By Dr. Wesley Carter
Benjamin is one of the top three commercial contractors in his hometown. On Monday morning he arrives at work with an entire plan for reorganizing his operations process. He emails a memo to all of his employees with details of the new strategy and immediately begins implementing changes.
However, Nathan, also a top three commercial contractor, arrives at work on Monday for an 8:30 am meeting with employees from all levels of his organization to review the results of an employee survey about operational strategy. Nathan’s operation has grown by more than 60% and he invites his employees to provide guidance on maintaining the customer centric and employee friendly environment.
Both owners are intent on maintaining a competitive advantage and growing their business. Yet, their approaches are totally different. Benjamin drives from the top of the organization and Nathan leverages a participative approach from his business school days. Nathan relies on the insight from his employees to develop strategies and plans.
Both businessmen are successful and both are committed to their respective leadership approach. And while both approaches may be successful, one is clearly more employee friendly than the other. On a deadline crunch, Nathan has been known to put on a pair of jeans and work side-by-side with his engineers at a building site. He makes a point to help out wherever he is needed and enjoys a great relationship with employees at all levels of the organization.
Benjamin is a very successful businessman and while he treats his employees with respect, he rarely involves them in leading the organization. For Benjamin, employees are a means to an end. He pays well and expects total dedication. His company has thrived in a down economy. Convinced of the merits of his leadership approach, Benjamin rarely reveals the details of his strategy to his senior leaders until it is time to execute.
There are advantages and disadvantages to a top-down organizational leadership strategy, as well as, a partnership leadership strategy. A top-down leadership strategy is grounded in control. Benjamin spends the majority of his time planning, organizing, and commanding. In his mind, Benjamin’s organization is a machine and his role is to drive productivity through the machine. Benjamin’s autocratic leadership style is quite effective when decisions need to be made quickly. However, extended periods of autocratic leadership can lead to the lack of creativity and lower employee commitment.
Employees in an autocratic leadership environment often experience fear and resentment. Invariably, the lack of employee participation in decisions that affect work tasks fails to uncover obstacles that could be avoided if only they were included in the planning process. Choosing not to consider the ideas and opinions of the employees actually executing the work can have a disastrous effect on operations.
Nathan, on the other hand, engages internal and external stakeholders in developing strategies and plans. He respects his employees and trusts their judgment. Nathan recognizes the influence of technological innovation on the “how” of completing tasks at work. Completing even the simplest tasks requires a degree of mental work by highly skilled professionals. In fact, the confluence of different ideas and skills required to run a profitable business can only occur through partnerships.
Soon, if not already, Benjamin will begin recognize that he cannot keep pace with technology and maintain the quality of his decision making. Ultimately, Benjamin will have to adjust his operational style or suffer the consequences in terms of profitability and/or employee commitment.
At the genesis of his business, Benjamin’s autocratic leadership style may have been very effective. However, he will need to begin to rely on the talent within his ranks if he is to remain competitive. Additionally, he may find that his employees appreciate having a say in developing strategies and plans, since they will be responsible for executing.
It is imperative that every manager periodically review their leadership style and adjust to the environment as necessary. While there is no one best way to lead, the strategy should align with the situation for optimal results. Have you evaluated your leadership style lately?
WESLEY CARTER DM, authors an advice column that leverages leadership and management strategies to solve common business problems. Carter holds a Doctor of Management (DM) degree with an emphasis in Organizational Leadership, an MBA, and a B.A. in Management. Carter is a partner at KRS Consulting, LLC in Charlotte, NC. If you have a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org . All submissions become the property of Wesley Carter. Call (704) 992-1211 or email to book an engagement. This article originally appeared in The Charlotte Post.