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I have put into a lot of thinking on the leadership styles Daniel Goleman listed in his HBS article “Leadership That Gets Result”.   What I also tried to do, was to put all the leaders (including myself) that I had come across over the years into different leadership categories. Did they have any or combination of the six types ( coercive/authoritative/affiliative/democratic/pacesetting/coaching)? Did I consider them (back then) as good leaders or bad leaders? What made me think they were good or bad? Do I still think the same way?

I am lucky to have run into all six types of leaders. It’s actually a surprisingly pleasant and enlightening experience to look back and try to rationally re-analyze those people and even situations that may have caused me to define them as good or bad leaders. To demonstrate my thought process,  I will use myself as an example here.

Back in junior year college, I was elected as the president of a student association called “Chinese American Culture Association”. To be short,  I am very proud to say, it was a very successful year for us, due to many reasons. However, it doesn’t mean I am a perfect leader. I was lucky to have a very strong executive board that backed me up in decisions that make the success possible. However, there were issues about my leadership style too. So what kind of leaders was I? Hmmm. Often, I was authoritative and affiliative, sometimes democratic. In situations, I could be coercive. Overall, my leadership style worked out fine with the organization, partially because it was a very young organization. It needed a leader that had clear vision of what direction the organization was going and how to maintain strong growth.  My executive board had faith in me and trusted me. Many of us were friends even before working together, so they knew me pretty well at a personal level.  However, even so, sometimes, I was seen as too “tough”.

Like I said, I was lucky. Because if I was in a different organization, maybe a more mature one with people that were more senior than I was, and at the same time didn’t know me very well, my leadership styles could be a complete disaster. I may even get expelled from the organization. (like what happened to steve jobs in Apple.) Ok, maybe a little extreme… but you get the idea.

There are a lot of rooms for improvement to be a better leader.  Less of the coercive style, and perhaps more affiliative and coaching from time to time.  Bottom line,  a great leader probably should have a combination of all five styles. What is crucial is to know how much of each style you should use in different situations. Balance and harmony are the secret sauce.

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