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Golfer or Not: Understand Why Leadership is Like A Golf Bag

I recently read Leadership That Gets Results by Daniel Goleman. The person who suggested the book (really a treatise) bragged that she read it in a single sitting. When the book arrived and it was 79 small pages printed in a large font, I was less impressed. However, that length may make the publication more appealing to the readers of the blog. It is available (like everything else) on Amazon.

Goleman posits that leaders use six different styles: coercion, authoritative, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting, and coaching. Briefly, coercive leadership demands immediate compliance. Authoritative leadership encourages people to work towards a vision. Affiliative leaders focus on making their people happy while democratic leaders forge consensus as people work together. A pacesetting leader sets high standards for themselves and expects everyone else to meet those standards. Finally, a leader who coaches is trying to grow and develop people.

The book's most important takeaway might be a surprise. It is not that six different leadership styles exist. It is not that Goleman declares that one style is superior to the others. Instead, it is Goleman’s assertion that all of the styles are appropriate depending on the current context. A wise leader understands all the styles and selects the style that best fits the present moment.

Selecting the appropriate leadership style is like picking the right club from a golf bag. A wise golfer--even a terrible one like me--picks different clubs for different places on the course. A driver is not a better or worse club than a 5 iron. They are just used at different times.

Too often pundits declare one type of leadership is better than other types. That approach is both limiting to the leader and to our vision of what leadership is about. In an emergency, a leader needs immediate compliance and should be coercive. However, when implementing a strategic vision, a leader should be authoritative and help people work toward a vision. There are times when coaching is best and times when a democratic approach will accomplish the most.

Different styles for different situations make sense. A good leader needs to be intentional about which style to select when. That approach is more likely to maximize any leader's success.


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