Style is one piece of the leadership equation that draws a great deal of debate as to whether or not it can be replicated and integrated into the developmental growth phase of high potential leaders on the fast track to the top of the corporate tower. Although many would also argue that style has to be analyzed within the context of the business setting and factoring in issues of culture, resources and timing before deciding on its transferability, that which we admire most about a certain leader’s style begs the question, “Can I do what that person does and get the same results?”

Leadership is a process of moving people through a three step process of Passive Engagement, Active Engagement, and Sustained Engagement. The style of the leader is the catalyst for that movement. There is a particular scene in the movie ‘Good Morning, Viet Nam’ in which a controversial disc jockey, played by Robin Williams, is taken off the air and replaced by another disc jockey, played by the late Bruno Kirby. Sadly, he attempts to emulate the spontaneous, off-the cuff style that is such an integral piece of the Robin Williams character only to find that he loses more listeners than he attracts. He did more than just the rote task of playing music for his listeners but actively engaged them in the listening process by pulling them into the rhythm, feel and the beat of the on-air activity. He made sure that he was not alone in a booth doing something only he would enjoy. The process was so powerful that in the years that followed, it allowed the listeners a Sustained Engagement of memory, behavior and perspective unlike anything they had experienced. The critical lesson being that leadership is more than just a single person pointing boldly in a direction and saying, “Follow me”, it is a masterfully crafted artistic production in which all the ‘players’ have clearly defined roles and all agree that the vision of the future is consistent with their present day needs. It is a delicate balancing act of people and potential on an integrated path through the uncertainty.

There is a familiar maxim which assures us that “Leadership will take us where our hearts know we should go”. Given the unique and sustaining nature of the topic, it stands to reason that in a time of uncertainty, our minds and hearts look for beacons of light to guide us toward higher and steadier ground. Whether the answers are found in institutions or individuals, concrete examples of what is possible are, typically, grounded in a fundamental commitment to a form of leadership and the willingness to demand that employees collectively focus on what is achievable. It is the record of those achievements that provide the insight needed to ward off the unexpected challenges that can quickly move an organization off center.

Leadership style has a big impact on the quality of organizational outcomes. While certain styles cannot be replicated, it is still wise to observe the process, analyze and reflect on personal style. The real trick is to learn how to develop your style in such a way that you move beyond being a leader who passively engages, but one who, willfully, seeks the higher ground of active engagement knowing that the real payoff comes from the organization becoming the recipient of the more powerful sustained engagement.

© 2013 Lee E. Meadows
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