A Continuum of Leadership Approaches and Styles
Leadership is a mixture of and a continuum of approaches and styles. And, as you will eventually find in one of my upcoming articles, the approach and style required for successful leadership is dependent on the situation.
To be a leader and certainly a successful leader, it is important to understand the ranges of these approaches and styles. In this article I will cover one of two overarching approaches to leadership; an amoral vs. a moral approach. My next article will present the second: a transactional vs. a transformational approach. From this level of understanding it is then possible to present and understand the various leadership styles, why knowing about them is important, and their pro’s and con’s.
We’ve Come a Long Way
Our understanding of leaders, and leadership, has been improving based on refinements of earlier leadership theories made by Max Weber (1948), George Burns (1978), and Daniel Goleman (1995). Weber determined that there are two basic approaches to leadership; transactional and transformational. Burns also agreed with Weber but also determined there were two additional approaches to leadership which he called an amoral approach and a moral approach.
An Amoral Approach to Leadership
In today’s environment it is difficult for hard core amoral leaders to exist with the most notable exceptions being the few remaining small country dictators. At their worst, amoral leaders gain power and then rule through tactics of coercion and fear. In fact, in some cases, it is the use of coercion and fear that gains them their power.
Their behaviors are not aligned with the long-term needs and values of the organization or their followers. They also tend to be in it for the betterment of themselves at the expense of those who follow. While they might deliver results in the short term with their extreme and power yielding measures, they create a trail of destructive effects in the long-term.
Burns obviously did not consider an amoral leader to be real leader. They certainly are not consistent with the definition of leadership in a previously posted article, Leadership Defined. The appropriate classification, for those who tend to go to the extreme with this approach is: “Old School” leaders. They are bosses and not true leaders.
Unfortunately this command and control approach is somewhat of a default approach that seems to be hardwired into us similar to the fight or flight reaction when things get tough. As a result we have to understand and recognize its existence in order to consciously avoid its continual use and to use it only in absolutely necessary situations.
A Moral Approach to Leadership
Burns believed that moral leaders were diametrically opposed to amoral leaders. A good way to characterize a moral leadership approach is to say that moral leaders serve a higher purpose. There is a genuine concern for both the short and long-term mutual benefit of all participants. And rather than focusing on the “what’s in it for me” they are ultimately focused on achieving the vision and mission of the organization.
Focusing on the Wrong Results
Yet another way of looking at whether or not a leader is acting in a moral or an amoral approach to leadership is to look at the type of results they are intending to achieve.
I have concluded that everyone is a leader everyday during some portion of the day, i.e. a mother, father, school teacher, worker and even the dredges of society. Mobsters, drug lords and gangsters are leading themselves and others. Mothers and fathers are leading their children by example and their teaching. The intended results of their leadership are therefore important and it also defines their approach to leading.
When the leaders of Enron lost their focus on the values, vision and mission of the organization and became focused on saving their own jobs, income, stock options and bonuses, they crossed the line from moral to amoral leadership. A person must be very careful about the intended results they are trying to achieve. Integrity, the foundation of leadership, must not be comprised.
Further, from a personal leadership perspective (the ability to lead one’s self to do good and productive things), those who choose to accomplish little with their lives, to lay around or who exercise the entitlement mentality are exercising a form of an amoral approach to (self) leadership because they are focusing on the wrong results.
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Don Redinius, Author – The New Era of Financial Success, Process Management for Team Members and a contributing author to Six Sigma for Dummies.
“Others have already figured out most of what we need to know, if only we have enough sense to hear what they have to say.” – Unknown