Organizational Theory

What is your Path to Leadership?

"A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way: - John C. Maxwell

Your leadership path is what you make of it!

You never know what is around the corner or down the path in life. There will be surprises, ups and downs, adventure, and new experiences. Garden paths are much the same. As you walk along a path relaxed with admiration,  you don't know quite what to expect around the next corner. Visit any great garden and you know what I mean! Some paths lead to tranquil, shady, rippling water gardens. Others will drop you into a hot desert cactus garden. In a labyrinth of paths - you get to choose which one you want at the fork in the road. Leadership is much the same way. You are the gardener who crafts the path and grows your skills as you follow your path.

Everyone is unique and we all need to find our own leadership footprint. Some of us are luckier than others and have had a mentor to help shape our style. Others have learned through trial and error, mistakes, and wins.  Whatever your style, it needs to be authentic, empowering, people centered, visionary, and communicative. People follow leaders that they respect and trust. So many of us have been forced at one time or another to "follow" a leader that leads in title only. "Every leader needs to look back once in a while to make sure he has followers" - Anonymous. Which fork in the road have you chose?

I have managed people for over 24 years. Although I have developed my own management style that fits my personality, desire to connect with people, and love with empowering others, I have had to change my "path" depending on different variables. For instance, I tend to utilize a more directive management style with newer or inexperienced employees. They need more structure and guidance. Yes, I must admit, some have needed babysitting! On the flip side, I have loved  working with more experienced employees who have great ideas and a vested interest in our success as a team. This calls for more of a participative style where I seek input, ideas, or the expertise of my team. It's important to be comfortable using different styles based on your team, the project and expectations, the department etc. In fact, if you don't follow different paths in managing people, they may be confused, not feel connected, have poor job satisfaction, not feel a part of the team, etc. You need a stable foundation (empathy, empowerment, authenticity..) from which you chart the right path for each situation.

A simplistic tool that may help in recognizing which route to take in managing particular groups is the Path-Goal Leadership Theory. It was developed by Warton Professor Robert House in the 1970s. Basically, he shares that "The manager’s job is viewed as guiding workers to choose the best paths to reach their goals, as well as the organizational goals. The theory argues that leaders will have to engage in different types of leadership behavior depending on the nature and the demands of a particular situation. It is the leader’s job to assist followers in attaining goals and to provide the direction and support needed to ensure that their goals are compatible with the organization’s goals.[4]Wikipedia 

To create a stable path, here are some essentials:

  1. Recognize the needs of people and try to satisfy them.
  2. Reward people for achieving goals.
  3. Help people determine the right path to follow to reach goals.
  4. Clear the path of any obstacles to help the team accomplish goals.

Furthermore, House identified 4 leadership styles:
  1. Supportive: Leader has concern for employees, creates a friendly environment, satisfies team needs. Often used when the work is boring, perhaps hazardous. 
  2. Directive: Manager tells the team what to do and gives specifics. Approach works best with new people or when a task may be more complex.
  3. Participative: Manager takes a more consultative approach with a team. He asks for feedback, ideas, and solutions. Employees are generally self starters, experienced, and don't need as much guidance.
  4. Achievement: Manager sets challenging goals, has confidence in teams, and knows that they will produce. Effective with sales people, engineers, scientists, experienced managers.Wikipedi

Obviously we don't all wander around thinking theory and trying to apply it (Well, professors probably do..). However, I think that it is important to be comfortable changing how we lead people in certain situations or with particular groups. If you have a 6 person team of Six Sigma Black Belt Engineers, they won't take kindly to being led with a directed approach. They would flourish, and expect, to work with a manager that uses more of a Participative/Achievement style. Now, if unexpected quality or production issues arise or serious errors shut down a project, a more Directive approach may be needed and you step in. This theory would be useful in training new managers so that they have a grasp of knowing that there is not a "one" leadership approach to working with people. I wish that someone had told me how each situation may need a different management approach and that it's OK to switch at the drop of a hat if necessary. When I was a newer manager I managed people twice my age and "Wow"! that was an eye opener! You need to be flexible and intuitive in working with people so that they feel empowered and appreciated while they problem solve and achieve.

I think that start up companies are a classic example of all 4 leadership styles in play. For instance, Facebook is wildly successful, even with it's critics. The social media sensation has had it's ups and downs. Mark Zuckerberg has weathered the storm but changed his leadership style on his journey down the FB path. Initially, Zuckerberg flexed a directive style laying the foundation, setting goals, and putting controls in place at FB. As the company grew, he took on a more supportive role, giving guidance, creating and supporting the culture, and creating a positive employee focused environment. As the business grew, Mark consulted with others for idea collaboration, hired new talent whose input he valued, and fused entrepreneurial minds in a more participative approach. Now that Facebook is stable and self sustaining with incredible talent, Mark has the opportunity to set new challenging goals and expansion plans. He trusts his teams and has morphed into more of an achievement oriented  leader as  he continues leading Facebook down new paths and creating genius social media history.

Where your leadership path leads you is up to you. Learn from others and model strong leadership styles. Try on"new" styles when situations change. Listen to your people and get to know who they are, what they need, and what motivates them so that you can pave the path. The best paths have  strong stable foundations on which the surface is laid. Be that stable foundation and pave the way!

Add your own paths to your garden. Paths can be made of any material - wood chips, stone, gravel, rocks, sand. Wind them throughout the yard among plants. Place them around trees where grass or plants won't grow. Grass is a water guzzler and eliminating some of it will make your yard less maintenance intensive and beautiful! Create some mystery and uniqueness to your yard. Show your personality and flex some creativity! Have fun learning as you create your own "path".

Weeping White Pine trained over my garden path