Skip links

Is It Time To Take A Fresh Look At Your Leadership Style?

Just as there are “nine ways to Sunday” and “more than one way to skin a cat” (if you’re so inclined) there’s a huge variety of leadership styles that have worked successfully in business, athletics and on the battlefield over the years. There’s one style I personally prefer whether I’m called to lead, or to follow …

What’s your preferred leadership style (as a leader or a follower)? There are plenty to choose from, that’s for sure, ranging from tender to tyrannical and everything in between. Consider these five leadership styles and some of their associated luminaries:

  • Just Do It! – Task-oriented, walk the talk, take action. (Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo; Jack Welch, GE; General/President Dwight D. Eisenhower)
  • Transformational Leadership – A trendy, new-agey way of saying stubborn at times, flexible at others. (Bill Gates, Microsoft; Elon Musk, Tesla; Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook)
  • People-First, Always! – Empathetic, inclusive, consensus-building, allows others to succeed. (Sundar Pichai, Google; Sir Richard Branson, Virgin; Mary Barra, General Motors; Basketball Coach John Wooden, UCLA)
  • Expect More, Demand More – A maddeningly insistent yet dynamic leader that people both love and hate as a boss. (Jeff Bezos, Amazon; Steve Jobs, Apple; Coach Bill Belichick, New England Patriots)
  • Dictatorial – Traditional model of black & white, hard-nosed leadership, leads by intimidation, micromanages, sometimes even ruthlessly. (Larry Ellison, Oracle; Henry Ford, Ford Motor Co.; Rupert Murdoch, News Corporation; Martha Stewart, Omnimedia; Ebenezer Scrooge, banker)

While it’s hard to argue with success, it’s fair-game to favor, if not expect, a leadership style rooted in goodness and compassion when accepting a job or leading a team. It is both a reasonable expectation for a team member and a personal/professional responsibility if you’re the one at the top.

Clearly, much can be learned, both good and bad, by studying varying leadership styles. Wouldn’t it be nice if all leaders were a tidy combination of People-First, Always and Just Do It! Alas, that’s not reality. But … that would be an influential leader.

Speaking of which …

I recently came across an article by David McNally in Training Magazine entitled: The Influential Leader. The premise of the influential leader is “not about what we learn to do to others but what we can learn to be for others – consistently becoming the kind of person others want to follow.”

In it, McNally shares nuggets of insight worth sharing … and emulating.

Ego is best kept in the bottom drawer  – Quoting from the Jim Collins biz-blockbuster Good to Great, McNally says that more than 2/3 of companies led by self-absorbed, bombastic leaders were far less likely to succeed than others. He calls attention to this passage from the book: “the presence of a gargantuan personal ego contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company”. Meanwhile, companies that were able to sustain success over an extended period of time were those being steered by a leader who was “a study in duality … modest and willful, humble and fearless”.

Determining Influence – While charisma is a wonderful asset for anyone to possess, it can quickly go toxic when paired with a lack of personal character. Bernie Madoff of Madoff Investment Securities comes to mind, as does the entire “leadership” team at Enron Corporation.

“Great leadership is ultimately about competence and influence,” McNally posits. “What determines influence (is) the ability to gain others’ commitment to the shared missions and goals of the organization. People follow leaders they believe in – who demonstrate values with which they align.”

When the team sees its leader operating with fundamental integrity, knowing he or she has the individual’s and the organization’s best interests at heart, they willingly and enthusiastically fall in line. As stated earlier, it’s not about doing to others, it’s about being for others. Not unlike The Golden Rule or JFK’s famous line at his 1960 Presidential Inauguration: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Choosing “Right Action” – The foundational book of the Hindu faith is the Bhagavad Gita which is based on the precept of “right action”,  the personal commitment to always do what we know and believe to be moral and honorable. How many times, in the course of the average day – whether you’re sitting at home, sitting in traffic, or sitting at your desk – are we presented with situations in which it’s possible (and sometimes tempting) to take the easy way out and do something less than noble?

When you operate from a “right action” mindset, you stop and consider the effect your decision will have on others and you proceed accordingly. Taking the proverbial high road may make the journey steeper and longer but it’s always the best route. “Right action is often a courageous decision because it might mean taking a stand for what is honest and just,” McNally writes.

Being a nonconformist is something Sir Richard Branson has prided himself on throughout his career – and a rather successful career it’s been! Branson didn’t get there by cutting corners, making easy decisions, or following the pack. He got there by taking “right action” regardless of what others thought.

Business experts’ eyes widened when Branson announced Virgin America would extend unlimited leave – not just maternal leave but an always-available “timeout” for any employee. Many American CEOs (some who’ve never taken more than a two-week vacation in their lives) shook their heads and scoffed at the inanity of such a decision. What about productivity and business efficiencies and overhead and workload and, and, and … ?

“If someone wants to go off for a month and travel the world, they can go and do it,” Branson told Forbes magazine. “They’ll work that much harder when they get back. It doesn’t impact the company.” Branson also criticized America’s standard 2-3 weeks annual vacation at a recent Adobe Summit, a highly popular digital conference featuring leaders from the world’s most beloved brands. “Treating people with flexibility, as humans, like you’d treat your own children comes back to the company many times over.” Branson’s courageous decision made absolutely no business sense and, at the same time, made absolutely perfect sense. “Right action” can be very powerful indeed.

Some want to lead, others are happy to follow – Also from the Bhagavad Gita, “Whatever a great man does, ordinary people will do; whatever standard he sets, everyone will follow.” This is perhaps the most important thing for a principled leader to remember. You set the tone. You are the role model. You are being closely watched. Your actions will trigger others’ actions. Be the kind of person you yourself would be proud to call “my boss”.

The leadership style I prefer to emulate is People First, Always! I’m sure I have my moments when I fall short but I assure you my heart is in the right place 100% of the time. I hope you feel the same.

Choose to be an influential leader because “doing the right thing” will never go out of style.


Be mindful of your personal leadership style and course-correct, if necessary. If you lead a business, team or organization, people will emulate you so be sure to set the right example.