Obama a Principled “Great Man”Leader or “Laissez Faire” One?

The call for President Obama to get tough is a misguided demand and an over simplification of what behaviors constitute effective leadership. Leadership is not about smart toughness. Leadership is about making informed judgements, decisions, and producing results that improve the quality of life and  security for all Americans. I think it might be informative to review the different Schools of Leadership Theory in the twentieth century to see if they shed any more light on Obama’s Leadership Style. Early leadership theories focus on what characteristics distinguish leaders and followers, while later theories explore variables such as situational factors and skill level. While many different leadership theories have emerged, most can be classified as one of eleven major types:

1. “Great Man” Theories:

Great Man theories assume that the capacity for leadership is provided by nature and is basically inherent – that great leaders are born, not made. These theories often portray great leaders as heroic, mythic, and destined to be leaders when needed. The term “Great Man” was used because, at the time, leadership was thought of primarily as a male quality, especially in terms of military leadership.

2. Trait Theories:

Similar in some ways to “Great Man” theories, trait theory assumes that people inherit certain qualities and traits that make them better suited for leadership. Trait theories often identify particular personality or behavioral characteristics shared by leaders. But if particular traits are key features of leadership, how do we explain people who possess those qualities but are not leaders? This question is one of the difficulties in using trait theories to explain leadership.

3. Contingency Theories:

Contingency theories of leadership focus on particular variables related to the environment that might determine which particular style of leadership is best suited for the situation. According to this theory, no leadership style is best in all situations. Success depends upon a number of variables, including the leadership style, qualities of the followers, and aspects of the situation.

4. Situational Theories:

Situational theories propose that leaders choose the best course of action based upon situational variables. Different styles of leadership may be more appropriate for certain types of decision-making.

5. Behavioral Theories:

Practical Leader- factual, calm, unflappable and knowledgeable. Pleasing Leader– push-over, gullible, passive pleaser. Characteristics include descriptions such as: easy-going, idealistic
insightful and caring.l

 Behavioral theories of leadership are based upon the belief that great leaders are made, not born. This leadership theory focuses on the actions of leaders, not on traits, mental qualities or internal and external situations. According to this theory, people can learn to become leaders through teaching and observation.

6. Participative Theories:

Participative leadership theories suggest the ideal leadership style is one that takes the input of others into account. These leaders encourage participation and contributions from group members and help group members feel more relevant and committed to the decision-making process. In participative theories, however, the leader retains the right to allow the input of others.

7. Management Theories:

Management theories (also known as “Transactional theories”) focus on the role of supervision, organization, and group performance. These theories base leadership on a system of reward and punishment. Managerial theories are often used in business; when employees are successful, they are rewarded; when they fail, they are reprimanded or punished.

8. Relationship Theories:

Relationship theories (also known as “Transformational Leadership Theories”) focus upon the connections formed between leaders and followers. These leaders motivate and inspire people by helping group members see the importance and higher good of the task. Transformational leaders are focused on the performance of team members, but also want each person to fulfill his or her potential. These leaders often have high ethical and moral standards.

9. Authoritarian Leadership (Command and Control Style)

Command-and-control leadership is the primary style in our society. It is accepted because efficiency is created by repetitive action, teaching people to resist change. Once acquiring a skill, they do not want to learn another.   Authoritarian leaders provide clear expectations for what needs to be done, when it should be done, and how it should be done. There is also a clear division between the leader and the followers. Authoritarian leaders make decisions independently with little or no input from the rest of the group.

Researchers found that decision-making was less creative under authoritarian leadership. Lewin also found that it is more difficult to move from an authoritarian style to a democratic style than vice versa. Abuse of this style is usually viewed as controlling, bossy, and dictatorial.

Authoritarian leadership is best applied to situations where there is little time for group decision-making or where the leader is the most knowledgeable member of the group.

10. Participative Leadership (Democratic)

Lewin’s study found that participative (democratic) leadership is generally the most effective leadership style. Democratic leaders offer guidance to group members, but they also participate in the group and allow input from other group members. In Lewin’s study, children in this group were less productive than the members of the authoritarian group, but their contributions were of a much higher quality.

Participative leaders encourage group members to participate, but retain the final say over the decision-making process. Group members feel engaged in the process and are more motivated and creative. Is this what Obama is trying to do in the Health Care debate?

11. Delegative Style (Laissez-Faire)

Researchers found that children under delegating (laissez-fair) leadership style were the least productive of all three groups. The children in this group also made more demands on the leader, showed little cooperation, and were unable to work independently. Is this what we are seeing from President Obama. A hands off delegating style to Congress.

delegating leaders offer little or no guidance to group members and leave decision-making up to group members. While this style can be effective in situations where group members are highly qualified in an area of expertise, it often leads to poorly defined roles and a lack of motivation.

One of the leadership concepts that might be helpful in this discussion is Social Styles of Leaders. Understanding President Obama’s  leadership style might provide some insight into how he sees others and himself. Social Styles in a leadership context is made up of four types of styles, Amiable, Analytical, Expressive, and Driver. While no style is better than others, almost everyone uses one of the four basic social styles more frequently than the other styles. This ia called your dominant style. 
The original research by Dr. David Merrill and Roger Reid in their book titled Personal Styles and Effective Performance is very insightful.  Subsequent studies show that people with high versatility or the ability to flex their styles in different situations are more effective leaders and managers, than those with more rigid styles. The problem is that most people do not know how they are viewed by others and cling to a preferred style that’s been developed by our own unique experiences and environment. When we meet others unlike ourselves we naturally discount, ignore, or fail to adapt to their preferred way of interacting and impose our style onto them. This results in misunderstandings and conflict.

The view of Obama is that he is more talk than action. He does not like conflict and likes to be seen as thoughtful and pragmatic. This opens him up to being non-assertive. For example, he says he has been working very hard on the Health Care Reform bill. This maybe true behind the public view. Yet David Obey, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee,  recently said the White House has been useless in the Health Care Reform battle. They never let “single payer ” on the table and it has never been scored to what the cost savings could be. The White House pulled the plug on the Public Option and stood by when expansion of Medicare was buried and Drug re-importation was undermined by the White House deal with big Pharma. The bottom line is that the White has not been fighting for the middle class and many more people are dying and  are going bankrupt because of Health Care bills and drug cost. Obama’s leadership style is looking more like a Laissez-Faire style. I hope my analysis is wrong but I am tired of waiting to see that Transformative style I voted for. What style of leadership do you think Obama is demonstrating?