IT Employment

Lessons in leadership: What kind of a leader are you?

In an interview you might be asked, "What kind of leader are you?" Is there one right answer to this question? Ilya Bogorad looks at the possible replies and what they mean.

If you recently interviewed for a management position, you were probably asked the question: What kind of a leader are you? I am not entirely sure what kind of an answer is desired; perhaps, something along the lines of: "I practice consultative leadership, but I make my own decisions, so the buck always stops with me." Or, perhaps, "I lead through delegation, by my empowering people to make decisions and endorsing them."

The interviewer might have nodded appreciatively and mumbled, "Good," and you might have gotten the job, but is there a right answer? Is there one particular model of leadership style that everyone should aspire to adopt? I will attempt to answer this question here.

A leadership style is all about the manner in which a leader makes a decision. Think Al Dunlap and the adjective autocratic will come to mind (more precisely, tyrannical, in Chainsaw Al's case). Dwight Eisenhower, on the other hand, was known for his participative decision making. A great deal of books are dedicated to biographies of successful leaders and even more, to telling the reader how to become as successful by copying what the exemplar has done in the past.

In fact, no single kind of the leadership decision making is appropriate for every situation. A platoon commander does not gather his men for an offsite retreat in the heat of battle. Nor does a CEO decide on a divestiture or an acquisition in the first five minutes of a phone conversation on the subject.

There are only five approaches to decisions available to you.

  1. Authoritative I: You make the decision on your own, using the information available to you.
  2. Authoritative II: You obtain necessary information from your subordinates and make a decision on your own. You may or may not share the objective of your decision. They merely provide information you deem necessary for you to have.
  3. Consultative: You share the objective (a problem, an opportunity, etc.) of your decision with subordinates and solicit both information and suggestions. Then, you make the decision.
  4. Group: You share the objective with a group of subordinates, discuss and analyze it as a group, and arrive to a mutually agreeable solution.
  5. Endorsement: You share the objective and delegate decision making to the group of subordinates. Once they reach the decision, you endorse it.

To choose the right approach, you need to consider the following five parameters:

  1. Information available: You may or may not have the information necessary for prudent decision making. Quality of decisions generally improves as input information becomes more complete.
  2. Time available: Authoritative decision making requires far less time than other types. If an expeditious action is required, it may be impossible to engage the group or even consult with the key staff.
  3. Development priorities: If you consistently exclude your staff from decision making, there are no learning opportunities for them to develop their decision making skills. This also often means that there won't be any opportunity for you to grow out of this role.
  4. Need for engagement: Authoritative decisions meet compliance (at best) among employees. The much more powerful state is the one of engagement, where those who execute the decision have "bought into" it wholeheartedly. This is when people's productivity and the quality of work go through the roof. You are likely to get it when you involve your subordinates in making the decision.
  5. Risk: There are two considerations included in this one parameter. First, the more isolated the decision maker is, the higher is the likelihood that some critical piece of information will be missed (most commonly, the case of "you don't know what you don't know"). Second -- and this is a bit Machiavellian -- a suboptimal decision made with a clearly demonstrated effort to seek information from subject matter experts and develop consensus can be much easier excused than the same decision made on one's own.

Trending of these parameters across the five decision making styles is illustrated by the graph below. There may very well be other parameters that you may find necessary to add.

Figure A

So, what is the best answer to the question on your leadership style? The right answer is this: "Leadership is situational. The best leaders understand the five approaches available to them and choose them as they seem appropriate. Let me tell you how I do it..."

I hope that you put these concepts into practice. What do you think of these categories?

About

Ilya Bogorad is the Principal of Bizvortex Consulting Group Inc, a management consulting company located in Toronto, Canada. Ilya specializes in building better IT organizations.

41 comments
rsheckler
rsheckler

Who is conducting the interview? If it is a member of the executive staff they will want to ensure your ability to complete the mission with the interest of the firm first in mind without destroying the organization in the process by either hubris or tyranny. A peer review may be more interested in the emotional climate resulting from your introduction to the environment and if you pose a competitive risk to them. Subordinate members will be influenced by attributes of compassion and fairness. Ultimately leadership is that intangible quality to get more out of individuals and groups than they would willingly contribute without your influence and to sustain that through the successful completion of the task/operation. Assumption is that this is a positive environment and not one based upon coercion.

ericcase
ericcase

Interesting article on decision-making but I do not think I understand the graph with respect to Risk. Are you saying that A1 has more or less risk than E? I work in information security, what kind of risk? I agree that there are different factors involved in decision-making and risk maybe more than two of those factors. Does one let the developers and users pick the security of the new system/application via Endorsement? That would depend of the security awareness of the developers and users. Sure, whatever security they pick will be easier excused but the decision may have more risk to the business than the business would accept had the CISO/CIO/CEO made the decision.

Mohana.Ashanivas
Mohana.Ashanivas

This is a terrific article, and the graphical representation of impact on various aspects of decision making - makes it a special read. Thanks llya! - Mohan

richard.ots
richard.ots

"is there a right answer? Is there one particular model of leadership style that everyone should aspire to adopt?" This is going to sound funny probably, but... has anyone ever tried simply to tell the truth during a job interview? Just tell them your preferred leadership style, and don't try to give the answer that they would like to hear. Don't try to adopt something that doesn't work for you. If you're not an autocrat, don't try to be. If you don't feel comfortable delegating, then don't. If that means you don't get the job, then it probably would have been a bad fit to begin with.

Curtis R. Unruh
Curtis R. Unruh

I always felt that leadership is often best displayed through effective decision-making. I think that's how I got my first management position, everybody else was afraid to make a decision so I did and everybody was so relieved that they just did whatever I said. That being said, most decisions aren't tough at all. The answers usually just fall out on the floor after discussion with the right people. The tough part is often the price to pay to implement the decision. How to pay for the solutions and how one gets the tough decisions funded is another important aspect of leadership. That requires a history of delivering results. Which is another important aspect of leadership. Decision making is an important leadership quality. But leadership involves a lot more, people want to be successful in their jobs and they will often follow people who deliver.

dallas_dc
dallas_dc

The article is interesting and offers some very good information and insights. However, the definition of what kind of leader your are is more than how you make decisions. Decision making is key, but there is also communication (Input and Output), personality, self awareness, people skills (more than just communication), style (more than what clothes you wear, but mgmt style, attitude, etc.), and work ethic. An effective leader is probably somewhere between a chameleon and the Rock of Gibralter. He or she needs to know the level of development, maturity, attitude, and experience of those being led, and apply the appropriate leadership style to enable that person to exceed expectations. (You wouldn't use the same leadership style for a seasoned pro, as you would for "Intern Bob".) I would answer the question by starting a discussion along the lines of the above paragraph. By the time we finish the subject, the interviewer should know what kind of leader I would be for his company.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Leading is about getting people to follow. For that to happen they have to want to. It has to be the better alternative to them. If it isn't you aren't leading them anywhere, even if they do go along.

wfairley
wfairley

Your article somewhat parallels an article I read about 8 years ago for one of my MBA classes titled, "Leadership that gets results" written by Bill Goleman and published in the Harvard Business Review in 1995. He defines the phrase "Emotional Intelligence" in that article, which was based on his book. I highly recommend the article for anyone in a supervisory role of any kind. As a former Army officer, I mentored numerous junior officers on leadership and can attest to the validity of consistency and fluidity in leadership behavior; sounds contradictory I know, but this isn't a book on leadership, only encouragement to read one. Ilya, thank you for publishing your blog on this topic. Woody Fairley CCNA, MCITP

David_Sorenson
David_Sorenson

I have been in my current job for two months and was asked a variation of this question in my first set of interviews. The question was posed as ?What is your preferred leadership style for your manager?" My answer was "leadership styles are as varied as individual personalities so it is difficult to narrow it to one choice." Allow me to answer this question in a different way: "I cannot tolerate being micromanaged." I knew this answer was running the risk of NOT getting the job offer, but it also served the purpose of telling me my potential manager's leadership style. If s/he turned out to be a micromanager, better to find it out right away and move on to another opportunity. Three days later and another set of formal interviews and a job offer was made to me.

kevaburg
kevaburg

I don't aspire to a leadership model. I aspire to the situation. I make independent decisions where I don't consult anyone at times when time is of the essence and I don't have time for meetings. I consult with my team when I need their input in order to make an informed decision and where to make assumptions would prove unproductive to the project. After all, my team as a single cohesive unit can relate each aspect of their own part of the project better than I will be able to do. I therefore need to simply listen, assess and endorse. I also have times where I simply let my team makes the decisions. Quite simply put, do I really need to make a decision about things that these people are wholly qualified and capable enough to resolve on their own? I only need to know what they have done, and in some cases why, so that I can inform a client of a projects status from a management perspective. I don't like and don't endorse autocratic management and I hate the prospect of micromanagement. In an interview, I tell them what I have written here. And if need be, I can provide them with solid evidence of why I chose one method over another in a particular situation. I believe that for one person to embrace only one leadership style is counterproductive and is a view I would share in any interview.

kevaburg
kevaburg

........was that the person not afraid to make a decision (even if it might not be the right one at the time) and was also willing to take responsibility for that decision, was more likely to gain the respect needed to begin leading people than the grey man who always stands back and lets someone else make that decision. The phrase that pays for me is: "There is only one thing worse than a bad decision and that is to make no decision at all" I forget whose quote that is though.........

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

my boss tells me off. :p Not making a decision is a decision, if you decided not to make one. Fear of making one is a major culture problem that the top boys need to decide to do something about, and quick, like yesterday.

cmaritz
cmaritz

But still this is useful information. The diagram at the end is a picture worth a 1000 words. Thanks. C

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

out that management leadership is bad for business. Of course confusing the two is as well.... :p

kevaburg
kevaburg

Leadership is not about getting people to follow. That to me implies making them do something they don't necessarily want to do. Rather, I believe leadership is about people WANTING to follow. They see a value or a talent and then make a conscious decision to allow someone else to lead them in a particular direction.

JasonKB
JasonKB

100% spot on Tony. Too often "leadership" is assumed when in fact all a manager is capable of is thinly veiled extortion. As in - I hold your job, potential raises and promotions in my hands so you better do what I say. I've worked for lots of managers but only a couple of true leaders. In my mind a leader is someone who encourages you to do better, meet and extend the stretch goals etc. by encouraging your personal, internal motivation, not by shouting slogans and orders. Personally, I think most of the books on the great business leaders are not much more than ego strokes for their massive egos and to placate their need for accolades and recognition. The books are ghost written and present a very sanitized version of how they rose to power. They all start off humble, poor and with drive instilled by their parents (or bad childhood experience) working in small part of an organization (usually sales). A large period of undocumented time goes by, say 10-15-20 years as they rise through an organization on ladders built from the work of others and boom there they are at the top, Mother Theresa in a $3000 suit.

tech503
tech503

Agree 100%. You can lead and get things done but with how many knives in your back at the end? Or you can lead a team who would do anything to keep working with you.

ibogorad
ibogorad

There are more books and papers on leadership than any other business topic. Bennis, McGregor, McClelland, Vroom and Yetton, Drucker, Maier, Hofstede and many others are all worth reading if you are interested in the topic.

esulliva
esulliva

I think you mean Daniel Goleman, not Bill

David_Sorenson
David_Sorenson

I also recall reading the same article for my M.Ed. coursework in cognitive behavior and preferred learning styles in 2003.

kmbogert
kmbogert

Excellent response. I agree with your observation about leadership styles. So many people think there is only one style to be used. The best managers can use multiple styles and know when to use each one.

richard.ots
richard.ots

Switching between six of seven leadership styles may not be for everybody. Don't tell a prospective employer that you're a hands-off manager if delegating responsibility gives you the creeps. The only -right- answer during an interview is the truth: "I do these leadership styles really well, but I don't feel comfortable with those styles (although I realize they could be useful at times)".

SilverBullet
SilverBullet

Your right Tony, the true leaders seek all means to deliver on a decision. Any person in a leadership role that avoids making a decision is incompetent and nobody will follow this individual. They can not be held responsible for anything not decided. I can see leadership with my first lunch taken with the boss. If they avoid picking up the lunch tab, they are no leader.

kevaburg
kevaburg

I have always felt that someone that can't make a decision is more likely to induce uncertainty in other team members than someone who makes a decision and can accept the responsibility. I'm not talking about consciously making the decision to not make a decision (although some people use that as an excuse to cover up the inability to make choices). I'm talking about the ummming and ahhhhing because the wrong people are trying to decide on something that they know very little about.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Always has been to me. You ever took a dog for a walk when it didn't want to go? Dragging it's arse across the pavement is pulling.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

I think you are getting too hung up on a literary technique ... the interview comments are just to get you interested in the topic. After all we've all been asked this question ... to which the answer is always "it depends". Followed by a question about the company's preferred management style.

kevaburg
kevaburg

There is a hell of a lot in this list that a lot of people could learn from and I count myself among that number! This is the first time in a long time that a simple bulleted list (without the bullets!) has given me pause for thought! Thank you!

SilverBullet
SilverBullet

The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different. The productivity of work is not the responsibility of the worker but of the manager. The purpose of a business is to create a customer. There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all. Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed. Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window. We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn. When a subject becomes totally obsolete we make it a required course. A manager is responsible for the application and performance of knowledge. Business, that's easily defined - it's other people's money. Checking the results of a decision against its expectations shows executives what their strengths are, where they need to improve, and where they lack knowledge or information. Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you've got. Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes. Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things. Executives owe it to the organization and to their fellow workers not to tolerate nonperforming individuals in important jobs. Few companies that installed computers to reduce the employment of clerks have realized their expectations... They now need more, and more expensive clerks even though they call them 'operators' or 'programmers.' Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action. Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. The act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth. Making good decisions is a crucial skill at every level. Management by objective works - if you know the objectives. Ninety percent of the time you don't. Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. Most discussions of decision making assume that only senior executives make decisions or that only senior executives' decisions matter. This is a dangerous mistake. Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done. My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions. No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.

kevaburg
kevaburg

How often have I used that quote and never knew who staked the claim to it!!!

neilb
neilb

With a video camera...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

was meant to recommend an option , not provide several and them choose one....

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

:D You can usually pin them into a corner though, like herdings cats admittedky but doable, if you bark loud enough.

neilb
neilb

Just asking...

kevaburg
kevaburg

I hate sitting in a room with someone that doesn't want to make a decision about anything while the rest of the team sit there and simply wonder "what now..........?" And as for buggering up their plan? Doesn't a plan need to be in place first?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If I can't know enough, I address that. If I don't know enough I address that. If Im sure about (bearing in mind the only thing bigger than my head is my ego, I will give it a go. There is always a fallback, and as soon as recognise a bad decision, I stop and re-evaluate, I don't try and hide that I screwed up, I learn from it an do it better from then on. Needless to say prevaricators loathe me in return. I keep buggerin' up their 'plan'

kevaburg
kevaburg

I didn't read it as it was written.