Which leadership model is the best?

As a facilitator and a learning protagonist, over may years, I have lost count of the number of leadership models shared in workshops. I have probably forgotten more than I have remembered! There are my favourites such as situational leadership, servant leadership, values-based leadership, action centred leadership, adaptive leadership and a whole list of styles and four box grids that I have used and am very familiar with. Recently, however, towards the end of a workshop, a curious, thoughtful participant asked, “so, which leadership model is best?” A straightforward enough question.

My response was a simple one, “well……that depends.”

While most of us can recognise good leadership when we experience or observe it, it is hard for us to determine the best model to use in a difficult situation; subsequently, blending leadership models as needed, is a popular fix.

But then it struck me. As I reflected upon the many leadership experiences I’ve had in life, a clear analogy came to mind.

As a child, I recall one day that I wanted to go out on my bike for a ride. Forlornly, there were several issues with my bike, including a wobbly seat, a flat tyre, a loose wheel, shoddy brakes, and handlebars that were more than just a little squint. I’d not been out for a ride in a while, and sadly my bicycle had fallen into disrepair. I called my dad down to the shed in the garden. He came and looked at the bike, commenting upon the amount of work it needed to get it back into shape. However, I recall that he set to work immediately and pulled out a big box of tools. The box was a little higgledy-piggledy, and as I learned throughout his life – that was just my dad’s way! No matter, one small spanner was used to tighten the wobbly seat. Another set of tools removed the wheel, repaired the puncture, blew up the tyre and tightened it into position. Dad then got out a set of pliers to fix the brakes. Finally, a different wrench was used to straighten the handlebars. After a short time, using a variety of tools, the bike was fixed and off I went on my ride with a gleeful smile. “Dads are great” I thought!

So, it is with leadership. Often, while managing and leading others, we are faced with a vast array of different problems, challenges and issues. Yet, just like the multitude of tools in my dad’s box, we too have a broad range of different leadership models to help us resolve/fix/repair/manage/overcome even the most mind-boggling obstacles. Tools equip us with solutions. It’s always worthwhile reflecting on the shiny new models, or the well-worn rusty ones that you have at your disposal. That way, you are best placed to provide the best solution you can to enable your people to succeed.

The question, ‘which model is best’, is a little too binary. Different models will suit different people, situations and cultures. “It depends” after all, was indeed the correct answer.


Daryl Watson

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