't courage. Tough talk isn't courage. Courage is a commitment to sit down at the negotiating table and talk.'

6. Conviction

A leader should passionately believe in their goals and be determined to achieve them. This means you have a fire in your belly and you've got to really want to get something done.

7. Charisma

Charisma is the quality that inspires, that makes others trust you, follow you and believe that they have a valid role to play as part of the vision. This isn't about being flashy but the ability to inspire.

8. Competency

A leader has to know what they are doing. They need to be competent and also surround themselves with people who know what they are doing as competent problem solvers.

9. Common Sense

Leaders need to be able to reason and use common sense!

Iaccoca says that the biggest C is Crisis. Leaders are made, not born. He says,

'Leadership is forged in times of crisis and you succeed or fail based on your team. Iacocca says the test of a leader is that when that person leaves, we should be better off than when they started.'

And finally….

There are various models of management and leadership styles that are worth exploring in more detail and it’s reassuring to know that there isn’t a right way. Who you are and what you do depends on your context and the unique factors that mesh together in that situation.

Being one type of leader might suit some people but the reality is leaders have to be multi-dimensional and take their inspiration and advice from more than one source. 

It’s worth remembering that leadership is more than just a title or a position, it is an action. 

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