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“Model leaders” – and models of leadership

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 j5Legendary model leader Roman republican Cincinnatus prioritised his agricultural acres over the affairs of state – until his country had need of his services. Duty done, this exemplary Consul then laid down his fasces – a symbol of real power – and retired to tending his garden in his sunset years


I want to ask if the way to extraordinary achievement in Cabinet or Council or Country is to recognise – and capitalise on that recognition – that there are diverse styles of leadership which characterise our politicians today?dfyh

Tell a politician: “The way to extraordinary achievement in Cabinet or Council or Country…” – and off goes that imagination: They will envision themselves in Parliament, in the full glare of the media spotlight, displaying vestiges of the lost glory of Lanka to television viewers! Or they might see glowing newspaper headlines pulsating with the more mundane patina of Provincial Council magnificence, the text glittering with examples of super-successful peripheral leaders illustrating the sub-text of their relative unimportance! Or ambitious Chief Executives – both incumbent Presidents or aspiring Premiers – could well imagine what posterity will say of their willingness to step down from the last great executive office to rule our land with an iron fist – or their ability to step up to the plate to rule it again with a velvet glove! But try prefixing the proposition at hand with “recognising others’ models of leadership …” and you will find the most stalwart of leaders shying away from sharing the credit or the glory with their fellow leaders – no matter how sterling they might be!

’Twas ever thus... ’Tis in the nature of the political animal. For leadership – for all your talk of servant-leadership or serving the people who elected you – is grounded in tangible realities such as: 


  •  Power corrupting
  •  Passion for position overriding common decency
  •  Privileges of office stymieing good sense
  •  Persuasive men and women with convincing visions sidetracking national interests
  •  Personalities at interpersonal play and interplay
  •  Pleasures of leadership shouting down stern duty
  •  Pursuit of excellence overshadowed by private ambitions
  • Progress of people and programmes from good to great weakened, threatened, by hidden agendas

How, then, could we begin to persuade the powers which be that there is something subversively desirable to the proposition that “recognising models of others’ leadership styles” is the primary factor in extraordinary political accomplishment? Well, read on! 

Critics may carp and cavil, but there is an element of truth to it that leaders are neither born nor made, but only recognised early enough and encouraged to go from ‘good’ to ‘great’. Models of leadership do work, and these seem to work best where model leaders recognise a plurality and diversity of leadership styles. Today, maybe more than ever (ironically enough for a nation-state shaking off the shackles of a uniform but unfair tyranny) we need to ask our leaders if the existence of differing leadership paradigms is sufficiently recognised by them to leverage the talents and resources we have in the shallower ends of the political pool... 

Do Presidents and Prime Ministers deliberate on whether their conscious acceptance and implementation of such paradigms makes a difference to their own political contributions? Is such a model inimical to greater accomplishments in Cabinet, Council, Committee, or Country?


A viable concept?

Virtually every successful institution (from Parliamentary Select Committees to the Corporate Sector) – would do well to recognise the existence of diverse leadership styles. We might all agree, for example, that US President Abraham Lincoln exemplifies a #democratic leadership that valued The Other. He appointed not flunkies or functionaries, but demonstrably the best-qualified persons (who were quite unlike himself) to high office. Often, he appointed even erstwhile opponents (The Enemy) – for instance: take Edwin Stanton, whose own approach to politics the 16th US President abhorred. Then again, hardly anyone will question the fact that the late Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s style was #dictatorial or #despotic, neither affirming nor tolerating competing leaders. He was indubitably an antidemocratic autocrat who ruthlessly eliminated his useful friends when their views and praxis did not coincide with his own – e.g. Ernst Röhm, the leader of the Nazi > SturmAbteilung (SA, or ‘Brown Shirts’), whom > der Fuehrer had assassinated on the infamous > Nacht der Langen Messer (‘Night of The Long Knives’).

As Garry Wills writes: “Historically, certain leaders have had unusually high impact because their particular style of leadership meshed perfectly with a specific need in society.”

The following example may validate the above proposition. Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, the 5th-Century BC aristocratic saviour of Rome, was then alive when his beloved Republic was threatened by barbarian invasions. Cincinnatus, using powers vested in him as Dictator (which was an actual political office, then, and not an ambitious personal style of governance, as now or of late), defeated the Enemy at the Gate. But then, with the plaudits of his people still ringing in his ears – by a people grateful for deliverance, following upon Cincinnatus’ success in staunching the bloody tide – he retired gracefully from public office to tend his agricultural acres as a private citizen. His inspirational > Ave! Atque vale! was: “Now, my garden has more need of my care than Rome!” Previously, on being presented the > Fasces – a rod-like symbol denoting the Roman Senate’s investiture of an individual with dictatorial powers; for a time, and with a purpose – Cincinnatus is reputed to have said: “I accept – but only because Rome has more need of me now than my garden!”

In our own day and time and place and spirit, do we have another Cincinnatus among us – a presidential farmer presented with his own potentially fascist office, only to opt to step down from the purple for the greater good of the people, in the greater interests of the nation? (Time will tell. And a leadership committee is at work on the project anon.) 

Consider also another well-known marketplace example of recognising the potential of leadership styles. In an era where effective innovation is customer-driven, where leaders need to be externally connected to their customers and suppliers, Louis Gerstner, the erstwhile CEO of IBM, was well known for spending a great deal of time collaborating with customers to drive strategic insights. Demonstrably, this corporate boss’s personal leadership style and preferential mode of interaction – including the recognition of other styles of and preferences for leadership – set the stage for that iconic brand’s successes.


Impact of leadership styles

Take this view, expressed by TEAL, a UK-based organisation specialising in corporate redevelopment: “There are a number of ways of exploring leadership style. If leaders can successfully understand their natural style of leadership, and explore how that style might be changed to fit different circumstances and different people, then their leadership is much more effective. Knowing their strengths and abilities, and leaving other parts of their leadership to others, is another vital element of being a great leader.”

Let’s localise this learning. Presidents and Prime Ministers need to devote themselves to conceptual, policy, and thought-leadership – undistracted by the contingencies of a demanding polity. So, why don’t they appoint trusted lieutenants to take on this dedicated task: of visiting electorates, attending town hall meetings, and kissing babies et al.? While this is a distinction of office/function rather than personality/leadership style, it has the radical thinking of purpose-built people-empowerment that lends itself to the practice of distinguishing models of leadership. Politicians need to distance themselves from their electorates in the common good... not alienate by being insensitive, but depersonalise the vote-gathering process – all the while investing in their fellow leaders who will do a good job of it (albeit for party as much as polity). Oh, for a time when our leaders’ praxis would be different from the time-honoured paradigm of personality-based politics! 

NEEDED URGENTLY: A distinction to be made between leadership roles, leadership styles, and leadership models; rather than following our ancient society’s normative values down the blind alley of power politics, and allowing established paternalist patterns of governance to lead us down the primrose path to perdition! 

The history of local politics is rife with examples of leaders who mixed up their leadership paradigms, to the detriment of our nation at large. From patriarchs who talked big about righteous societies but were self-righteous hypocrites in private; through doyennes of socialism whose monarchical manners resembled princesses – and bandit queens – of the world rather than humble servants of the people; to crusader knights whose model of leadership was aptly summed up in the ‘divine right of kings’ to rule as they pleased – usually, to rule all wrong, being greedy quarrelsome bullies who have yet to be brought to justice! 

Granted, hindsight has 20:20 vision. We see more clearly now that their reign has gone. Probably none of these leaders consciously recognised the impact that their respective roles as supposedly model leaders was making on their subjects, who may have sought so ardently to emulate their masters! The point being made is that outstanding merit or demerit can accrue from even an unconscious assimilation of leadership styles. ‘Leadership models’ cut both ways, inspiring extraordinary success as much as egregious self-centredness. There is a ruthless Caesar for every republican Cincinnatus, a Nero for every Nelson Mandela. (We might say: “An MR for every MS”?)

The Corporate sphere – as much as Cabinet and Council – have not been slow to capitalise on the diversity of leadership styles, and the business community has been no slouch in cashing in. As one writer on leadership puts it: “Because leadership operates in the context of human relationships, leaders must be students of themselves as well as students of others.” This leads to the assertion by another coaching guru that “leadership is about building bridges, and in order to do that, we must step out of ourselves and into another’s shoes.” Writing together, this duo of authors (John Jackson and Lorraine Bossé-Smith) is thereby able to state, unequivocally: “You were ‘hard-wired’ with a personality that, when properly lived out, enables you to be the most effective in your leadership. Your ability to use that personality in conjunction with the personality of others will set your team up for success.” 

Business leaders have reaped rich dividends out of this thinking to add value to bottom lines. A good example is the case of local apparel manufacturer MAS Holdings. Its Chairman and unwitting leadership savant, Deshamanya Mahesh Amalean, appointed and mentored a second tier of leadership from across the board to guide his stellar company’s then unsure destiny. The once self-styled ‘Magnificent Seven’ (MAS’s erstwhile Board of Management) at one time included such personality types as ‘Negotiator’ (Amalean’s brother, Sharad); ‘Troubleshooter’ (the ubiquitous Dian Gomes); ‘Thinker’ (the deceptively quiet Timothy Speldewinde). The group’s extraordinary accomplishments, consequently and subsequently, speak for themselves. 

Recognition of a gamut of leadership styles and leaders’ mantras is good wine that needs no bush. Today’s political leadership could take a hint from the warp and weft of MAS’s leadership praxis. 

Not in every instance are parliamentary glamour and the glare of the media spotlight a prerequisite for recognition-of styles-driven success. A mini-case-study of a relatively obscure business leader who worked to her own strengths – and those of others, to the common good – is illustrative:

“Patty Farmer is a sought after networking professional who is recognised as the leader in collaboration strategy. Patty has created a fresh and relevant network of close to 50,000 connections that rivals many long-standing professional networking programmes. While many people see networking as a *function (*emphasis added) of their business, Patty has made *networking (*emphasis added) her business. As the owner and director of Dallas Hot Pink Mamas, a professional Business Networking Organisation, as well as a Corporate Trainer, she has connected and taught thousands of business owners how to network and hone their skills, to effectively grow their businesses, while offering members very rich real-world member benefits. Anyone who has spent any time with her agrees that she is a shining example of how passion can take on a life of its own and create a dynamic programme for all. In this age of technological bells and whistles, Patty Farmer is the real deal; she not only talks the talk, she also walks the walk, and she is taking professional networking to the next, and much needed, level.” (Adapted from $Savvy business leader$; http://www.blogtalkradio.com/analucianovak/2011/02/03/savvy-business-leader-patty-farmerthe-networking-ceo)


Examples of extraordinary accomplishment 

Take Genghis Khan, a ruthless warlord alienated early from his people, whose relentless desire for recognition led to a Euro-Asiatic dominion unsurpassed in extent. It became “the largest contiguous empire in history after his death” (Wikipedia), stretching from Mongolia to Moscow in the north and the Middle East in the west. 

Take British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, during World War II, who realised he had thrust upon himself the crucial burden of building up the morale of a defeatist – and virtually near-defeated – people. The premier strategically chose to absent himself from vital Cabinet meetings, to spend time broadcasting inspirational radio talks to a beleaguered island-nation. The Battle of Britain, which was fought in the skies over southern England shortly after these rousing speeches, was no doubt won thanks to Churchill’s legendary determination to “Fight ’em everywhere!” and “Never give up!” That is a key which unlocks recognition that diverse people respond to diverse leadership stimuli. Both these stand witness to the irrefutable reality that recognition of identity and an accompanying passionate vision often achieve extraordinary events sans leadership models.


Difference made by recognising ‘Models of Leadership’

At a macro level, a mutual recognition of the existence of diverse leadership styles militates in favour of exceptional achievements. But the micro picture provides a mixed bag of leadership matrices and outcomes:

People-Oriented Leadership: People are the focus. Leaders invest time/effort in grooming, leveraging, organising teams. Great for team work, but goals may not be the primary objective in focus; therefore, may not be achieved (e.g. a prefect body in a private school or a star national sports team).

Task-Oriented Leadership: This is most often adopted when procedures, tasks, or goals need to be prioritised. Task-oriented leaders generally focus on getting the job done, but may lose sight of team members’ needs (e.g. the Special Forces Battalion or Commando Regiment of the regular army). 

Transactional Leadership: A leadership style where team members derive least satisfaction. Everyone recognises that control lies with the leader – the team are only paid to make certain ‘transactions’. Failure to complete these transactions results in penalties/punishments (e.g. a terrorist movement led by a charismatic leader – or an oppressive autocratic regime, once sub-led by an arguably equally terrorising leader!). 

Transformational Leadership: A model leadership style in every sense, truly inspiring the team by painting a vision of the future. The team spends much time communicating their vision. Then, team members are allowed to decide how to achieve the common vision. Probably the most effective leadership style for satisfying people and delivering results (e.g. the ‘Sri Lanka Unites’ national reconciliation-oriented youth movement led by Prashan de Visser; or the Sri Lanka Cricket team – when it wins!).

Servant Leadership: A model where any non-leader in the team (irrespective of level) becomes the leader to complete a task. Often, such a leader will serve cooperatively, sacrificially, inconspicuously. This facilitates more democratic decision-making to achieve a goal (e.g. a ‘hooker’ in a rugby team… or the rare calibre of spiritually-minded politician such as we have at least two or three of in Sri Lanka’s Parliament today, placing country above party above self… or the Man of the Moment in high office since January 2015 who has said he would step down…).


Is recognition of diverse leadership styles THE ONLY ROUTE to outstanding success?

No. Obviously not! Single-minded leaders from King Richard the Lion Heart to Sir Richard Branson have achieved much, while remaining agnostic to other leaders (and followers) around them. And under a variety of leadership styles, it is possible to achieve outstanding results. This suggests that recognising leadership styles is NOT THE ONLY KEY to extraordinary achievements. But there is little if any doubt from the examples below (adapted from $Styles of leadership$; http://www.managementskillsadvisor.com/styles-of-leadership.html) that @ A Conscious Acceptance of the Diversity and Power of Leadership Styles @ adds oomph and a certain je ne sais quoi to the accomplishment. (The exceptions, though, should caution us against generalisation.) 

Autocratic Leadership: This is an extreme form of leadership. Maximum power lies with the leader. People are told what to do, with little space to express opinions. Most people resent this form of leadership, which is best used for routine/unskilled jobs. (Or so the theory has it.) But witness Italy under Mussolini, or an island-nation with a ‘late’ ‘great’ ‘former’ leader whose first name begins with the same latter – under both of whom the trains ran on time… after ages, and to great encores!

Bureaucratic Leadership: A potentially stultifying by-the-book approach to leadership which places more emphasis on policies versus people – best applied in circumstances where procedure and compliance are vital. Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s short-lived but superlative technocratic administration at the turn of the last decade is a case in point. What his present prime ministerial term of office has done, 11+ years later, history will judge.

Charismatic Leadership: A dynamic model where the leader liberally injects enthusiasm, which propels the team towards its goal. However, such leaders have more belief in themselves than their teams, making their input vital to achieving goals. We are reminded of Jack Welch or Lee Iacocca. MAS’s Dian Gomes and his management of the National Boxing Team also spring up as being exemplary.

Democratic Leadership: Such a leadership model invites other team members to play a role in the decision-making process, although the final decision remains with the leader. This is the preferred style when quality is preferred over quantity. Good Governance under a uni-Administration unhampered by the vagaries of coalition partners and the vicissitudes of compromised allies and cohorts comes readily to mind! Then there are certain National Governments, which shall remain nameless!

Apathetic Leadership: The leave-it-be style, where leaders let teams work on their own. This works best when teams are assigned individual projects, or team members have much experience and many skills. It can fail with more immature or younger teams. Many government departments and lacklustre state ministries fall into this abyss. 

In the big-picture scheme of things, we could reach this conclusion together with Bill Hybels, in his book ~Courageous Leadership: 

“Certain leadership styles fit better than others with specific ... needs. … Highly effective leaders often have impact not only because they are highly gifted, but also because their leadership styles mesh perfectly with specific ministry needs. It follows, then, that discovering and developing unique leadership styles is another major key to leadership effectiveness.”

The existence of diverse leadership models is widely accepted. International missions and local marketplace institutions practise it, even if their intricacies are not leveraged to advantage. However, it is not always the case that recognising leadership models was the key to extraordinary accomplishment. Sometimes, dynamic leaders with a compelling vision or hidden agendas or strong vested interests simply bulldozed earth-shattering eventualities through. But by and large, where leaders recognise that other leadership models and styles exist, the stage is set for the accomplishment of something great. In the limit, therefore, it is safe to suggest that ^recognising models of leadership^ is ONLY ONE OF THE PRIME FACTORS in ^extraordinary accomplishments^ in Cabinet, Council, Country.

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