There are many different styles of leadership with varying degrees of effectiveness. A people-centered approach is probably best in general; but only if partnered with sound knowledge and skill, and delivered in an authoritative style (a strong focus on relationship with the ability to appropriately set limits and apply corrective action).
I’m currently coaching someone I consider to be one of the best leaders with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work. I don’t know if she actually knows that she’s as good as she is: she’s relatively new to her position and has lots of questions and doubts about her style. But this type of questioning is common and expected for a new leader, and I fully expect her confidence to rise steadily with experience. I also sincerely hope, though, that she never loses the habit of self-reflection.
I’ve always had the impression that this woman is a strong leader, despite some of her doubts in specific areas. It was when I reviewed the 360 degree feedback from her team, though, that I realized how much of a star she really is. She has mastered that difficult balance between people skills and technical skill; between relationship development and task orientation. She is truly an authoritative leader who knows what she’s doing.
On the contrary, I’m also aware of leaders who appear oblivious to the fact that they’re not particularly great at the people side of things. They may be good at the technical aspects of their jobs, but they tend to rub others the wrong way. They are often closed to others’ ideas and they have difficulty sharing credit.
I think this happens for different reasons: they might be aware of their shortcomings but don’t particularly care; they may be aware of their shortcomings but don’t have the skills to change; or they might actually believe this style is effective. My guess, also, is that these types of leaders are often (but not always) masking a deeper sense of insecurity with an authoritarian style of interaction. Regardless of the reasons for the authoritarian style of leadership, it’s clear that these leaders don’t – at least actively and openly – question their leadership.
We might not all possess the leadership finesse of my client, but we can always continue to grow when we’re willing to engage in honest self-reflection. I believe that my client is a natural leader to a great degree – but I also believe that she’s as strong as she is because she questions herself.
It becomes increasingly difficult to question ourselves as our confidence and competence grows: self-reflection is often done in response to self-doubt and fear of failure. But to be effective leaders we need to reclaim and hold the assumption that we can always be better.