What leadership is the best?  If you’ve ever asked this question, you’re not alone, at all!

Leadership has been studied extensively, ripped apart and put back together again over and over, and still causes confusion.  The reason is, it’s a concept.  Just like love, leadership is something we all inherently know but find hard to put into words.

To truly understand which leadership style is the best (if there is one that’s the best above all else), we must first understand what leadership is at its core.  This episode peels back the veil and dives into a number of different leadership theories to help understand what leadership truly is and which style(s) are the best for the here and now.

Explore leadership at a deep level with me and put the concept into words that convey its true meaning.

Episode Transcript

Hello everybody. I’m Steve Nathenson, CEO and founder of Strive For More, and today I’m going to cover a question that gets asked a lot by leaders, and that is what leadership style is the best? It’s a great question. First, let’s talk about what are the different styles of leadership?

A lot of people say there’s natural born leaders, a lot of people say that leadership is a set of skills that you can learn. Then there’s other theories of leadership, transactional leadership, transformational leadership, situational leadership, authentic leadership, and servant leadership, and a few others as well. So out of all of these styles, what is the best?

Well, the answer is, it depends. There’s a time and place for each of these. Now I’ll get into some of the theories behind each of these here in a little bit, but first let’s talk about some of the fundamental theories that were created first and the time and the place for those. So natural born leaders, I will throw that question out to you. Do you believe that there are natural born leaders, and some people are just born with it and others aren’t and that’s the way that it is? It’s a good question.

Now if we take a look at the next style of leadership, that leadership or skills that you can learn, what do you think about that? Do you think that even if you’re not say a natural born leader, that you can learn those skills? That’s another good question. The answer is yes. As we talked about the last time, the way I define leadership is leadership is the ability to inspire others to be a part of something greater than themselves.

While we may each naturally be born with different skillsets and strengths, that doesn’t mean that we can’t grow and develop other strengths. Maybe it takes us a little bit more effort and time and practice to learn something that comes a little bit easier for somebody else, but it doesn’t mean we’re limited and we’re not able to do it.

The key difference there is really understanding our mindset and our mentality, because I will say if I believe that I’m never going to be capable of something and I always tell myself that, then I’m right. But if I believe that I am capable and I can learn and I can grow, guess what? I’m right too. It really depends on what’s up here in our heads, what we tell ourselves.

So while some people may be more charismatic and have the it factor, that doesn’t mean that we can’t grow and learn how to do that ourselves as well. Leadership is a concept. It’s a concept that we create, and as we’ll explore in a future episode about what style’s truly right for us individually, we’ll talk about how to do that and what’s going to be right for you, but for now we’re talking about which one is the best.

So fundamentally whether we’re born with a certain set of skills or we grow it later, they can both lead to us being leaders. So I’m going to take these two actually out of the equation, because I think the time and the place for these are really null and void.

If we believe that either we have it or we don’t, we’re never going to achieve what we want, because we’re limiting ourselves. If we do believe that we’re able to grow and develop skillsets and continue to learn as a leader, then we’re opening up that door to leverage what we need in the right time and the right place. That’s a fundamental difference with these two initial theories.

If someone’s just born with it and they have it and it’s not me, I’ve already limited myself, and that mindset has taken me out of the game. But if I do believe that we can grow and develop as leaders and I can leverage what I’m already strong at to help me do that next set of skills, to lead even more effectively, then I’ve given myself that chance to be able to apply what I need to apply in the moment.

As far as transactional and transformational leadership goes, they’re kind of two opposite ends of the spectrum. There is a time and place for each of these. Transactional leadership is very much about management. It’s about what is going to happen, how it’s going to happen, and that’s it, there’s no personal touch to it.

Transformational leadership is the opposite. Transformational leadership is a leadership style that increases the morality of not only the “followers” and the leader, but it also raises them up to go beyond today, beyond what they thought was possible. They transform themselves to reach a new level and raise each other up, both leader and the people that the leader is leading. They are opposite ends of the spectrum, but as I said, we’re going to talk about the time and a place for those.

With transactional leadership, I do believe there is a time for that. Prime example for me, as a former law enforcement officer, we may be out on an activity, whether it’s an arrest or search warrant, and something happens where I as the lead investigator have much more knowledge about what’s going on than other people do. They’re going to look to me for that answer, and we may need to make a split second decision that could save lives.

In that moment, having the oversight, having all of the knowledge that other people are missing, there is a time and place for that transactional leadership where it is more directive, it is more ordering. It’s the same thing in a military movement. On the battlefield, I may have a greater purview of what’s going on in the entirety versus someone who’s limited to a foxhole and only has a certain viewpoint. They may not see all the pieces on the board, so I may have greater oversight and know how the things have to shift or where we need to go to be able to in the totality of it achieve the objective that we’re looking at.

So again, there is a time and place for certain styles of leadership, I will say that I do believe that it’s few and far between. Most of the time transformational leadership is really what is called for over transactional leadership. But let me give you just one other scenario that I think is more applicable to corporate America.

Cyber security is a very, very real issue today. As a bank, I hold money, I hold personal identifiable information, and if in real-time we see a hacker breaking into our systems, maybe taking money out of the system, grabbing a bunch of personal identifying information, a data breach, in that moment to stop that “bleed,” transactional leadership is called for, because is calling for immediate action and causes us to need to put into play certain protocols, certain actions without hesitation.

In all of these scenarios, one of the fundamental things that does help this honestly is people understanding what is expected of them, being drilled for those types of scenarios. So, there’s a little bit of an element actually that’s already inherently built in by people knowing what is going to be expected of them, knowing how to perform that task, and it alleviates that issue of someone just barking orders at you, because they’re not doing it just to be a jerk, they’re not doing it to be mean or ill intent, they’re doing it because they know what has to be done towards this greater overall objective, achieving the battlefield objective, saving lives, stopping a real-time hacker from stealing money or information.

So that’s the time and place I feel transactional leadership is applicable to, but those scenarios are few and far between, especially when we talk about corporate America. So, transformational leadership is really where I tend to land and where we should fall on that spectrum from transactional to transformational.

Now, that also brings into question a little bit of situational leadership. So, situational leadership is what it sounds like. It says that every situation calls for a different tech based upon what situation we’re facing. So based upon what the situation is, the leader can then choose how to handle that based on what’s going on. That is, I think, a great way of describing what we’re just talking about.

For the vast majority of the time, transformational leadership is what the situation’s going to call for. Very few and far between will the situation call for transactional leadership. So that’s another key thing that I believe is appropriate, is there are going to be circumstances or situations that dictate how we lead others.

Two other theories that I feel are applicable for us to talk about that I mentioned, authentic leadership and servant leadership. Authentic leadership is about leading by truly being who we are and letting other people see that, that’s what being authentic is. Being who we are, living in alignment with that and allowing other people to see that.

When we talk about talking the talk and walking the walk, we’re not only telling people who we are, we’re showing them and we’re holding true to it, we’re letting people in. Now, that doesn’t mean that we have to be vulnerable and we’re breaking down in tears and we’re showing that side of us every single day. I know vulnerability has a bad rap and that’s typically what people associate with it, but what we’re talking about here is can I be true to who I am and let other people in and see that? I don’t have to share every single detail of my life with them, but I have to be honest, I have to be true to my word. I have to truly care about other people, respect them, want the best for them and me and have that true connection.

People are very good at seeing when people are fake, when people are just climbing the corporate ladder, they’re stabbing people in the back or stepping over them to get what they want. That naturally doesn’t resonate with people. We see through that, we see past it to that true person that doesn’t care about us. They’re being inauthentic, they’re just out for themselves. Authentic leadership allows people to form a strong bond with us that makes it easier to lead them. So I fully believe that the vast majority of the time authentic leadership has its place, because it allows us to form true bonds with those that we’re leading and get the best out of them.

The other theory that we mentioned, servant leadership, it’s one that also does what it sounds like. We’re in service of others, we put them first, their needs above ours. If you’ve ever had a leader who’s gone out of their way to protect you from things rolling downhill, who’s helped you remove roadblocks and hurdles from your path forward and has truly cared about you, your growth, your development, and helping you do that, even if it ultimately means that you leave their team, that’s a servant leader. They are in service of you, they’re there to help and serve you and make it easier for you to do your job. That’s what servant leadership is all about.

Again, there’s a time and place for each and every one of these. I find that often today what we really expect is a blend of transformational leadership, authentic leadership, servant leadership, and situational leadership. Being able to respond appropriately as different situations arise and not only manage the team, but truly lead them in the way that they need in that moment.

So now to the question of the day, what leadership style is the best? What’s your thought based on what you’ve heard today? For me, it’s a blended approach. As I just mentioned, I think that transformational, authentic, servant leadership and situational leadership thrown in there as well all have their place in today’s world. It’s a blend of those that I find resonate the most with not only leaders themselves, but those that they are leading.

So, I don’t have just one specific theory that I think is applicable and better than the rest, I think it depends. I think it depends on who you are as an individual, which we’re going to talk about next time, to help you find what’s truly right for you and what that blend looks like for you. But that’s what I throw out there, is it’s really a blend. It’s not one or the other over all the rest, it’s what’s right for me to pick and choose from each of these styles that I feel is applicable for me. Again today, I do find it is that blend of transformational, authentic, servant and situational leadership.

So I’ll leave you with that, and I’ll prompt you for next time to think about what I’ve said today and which of these theories you feel resonate with you the most and in what way, and that can help prompt our conversation next time. So until then, be the movement in your life.


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