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Leadership Kaleidoscope

Remember kaleidoscopes? Not sure if they are around or as popular as they used to be, but I remember getting one when I was a kid.  A kaleidoscope is an optical instrument, typically a cylinder with mirrors containing loose, colored objects such as beads or pebbles and bits of glass. As the viewer looks into one end,light entering the other end creates a colorful pattern, due to repeated reflections in the mirrors. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

Here is the beauty of the kaleidoscope:  each of those pebbles or beads or bits of glass have a beauty of their own individually, but when blended they provide a more intricate and unique beauty.

6 Styles of Leadership

It is the same with leadership.  It is a blend of traits, qualities and styles. There are some qualities like consistency, fairness and honesty that are mainstays—they are part of who we are not just as leaders, but as people. Often it is these qualities that attract people.

Then there are styles of leadership.  Michael Fullan in “Leading During Change” identifies 6 leadership styles:

  • Coercive: demands compliance (Do what I tell you)
  • Authoritative: mobilizes people toward a vision (Come with me)
  • Affiliative: creates harmony and builds emotional bonds (People come first)
  • Democratic: forges consensus through participation (What do you think)
  • Pacesetting: sets high standards for performance (Do as I do, now)
  • Coaching: develops people for the future (Try this)

Fullan tell us that, “Two of the six styles negatively affected climate and, in turn, performance.  These were the coercive style (people resist and resent) and the pacesetting style (people get overwhelmed and burnout).  All four of the other styles had a significant positive impact on climate and performance.” 

Leadership isn’t one Faceted

Back to the kaleidoscope —if we never turned the tube, we would always see the same image. The full function of the kaleidoscope would not be realized.  Utilizing only one style can hinder the leader’s influence.  Effective leadership is multi-faceted –just like the challenges they face are multi-faceted. 

Here is a ridiculous example to make a point.  If the school was on fire, you would not use a democratic style.

“Hey, what do you think we should do?”

You would jump into authoritative style: “Come with me”

What kind of leader are you?

Most of us have one style that is dominant.  I don’t believe the majority of leaders (there are always exceptions and outliers) wake up and say, “I am going to be coercive and force people to my will.”  More than likely they believe that they know what is best and people need to follow them for their own good. They don’t realize they are losing people or creating resentment and resistance.

Leaders should self-reflect on their leadership style and determine what it is and if it is working. Is its impact on the people you lead, positive?  Are you getting the results and responses you want? Are you losing ground?  What is its effect on you?

In addition to self-reflection, reach out to staff you respect and with whom you have a relationship. Reach out to people you know disagree with you. Reach out to your peers. Reach out to your supervisors. Ask them about your leadership style.  Ask them how people perceive you.  What is working and what is not.  Let them know you want honesty—that there will be no fallout.  This calls for courage, but not any less the courage leaders ask of their staff when they give feedback.  

Then armed with this data/information apply what you have learned.  Keep documenting, reflecting and tweaking. Leadership like school improvement is a continuous journey.  

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