The Search For Effective Leadership Styles

Some of us have traveled a hard and rocky road on our leadership journey; for many, the journey is far from over. As leaders, we all have strengths and weaknesses, good points and bad points, character strengths and character flaws. Each of us is armed with a unique composite of skills and knowledge which we use to face the world and meet the challenges of achieving progress on tough issues. We call this leadership.

Every day, we face new challenges. Some of us face the same challenges over and over, an endless time loop in a Groundhog Day movie in which we have a starring role. We all attempt, in our ways to leverage our strong points to the best of our abilities. We seek advice. We attend seminars. We blame the strategic plan. We participate in forums, blogs and chats. We blame the economy. We read leadership best sellers. Task forces are formed and dissolved with wild abandon. Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Those of us less musically inclined turn to comfort food. In the absence of wisdom and epiphany, there is solace in butter and canola oil.

As many of us have recognized, there is no one-size-fits-all-in-leadership. Leave that to purveyors of fine T-shirts and hyper elasticized slippers. There are no panaceas. Fresh garlic builds the immune system and holds the common cold at bay, but it wreaks havoc on dysfunctional teams. We quest for the Holy Grail of leadership, like knights of a modern Round Table. It remains elusive, and we, like King Arthur’s knights are reminded that the quest itself is the prize.

In desperation, we turn to the wisdom of the scriptures, but their inspirations range from warrior kings who annihilate entire countries to prophets who turn the other cheek. Neither of these leadership archetypes seems practical in a corporate environment. Distracted, we muse about turning some of our colleagues into pillars of salt until we are jolted back to the present by a divinely inspired aha!

Google! A panacea and Holy Grail rolled into one. Our divine quest morphs seamlessly into a digital search. We turn from our lances to our keyboards and type “Effective Leadership” into the search bar. We rise to get a glass of wine while the algorithm does its work. Only 110 million results in 0.33 seconds. The 0.33 seconds is intimidating. We wonder why anything other than Olympic bobsledding needs measurement in units smaller than one second. 

110 million results is a discouraging number. We sense, intuitively, that this may be more than a one-glass evening, wondering how much damage 110 million clicks can do to a mouse or a finger. 

Numerous links claim to provide varying numbers of tips for effective leadership, ranging from 7 to 50 tips. Double digits are discouraging. We want just one tip. One good one. According to the titles, all of these tips are essential. Food, water, air and shelter are essential. Everything else is discretionary. Maslow fell from grace and an entire generation missed it.

A picture is worth one thousand words. We click on Images. Mr. Google cascades leadership images by the thousands, maybe millions. If one picture is worth one thousand words, then how many words are one million pictures worth? In grade eleven, I could have answered this easily. 

There are pyramids everywhere. Having just read about the Egyptians during our scriptural phase, we question the connection between pyramids and leadership. Venn diagrams abound. Our takeaway is that leadership has something to do with running in circles. This is discouraging, but somehow resonates.

There are many images of confident, smiling people wearing expensive suits. The connection between leadership and expensive clothing is not immediately apparent. There are no images of leaders attired in Walmart chic. The Walton family who owns Walmart is the richest family in the United States. Somewhere here, there is irony to be found. 

The connection between leadership and smiling people is equally mystifying. Maybe we’ve had too much wine and typed “toothpaste” into the search bar instead of “leadership.” I don’t smile much. Most leaders I know don’t smile much. Mostly, they look grim. Grim and worried. There are no pictures of grim looking, worried people in these leadership images. All of them have better dental plans than I do.

That’s OK. This journey is far from over.


Join the #LeadWithGiants tweetchat next Monday, March 10, 2014 at 7pm ET for Leadership Styles with host @DanVForbes and co-host @PanteliT .  Here’s how

Written by

Communications & Entrepreneurial Leadership Faculty, Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Venn Thinker: Communications, Innovation, Leadership, Creativity, Learning

8 Responses to "The Search For Effective Leadership Styles"

  1. Panteli: These are very insightful observations.

    “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting tomatoes in your fruit salad.”

    Information alone has little impact on behavior or internal experience. I do think there is a message in scripture that is the key to liberating creativity and the power to inspire others that is relevant to leaders. It relates to the “metaphors” or the literal “word of God” (depending on you own capacity to tolerate ambiguity) that offer two places to search for your inner truth: 1. “The kingdom of God is within you.” and 2. “You must become as a little child to enter the kingdom of Heaven.”

    In essence, you must out grow your early mental models which are simply childhood accommodations to where you happened to “grow up.” Self-knowledge is simply knowing yourself as you truly are, and assuming threshold competencies, there is no more powerful leadership quality than that. It is also the definition of humility. In that state your energy is available for a greater purpose than your own glorification. You are not distracted from the energy sapping defenses that are needed to maintain an image of yourself to yourself. You are filled with positive energy that others can detect. You resonate positive energy and stimulate mirror neurons in others who embrace your unselfish vision, dedication to personal mastery and that of others, and commitment to a larger purpose worth believing in. That is how I have begun to view leadership after reading hundreds of books and working for decades as an executive
    coach to many great business leaders who have the awareness and courage to recognize that this is the paradigm for the 21st century where knowledge is increasingly the product of the future.

    Thank you for the opportunity to share my observations.

  2. Panteli Tritchew says:

    Hi William,
    Thank you kindly for sharing your thoughts. Personally, I believe that the depth and breadth of wisdom in the scriptures (Western and Eastern) exceeds our capacity to absorb in one lifetime. For me, the journey is the goal.
    I love your distillation of the leadership paradigm into the realm of self-knowledge, self-mastery and commitment to a larger purpose. Part of the journey is finding one’s North Star and perhaps it has always been within.
    Thank you for sharing.

  3. Ross Laird says:

    This makes me happy that I do not own an expensive suit.

  4. Farhad Dastur says:

    Panteli, your article was refreshingly concise, insightful, and humorous.

    I would add to your thoughts the observation that Ends-Justify-Means (EJM) leaders who obsessively focus on outcome and goal often end up harming the very people and organizational cultures they purport to lead. Meanwhile, Ends-Never-Justify-Means (ENJM) leaders who compulsively commit to process and protocol often transform the mildly vexed into the wildly perplexed.
    My sense is that true leadership lives at that sensuous S curve within the Ying and Yang symbol. Nature, always instructive, reminds us that there is a fine balance within all things complex and beautiful.
    –Farhad Dastur

  5. Panteli Tritchew says:

    Thank you kindly for your comments and for adding the insightful imagery of the S curve–the Ying/Yang sweet spot of leadership. Love the imagery!
    I completely agree that EJM and ENJM leadership styles are equally damaging to people and corporations, the first style perhaps more corrosively than the second. It is the fine and delicate balance of consultation and consensus building coupled with clear vision and strategic decision making that best harnesses the power of the collective, I believe. That would be a sweet spot, indeed.

  6. Hi Panteli,

    Thanks for forwarding me your blog.

    I appreciate your insight and candor, not to mention your humour!
    As you point out their are many forms of leadership. One I think is very important is having a vision, and the commitment to carry it out – despite having at times being forced to listen to “Ground Hog” drivel at meeting after meeting.
    Nice to see you have been listening to your wise Father-in Law !!

    • Panteli Tritchew says:

      Hi Larry! Yes, very wise advice, froma very wise father-in-law! More seriously, though, having a clear vision and the will and commitment to execute it in the face of adversity and, indeed, the inevitable gruel-and-grind of meetings, both of these are integral to leadership.