Leadership is hard, and whoever says its not is kidding themselves.
The reason that there is a market for self-help books is because everyone is learning how to be either a become a leader or become a better leader. Almost every single book about leadership on the market has some thing valuable to add to the definition of leadership.
The danger lies when us, the readers, think of the advice that was applied as a one-size-fits-all solution. Let me stop you now. Nothing in life is a one-size-fits-all solution. Even onesies come in different sizes (like newborn, 2T, and adult!). Categorically, there are endless amounts of leadership styles: each more specific than the last.
Adding a new category won’t do anyone any good; so let’s take a second to talk about the zoomed out picture. If we zoom out a lot, we get three basic categories of leadership.
Time for a cheezy metaphor. Pretend that the team or group you have to lead is this wheel of cheese:
And that you, aspiring leader, are this mouse:
Now, you are substantially smaller than the cheese wheel. But you want to get this home so that you can feast for the rest of your exciting mousy life.
From here, the three categories play out like this:
The push strategy has you behind your team, letting them acquire experiences through their own trials and errors with only minor corrections and adjustments on your part. This method is great for giving people experience that they need to be able to grow, as well as for giving everyone a sense of ownership and investment in an endeavor.
Your initial efforts should be focused on exposing your team members to whatever it is that they need to improve on. After they have attempted whatever it is, the second wave of effort should be to help them improve.
Pro: Gives people quick experiences, good for related tasks where people already have some idea about what to do
Cons: Care must be taken to ensure that the team’s effort stays within the scope of the goals, it won’t work if the members have no idea what’s going on
The pull strategy has you in front of your team, showing them the ropes and leaving room for questions and clarification. This method is great when members have to learn a totally new task, or when getting someone new to the team aboard.
Your initial efforts should be directed towards showing people the right way to do things. Give them the benefit of your wisdom and experience and teach them common mistakes early so that they can try to catch them before they become a big problem. Afterwards, give them a chance to put this in practice.
Sound familiar? This is the typical method favored by the US public school system; a system where teachers teach and pupils diligently take notes
daydream under the tutelage of the teacher.
Pro: Gives people a chance to know lots about a subject before attempting. Teach right, and the team may eventually become self-teaching.
Con: People often want to try these things: which means that if you keep blathering about they will get exasperated. The quality of their understanding is dependent on the quality of your instruction. Don’t screw up.
This method is almost a hybrid of both of them (quelle surprise), one where you as the leader figure out what the team wants and needs. Taking both of those (often conflicting) things into account, you determine the best course of action as a team and take action together. Long story short: you’re all passengers aboard the same bus.
Your initial efforts should be focused on figuring out what everyone wants, including yourself. After you’ve found out all you need to know, then you act–either teaching something or letting others try something.
Pro: Great way to get buy-in from the team and figure out what they and you need and want.
Con: Significantly slower than Pull or Push
What does this all mean?
There are lots of things to consider when determining which leadership style is best for us. We all have that one style that we all tend to gravitate to. But situations change, and we have to be willing and able to adapt and use all three if need be. One method isn’t right or wrong. Again the only way to possibly make a mistake is to choose a method and stick to it exclusively.