My friend, Dr. Tim Elmore, made some interesting observations. He studied world events and how each generation since the 1950’s have viewed leadership. He recognized how leadership styles have evolved over the years. He then categorized a series of leadership styles based upon his findings. The brief descriptions below were taken from his white paper: A New Kind of Leader.
The Military Commander — (1950’s-1960’s generation) This leaders organizations are run in a top-down fashion. Leaders lead and followers follow. Folks don’t question authority. If someone leaves a staff position, they are considered disloyal. These leaders enjoy leading from their positional authority.
The CEO — (Late 1960’s-1970’s generation) This leader leads by casting vision, in hopes that their followers will buy in and work toward fulfilling the vision. Productivity is the buzzword. While this style is an improvement over the one above, it is still very top-down in nature.
The Entrepreneur — (Late 1970’s-1980’s generation) This leader is pioneering and doesn’t do things the conventional way. They manage “by walking around.” They feel the most critical element is being the first to do it. Innovation is a revered quality. This style enables employees to share ideas that might be implemented and helps them tolerate the fact that the leadership is still a top-down model.
The Coach — (1990’s generation) This style is appealing to Gen-Xer’s, who long for relationships and authenticity. This leader assembles and works with teams. They see themselves as coaches who have players. The leader finds the proper roles for all the players, so they can make significant contributions to the team. Although this style is participatory, it is still top-down in nature.
The Poet/Gardener — (Late 1990’s-today’s generation) This leader combines many of the strengths of the last four styles. Tim calls these leaders poets because they are discerning of the culture and the ideas that emerge from others, not just themselves. They synthesize and extrapolate thoughts; then they come up with the best one, even if it’s not their own. These leaders are attractive to a new workforce who longs to be part of creating the ideas and determining the direction. This leader sees their primary function as gardening/developing their people. They are equippers. They empower. Employees are not “used” by their boss—they are developed. This leader values growth—not just organizationally but for each individual in it. They lead out of shared ownership.
Tim says, “I believe [the poet/gardner] is the attractive leader of today. This isn’t to say all the others will die out. Based on temperament and generation, other styles will remain, and some will do well, because of the strength of the leader’s personality and vision. But the style that the new generation of employees will want is the poet/gardener.”
NOTE: No where were these styles more clearly illustrated to me than when I was at a recent leadership conference. All the speakers were either Coaches or Poet/Gardeners, except for one, a Military Commander. To say that this speaker stood out is an understatement. While the organizations of the other speakers were thriving and vertically growing, the Commander’s was maintaining and relatively flat. Tim’s findings hit the nail on the head.