When I think about developing my personal pattern of leadership I go back and reflect on the leadership styles I have applied without even knowing the theories behind them, and the ones that I already knew and the ones I am continuously learning. Through out my role as a Social Communicator, Manager and citizen, I have experienced leadership in many different ways and I am familiar with different ways of achieving objectives.
Jumping into the most important leadership styles that I have applied in my life, I will list them and define them, while I reflect on them as well considering the thoughts of two personalities that I interviewed for this project: Jacqueline Petchel, executive editor of the Carnegie-Knight News21 multimedia investigative reporting initiative and Karly Way, investigator and professor specialized in Sociology/Psychology at Yavapai College in Arizona.
One of the first styles that I applied was the autocratic one. Autocratic Leadership, according to mindtools.com, “Is a style where leaders have a lot of power over their people. Staff and team members have little opportunity to make suggestions, even if these would be in the team’s or the organization’s best interest.”1 I have applied this leadership style when I worked as Knowledge and Information Manager and Supervisor at a Customer Relations Center. The work was fast paced, under pressure and results oriented based on Key Performance Indicators.
There were, of course, conflicts when applying this style and, according to the site mentioned above, “The benefit of autocratic leadership is that it’s incredibly efficient. Decisions are made quickly, and work gets done efficiently. The downside is that most people resent being treated this way. Therefore, autocratic leadership can often lead to high levels of absenteeism and high staff turnover.”2 And this is exactly what happened: people would be absent and they would look for excuses to underperform because there was no right motivation within the corporate culture.
Participative leadership, according ot the definition found on businessdictionary.com, is a “Style of leadership in which the leader involves subordinates in goal setting, problem solving and building, but retains the final decision making authority.”3 I have also applied this style when working at the Customer Relations Center as Supervisor and Knowledge and Information Manager. Why? Because I knew I did not know everything about the business and it is wise to listen and pay attention to others comments. Besides, teamwork is what makes great organizations, regardless of their strong production oriented policies. I believe that good work can be done by relating and understanding the people you work with, even thou a company would have teamwork as a selling point, reality sometimes proofs differently because in the end, companies look mostly for profit, instead of the wellness of the employees.
Also, according to mindools.com, in this leadership style “leaders make the final decisions, but they include team members in the decision-making process. They encourage creativity, and team members are often highly engaged in projects and decisions. There are many benefits of democratic leadership. Team members tend to have high job satisfaction and are productive because they’re more involved in decisions. This style also helps develop people’s skills. Team members feel in control of their destiny, so they’re motivated to work hard by more than just a financial reward. Because participation takes time, this approach can slow decision-making, but the result is often good. The approach can be most suitable when working as a team is essential, and when quality is more important than efficiency or productivity. The downside of democratic leadership is that it can often hinder situations where speed or efficiency is essential. For instance, during a crisis, a team can waste valuable time gathering people’s input. Another downside is that some team members might not have the knowledge or expertise to provide high quality input.”4
Another leadership style I would like to talk about is the Servant Leadership, because I apply this style all the time. According to Robert K. Greenleaf from the Center for Servant Leadership at greenleaf.org, “Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.”5 I do believe Servant Leadership is what Greenleaf defines, but we must understand what those practices mean and how is it that servant leaders enrich the lives of people to create a better society. I dedicate time to reflect on what is it that I need in order to be a better leader being clear as to how I want to help myself and others. I think about this when I have been delivering english classes in my country and when I volunteer. That is the spirit of the servant: help others without expecting anything in return. Of course, the service is something that is triggered by certain circumstances, it would not just produce itself.
Finally, I aspire to be a Transformational Leader. According to an article found in edis.ifas.ufl.edu, the definition of Transformational Leadership is “a process that changes and transforms individuals. In other words, transformational leadership is the ability to get people to want to change, to improve, and to be led. It involves assessing associates’ motives, satisfying their needs, and valuing them. Therefore, a transformational leader could make the company more successful by valuing its associates.”6
I believe that transformational leaders are imperative in the societies around us because there is a lot of injustice. I want to live for structural changes, not palliative measures that would bring good for just a certain period of time, but to change how social mechanisms affect all of us. This is a matter of understanding people’s needs, not only in my country, but all over the world. It is a matter of being patient, honest, respectful and tolerant. I do believe there is a possibility to change the inequalities of this world by starting with small changes. Of course, I aspire to be a transformational leader, but that does not mean I would stop using other leadership styles. In fact, I use many leadership styles depending on the contexts and circumstances all the time.
I would also like to cite the definitions of leadership Jacqueline and Karly shared with me. Jacqueline sees leadership as “The ability to marshal the talents and energy of the those who work for me in a manner that leads to a clearly stated goal and ultimately, success. In my world, that means pushing journalists to see their potential and most importantly, to use that potential to write and broadcast stories that are relevant, moving and shed light on issues such as government accountability, public safety, basic human rights and criminal malfeasance.” Being a talented leader and leading projects in News21, I have valued her words so much.
We also conversed about what made her a great leader, she explained to me that values like integrity, persistence and competence have crafted her as a leader. She mentioned: “I have become a leader through the example of those who mentored me over the years. I had the good fortune of working with editors and reporters whose strong sense of fairness, justice and persistence inspired me daily. Though each instructed me in different skills, those are the very skills I use today to lead and teach students and future journalists. On a personal level, I always have been driven to write and report stories that changed the lives of the disadvantaged or exploited. I consider it my most important mission in journalism and in life to push others to do the same.”
Jacqueline also shared her idea of setting the example, conversing with her about this, she expressed: “I feel that my strongest leadership quality is my ability to lead by example in demonstrating enthusiasm, conviction and integrity when coaching those around me.” I must say that I agree with her about setting the example because leadership is about trust.
Karly explained more of the sociological way of leadership: “To me, leadership is moving a group (and in sociology, we consider a dyad -two people- the smallest group) toward a common goal. There are many different styles of leaders, depending on the personality of the leader and the nature of the task at hand. For example, in my experience most people -most professionals- do not want to be micro-managed. In other words, they do not want an overly attentive manager or leader checking up on their use of time and decision-making. (With that said, however, there are times when an authoritarian leader is most effective — namely in emergency situations, when people are looking for a leader to direct them on what to do).” I could not agree more with Karly when saying that people look for direction and autocratic leaders some time. As I explained before, I have applied the autocratic leadership style myself and, depending on the task, I may continue applying it.
Also, when asking her about how did she become a leader in her field, she explained: “Certainly there are people that believe in promoting changes leading by example. The most important factor that influenced my development as a leader is simply experience. It’s one thing to learn theories of how to manage difficult employee and student situations; it’s quite another to deal with these situations first hand. In that moment, we are challenged to call on all of our resources to direct, manage and inspire our charges. Certainly, over time, I have gained in diplomacy and negotiation skills, and have learned to de-escalate situations in which people become difficult, angry and defensive. Beyond theory, there is nothing that could really prepared me… I just needed to experience these situations and learn how to navigate through them by trial and error”.
Karly’s comments also reminded me of the words of David Cawthon, scholar who was professor of management at the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University. I read his book Philosophical Foundations of Leadership, which opened my mind as to what leaders are and how the history of humankind has dealt, from the hand of the theoretical work of the some of the greatest thinkers in the Western World, with the leadership dyad.
One ot the things that got my attention from the book was that it mentions that not many schools here in the United States study the works of Marx. To me, if someone studies Economy, Karl Marx should be studied, along with Francis Fukuyama and Adam Smith (among many others). The point I am trying to make is that we must look for different sources and ways of doing things. When analyzing Marx and leadership, Cawthon explains: “Certainly Marx was a humanist. Yet, he was also naturalistic. He was a rationalist. He was a scientist. For Marx, economic forces drive the dialectic. Thus, he would find little argument with those industrial leaders who embrace the scientific method as the appropriate means to achieve efficiency. As a naturalist he believed that science could increase the production of wealth. As a humanist he believed that wealth should be distributed in accordance with the needs of all who produced it. As a communist, he believed that the two would merge into one consciousness, a consciousness that would bring mankind its ultimate freedom.” As a personal reflection, I do believe that as long as there is poverty in the world, promoted by unjust social structures, there could be no true freedom.”
Freedom and justice are beloved values and I would like to remark that I get inspiration from one of the figures that I admire from my country: Archbishop Oscar Romero. He led our people through values that could be universal, looking for stopping violence and seeking justice in a context of war. Romero was killed in 19808, mainly because of his ideas of liberation in favor of the poor, promoting real change and helping opening the minds of those oppressed not only by the government of El Salvador, but the whole society and its individuals.
This is a very complex situation and I just wanted to emphasize that one must stand by one’s believes in order to make changes happen, even being willing to sacrifice many things. Now, Romero is to become a Saint of the Catholic Church. During his final moments and, while in a religious service (mass), he was saying just seconds before his assassination: “I will not tire of declaring that if we really want an effective end to violence we must remove the violence that lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, exclusion of citizens from the management of the country, repression. All this is what constitutes the primal cause.”9
I aspire to be like Romero: an agent of change in my society and the world, going against all odds to make this world better starting with my community and working with the people I am closer with to, with time, convey more messages abroad. Cocoa projects, among other activities, will help me achieve those goals of helping the poor promoting sustainability in my country. I want to lead by example, like Romero did, and be part of a society not being recognized as a different member of it, but as an equal and as a friend.
By Fernando Aguilar @fjaguilarr