The work on leadership by Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee (see The New Leaders) is interesting in the context of a ManyStory approach. Using their framework of Emotional Intelligence they identify 6 leadership styles. Four are positive, and two are very risky.
In my analysis, the positive ones work well because they engage with the stories of those being led - and the risky ones are risky precisely because they don’t.
So how does that work?
The most strongly positive, in terms of the effect on the emotional climate of the workplace, is said to be the visioning style. In Goleman’s analysis, this is the style in which the leader articulates a purpose that is true for the leader and attuned to values shared by the people led, and it builds emotional resonance by moving people towards shared dreams.
The second most positive styles is coaching: this is the style in which the leader explores employees’ goals and values and helps them to expand their repertoire of abilities. It builds emotional resonance by connecting what a person wants with the organisation’s goals.
One of the leaders I interviewed for the book tells a great story about coaching as a leader. She had a Marketing Director, who was a very skilled and knowledgeable marketeer, but who was not confident in his ability as a presenter. In fact, he was clear in his own mind that he was rubbish at presentations, and further that this inability would be a serious handicap in progressing his career. Moreover, presentations were an important part of his current role, at least in his boss’s eyes! So over time she got him talking about marketing to small groups of internal staff, then gradually to larger groups in slightly more formal settings, and so on. After a year, she was able to help him to review his story about being no good at presentations in the light of a year’s worth of evidence that he was very effective. She helped him to rewrite that negative story very effectively, freeing him to develop the one skill that was lacking in his portfolio. The result was a far more confident, more effective, and extremely loyal member of the team.
The next positive style in the Goleman model is the affiliative style. In this style, the leader fosters harmony and promotes personal relationships to build emotionally robust teams. This style builds resonance by creating harmony, by connecting people to each other. The potential role of story in this is explored in the book, in the chapters on Teams.
The fourth of the positive styles is the democratic style. Here, the leader involves team members in decision making and works hard to understand and reconcile differences. This style builds resonance by valuing people's input and getting commitment through participation.
Clearly, in each of these four styles, the leader is most effective when he or she is engaging with what others believe, aspire to, want, feel and think. In other words, as a leader you need to understand the narrative of those whom you are trying to lead, engage with that, help them to develop or change as necessary, and help the preferred story to keep moving forward in a positive direction
The first of the more risky styles is pace-setting. This is where the leader leads from the front by setting and achieving challenging goals - and expecting others to do so. When it works, it builds resonance by meeting challenging and exciting goals.
One of the reasons this is so risky is the stories that start to build up around a pace-setting leader. It is obvious that these can easily become very negative: he’s only out for himself, she’s arrogant, and so on. And the pace-setting style will present plenty of examples of behaviour that lend themselves to that analysis. One very intelligent and highly productive pace-setting leader I worked with found that his very successes made it harder and harder to achieve anything within his organisation: he ended up leaving and founding a new business. It was a great loss to his original organisation which had recognised his ability and promoted him rapidly, but simply could not work out how to manage him in the organisational context or get the most from him. When he left, many were hugely relieved, as his style had been perceived as very disruptive and bruising; others were aware of how much they had lost and how they had failed to find the right way to use his outstanding gifts.
The final style, also risky, is commanding. Here the leader demands immediate and unquestioning obedience and may use threats to ensure compliance. When it works, it builds resonance by soothing fears, by giving clear direction in an emergency. However, it does rely on the leader being right, and on everyone else believing him or her to be right. Even when those conditions are in place, it also risks infantilising people. In a genuine emergency, it may be absolutely appropriate, but if over-used, the story people take away is that their opinions, insights or contributions are of no interest (and possibly of no value). Clearly, over the medium term, that is severely problematic.
Do you work with Emotional Intelligence? Do comment on this post, as I am always keen to enrich my understanding - especially if you see things differently from the way I do!