Leadership style depends on context

The principles of leadership can be effective in a wide variety of situations, but they often need to be applied in a very different manner depending on the circumstances and the constituent groups involved, according to Russell Palmer in his book Ultimate Leadership: Winning Execution Strategies for Your Situation. Effective leadership requires an understanding not just of the principles of leadership but also of the context in which those principles are applied.

The book starts by listing what the author describes as the basic principles of successful leadership, and then goes on to describe a number of different leadership contexts, including:

  • The top-down organization, such as the military, which requires a strong leader who must empower the leadership throughout the organization.
  • The organization of peers, in which the leader requires tact and skill in uniting the peers around a common vision.
  • The organization in crisis, in which the leader has to step forward and personally take charge, acting rapidly while remaining calm under fire.
  • Transforming the culture of an organization, which requires the leader to use tenacity and resilience to overcome organizational inertia.
  • The entrepreneurial organization, in which the leader requires negotiating skills to bring together investors, advisors, customers, vendors and others around a vision.
  • The academic organization, which requires a firm and persistent but highly consultative and collaborative leadership style.
  • Leading in a global environment, which requires an understanding of the different national cultures in which the organization operates.

I found the book thoroughly entertaining, as the author recounted many of his experiences in his three different careers as managing partner of the international accounting firm Touche Ross (an organization of peers), dean of the Wharton School (an academic organization), and CEO of the Palmer Group (an entrepreneurial organization). However, given Wharton’s reputation for academic rigour, I was expecting a more comprehensive treatment of the subject of leadership. Nonetheless there is plenty of wisdom to be gleaned from the book, and I highly recommend it.

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