Different Folks, Different Strokes! The Many Leadership Styles in the Real World

Leadership in the real world is quite different from what is taught in business schools and colleges. For instance, many leaders often confront the problems of scarcities and other constraints which are situational and unique to the geographical location in which they operate.

The example of the multinational CEOs (Chief Executive Officers) who have contend with local conditions when actualizing the global strategy means that more often than not, they have to adopt global thinking and local execution which is known as the Glocal Approach to leadership.

On the other hand, there are those leaders who are so local in their outlook that they fail to anticipate the global headwinds that are threatening their industries because of globalization and hence, are often swept off in the tides and waves of globalism.

Whereas the leaders who are global minded such as Coke and Pepsi often have to deal with purely local conditions, the examples of leaders of companies such as the Indian auto maker, Bajaj who failed to anticipate the challenges of globalization wherein Japanese competitors such as Honda ate into their market share and ultimately became market leaders is the opposite case of how leaders should not be too local in orientation.

Further, some leaders are democratic in their decision making styles which means that they prefer consensual approach to solving problems and a decision making approach that takes everyone’s viewpoint into account.

For instance, the widely respected Tata Group believes in democratic decision making which means that middle level managers and other leaders in the company are empowered and enabled to support the overall decision making process.

However, being overly democratic might not work in Asian countries where Patriarchic norms impose cultural constraints which need employees to look up to the leaders as authority figures and hence, work best when they are handed down decisions from the top.

For instance, this leadership style is most evident in the Reliance conglomerates wherein the charismatic leadership of the person at the top matters more than what the middle managers and other executives think and feel about.

Indeed, even in the global context, someone such as Lee Iacocca, who was known to be an extremely top down leader in the American auto industry succeeded more than others because he could inspire and motivate his employees.

On the other hand, there are leaders such as Bill Gates and the late legendary Steve Jobs who have not only been visionary but also ensured that they set an example through their personal commitment to passionate belief in loving the work they do.

However, the downside of this leadership style is that when the time came to pass the baton to the next generation of leaders, the “halo” around them was so alluring and strong that their successors found it hard to “fill the shoes” of such leaders and indeed, are even grappling with the challenge of emerging from the shadow of the former giants.

Indeed, this is also a challenge that Infosys faced when the founder leaders transitioned to the next generation of leaders. Moreover, the founder leaders of Infosys also made it a point to lead by example wherein their personal philosophy of simplicity was hard to emulate by the next generation of leaders who did not quite subscribe to austere and humble ways of living and interacting.

Of course, even flamboyant leaders such as the Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic find it hard sometimes to motivate their employees to be as passionate as they are about the business and the organization they work in.

What these examples show us is that leadership is most often situational and a balancing act which means that leaders have to adopt and adapt to the exigencies of the situation as well as balance the interests of competing sections of the organization.

Further, there is also a need to combine longer term vision with that of near term target driven mission wherein one can indeed “reach for the moon” in ambition but at the same time, has to be rooted in how they are going to achieve that in the meantime.

Thus, the title of the article which is Different Folks, Different Strokes has to be seen in this context where each leader adopts a leadership style that is the merging of personal vision with that of organizational needs and hence, is determined as much by their personalities as it is by the needs of the organization that they lead.

What this means is that one cannot fit “round pegs into square holes” and hence, there must be an alignment between personality, leadership styles, and the needs of the organization. Indeed, as many corporate leaders would attest, one has to find the organization that jells best with oneself and there is no point in sticking to companies where one “feels like a fish out of water”.

Each leader leaves behind “footprints in the sands of time” bearing their own and unique signature of leadership. Thus, whether their visions are taken forward or forgotten by successive leaders is something that is left to time to judge.

This is because leaders are also strong willed individuals who would often practice leadership that is their own instead of copying the styles of others. Indeed, what matters in the end is how true one has been to oneself and the organization and how best one has managed the alignment between these aspects.

To conclude, leadership is both an art and a science and hence, to judge leaders, one must look at the process as well as the outcomes as well as the immediate results and the longer term impact they have had on the organizations.

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