January 18, 2011
In my own consulting practice, I have developed a concept called Leaderhood® that has, at its base, a combination of elements rooted in parenthood and others rooted in leadership. This concept arose from my observation of the similarities between the role of a parent and the role of a leader. Please understand that I am not saying they are the same – clearly there are key differences between the two – but understanding both can maximize any leader’s effectiveness in dealing with coworkers and subordinates.
While subsequent research and – dare I say – marketing efforts for leadership books and the like have revealed more specific categories and more dazzling names of leadership styles and types, psychologist Kurt Lewin’s work, circa 1939, was foundational and has stood the test of time and observation. The three leadership styles identified by Lewin are authoritarian, participative, and delegative. Subsequently, during the early 1960s, psychologist Diana Baumrind’s research revealed that the majority of parents display one of three different parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. (A fourth parenting style, uninvolved, was added later.)
Upon reviewing the research-based definitions of these leadership and parenting styles, natural correlations are easily identified as shown (side-by-side) below.
In my experiences coaching leaders, I am struck by the number of leaders who are confused or, worse, paralyzed by their fear of becoming authoritarian, or being perceived as ruling with a heavy hand. Sensitivity to such perceptions is wise in light of the generational behavioral shifts taking place in the workforce; however, the fear of authoritarian behavior must not prevent leaders from exercising authoritative behavior. As you can see based on the definitions above, participative leadership and authoritative parenting (see correlation above) require some authoritarian behavior. In other words, like any good parent, sometimes great leaders simply have to “lay down the law” to shape the ongoing behavior of an employee or an organization.