What is your leadership style? Are you a forceful leader? Do you express yourself with flair? Do you lead from behind the scenes? There are several leadership styles, and each has benefits and limitations, as well as obstacles that often surface when practicing that particular style.

Leadership consultants have described many different sets of leadership styles, each one keying on a different leadership dimension. Because the power dimension of leadership is critical yet often misunderstood, this set of styles focuses on the degree to which the leader seeks to control or re-direct the power.

Below are four of the more controlling styles of leadership. (Part two will describe five of the more empowering styles.)

As you read through the various styles, you will probably discover that your personal style is a combination of two or more styles, as opposed to perfectly matching one.

The most controlling form of leadership is despotic. The despotic leader seeks to remove all people from the organization who disagree with him or her. People can be removed through termination or by making it clear to the person that he or she does not fit well within the organization.

On the surface, this is a cohesive leadership style. However, it often produces public compliance but internal struggle. While the leader’s desires and aims are well manifested throughout the organization, the system is prone to mutiny. Dissident members usually survive long enough to highlight the leader’s faults for other members in the organization or a governing group associated with the organization. This leadership style also produces a closed system not easily adaptable to environmental changes.

Another form of leadership, pervasive, occurs when a leader seeks to create a power block within the organization, which in turn exercises great influence over other members. The leader sits in the middle of the power block.

Unlike the closed system of the despotic leader, this style often allows for the creative discussion of ideas within the small power group. It will even consider extra-organizational input depending upon the involvements of the individuals within the power group.

The success of this style lies in the power block’s ability to encompass the rest of the organization. Its limitation lies in the fact that it creates jealousy throughout the system. Those not in the power block want to be, and those in the power block eventually want to be the leader. It also is difficult to build and maintain loyalty among the inner circle.

In the proscriptive style of leadership, the leader maintains the final say over all-important decisions. In this system, the leader is rarely embarrassed by or surprised by any action or decision within the group or organization.

Although the leader gives little direction to other members, they know that any idea beyond the cultural boundaries established by the leader is likely to be vetoed. Leaders embracing this style define more of the don’t’s than the do’s for the organization.

The normative leadership style is much more public than the proscriptive leadership style. These leaders set the codified standards for the organization. Members benefit from receiving a well-defined set of expectations. Rather than the leader maintaining veto power over decisions, the well-defined rules provide their own set of vetoing power.

Seldom, if ever, are the rules adjusted, which leads to the major weakness of this style—adaptability. This style works well in an organization with strong positional authority.

Jeff Woods is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Ohio.

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