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Perhaps a better title for the blog is “One-Trick Ponies.” Alternately, “Make the Organization Fit My Style or Fit My Style to the Organization?” might be a better title.

Whether in business, academe, athletics, government, or a church, I’ve witnessed numerous mistakes in leadership transitions because the new leader used a cookie cutter approach to leading. Specifically, the leader thought because a particular leadership approach worked well in a previous setting it would work well in the new setting.

As an example, a new offensive coordinator is hired for a football team. The previous coordinator installed a run-pass option (RPO) system, but the new coordinator prefers a drop-back pro-style system. Because players on the team were recruited for the RPO system, things don’t go well with the new system. The new leader made the mistake of trying to make the team fit his style, instead of fitting his style to the strengths of the team. Things didn’t go well. He was fired before the end of his first year on the job.

Another example is a minister who is very successful in leading a congregation of young families who prefer a contemporary worship service and is transferred to a congregation made up principally of retirees who prefer a traditional worship service. If the minister sticks to what worked well with the previous congregation, considerable dissatisfaction will occur with the new congregation.

A third example is the president of a university who wants to make nearly all decisions. When the president is succeeded by someone who prefers to delegate to vice presidents nearly all decisions, the vice presidents will find the transition to be quite challenging.

A fourth example is a business leader who always used a dictatorial style and succeeds someone who used a consensus style. The sharp contrast in styles will create unnecessary tensions for the leader and the organization if the new leader’s style doesn’t change to fit the organization.

In my class, Leadership Principles and Practices, when students asked guest leaders about their leadership styles, they responded with something like the following: my style depends on the issue in question and the individuals I’m leading. There’ll be occasions when a dictatorial or directive style is needed, however they should occur quite infrequently. Likewise, there’ll be occasions when a consensus style is most effective.

Not only can different styles be required for different occasions, but also different styles can be required for different members of a team. Because team members have different capabilities, a leader might need to employ a directive style with one person, a coaching style with another person, and a participative style with another team member. Leaders can’t afford to be “one-trick ponies” when it comes to leadership.

Next week: Leadership Transitions—Part IV