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Leadership at the peak – Two types of leaders

By George W Nyabadza

ONE of the regular readers of this column recently challenged me on my apparently too “strong emphasis on visionary leadership” to the exclusion or rather downplaying of other styles. Af

ter trading a few e-mails she now, it seems, appears to understand the basis of this emphasis on visionary leadership. I would like to share some of the reasons in this article.

It is not my intention to argue that visionary leadership styles are the most important and most effective, far from it. However, it is necessary to understand that leadership effectiveness is contextual; what works in one environment will not work in another or rather will not be as effective.

Understanding the obtaining environment is essential to deciding which leadership style to employ. One of two types of leadership styles (visionary or maintenance) can be adopted depending on the nature of the obtaining environment.

The visionary style is all about seeing into the future and moving the organisation in that direction, holding the pattern until the visualised future becomes a reality. It’s just like flying a plane, you hold the course until the desired landing zone becomes a reality and you bring it to land.

You could also think of it as a building process; first the concept, then the construction, then the hand over of the completed house. The maintenance style is about consolidating a successful business model, bedding in cultures and processes, fortifying the fort so to speak. Think of moving into a completed house, there is no more building works, but a lot of maintenance to maintain the beauty of it all. In times of environmental crisis the visionary leadership style tends to be more effective whereas in times of uncertainty the maintenance leadership style is more effective.

The assumption here, of course, is that the strategic leader has at his disposal the comprehensive repertoire of leadership skills and they are able to switch from one to the other. It is usually easier for a recruiting board to define the leadership style they desire to meet certain objectives and to then go about recruiting the right leader. However, leadership recruitment doesn’t occur every time the environment changes; the existing leaders need to have sufficient flexibility to cope with environmental changes by being able to change styles as the situation dictates.

In times of crisis, the strategic leader has to be visionary, able to rise above the current circumstances to see a desired future and to move the organisation along the appropriate path to it. The maintainer would flounder as their style would tend towards securing the existing business model at a time when competitors are being forced to reinvent their businesses to cope with the environmental crisis, thereby effectively redefining the rules of the game, and creating a new field of play that the maintenance strategic leader will fail to conceptualise and appropriately respond to.

In times of environmental certainty the visionary strategic leader may flounder as their whole approach is about growth and exploration, whereas the times would be calling for consolidation of previous gains. Calmer times are opportunities for bedding in cultures, processes and teamwork because competitive pressure is fairly predictable and rhythmic and it is here that maintenance strategic leadership thrives best.

I made an assumption earlier on that some strategic leaders will have the complete repertoire of leadership styles at their disposal, making it easy for them to switch from one to the other at will. I am a firm believer that any skill can be learned and mastered if one has sufficient determination.

Leadership styles are not mutually exclusive; it is to your advantage to be able to switch from one to the other at will. The visionary leader can also be a maintainer in a different environment and vice versa.

I always find great value when seeking to understand leadership to apply the principles to my own personal life. In terms of crisis, it is best to employ the visionary style of personal leadership; if you try and maintain the status quo you will be torn apart by the dynamics of the crisis, whereas once the crisis is past, as all crises do at some stage, it would be time to enter the maintenance mode, consolidating and enjoying life at a new level.

South African-based George W Nyabadza is the chief executive officer of Achievement Success Dynamics International. For more information on leadership development programmes please visit our website www.achievement-success.com or e-mail George on info@achievement-success.com

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