What makes an effective leader?

Are there different approaches to leadership? And if so, are they equally valid?

Do different people respond to different types of leaders?

These are the questions I’m mulling over this morning (and all last night, I assure you). I find myself in a situation at work where I am responding really well to one person’s leadership, and very poorly to another–which really frustrates me because I’ve been trying really hard to learn as much as I can from the second person. I just don’t seem to retain anything she tries to tell me.

The differences, from my perspective:

Leader A:

  • Walks me through a process
  • Stops me where I err and explains both why it doesn’t work and what I need to do differently
  • Follows up correction with the question, “Was I clear in explaining that?”
  • Takes note of my strengths and my weaknesses, and discusses both with me
  • Encourages me, making me feel like trying harder
  • Seems to be growth-oriented

Leader B:

  • Tells me what to do
  • Stops me when I err and says something like, “Nope, let me show you,” and then takes over without explaining the process (so I still don’t know how to do it)
  • Does not follow up correction at all
  • Notes my weaknesses, and pushes me to conquer them, but has yet to acknowledge when I’ve done something right/well
  • Pushes me with (what I feel are) unrealistic goals, then tells me I’m not meeting the goals, and then I feel like it’s not worth trying to reach the goals
  • Seems to be results-oriented

So what do you think? Am I unfair to Leader B? I really think that her approach would work for some people–just not for me–so I don’t want to be unfair. I am an affirmation type of person, though. I need (especially partnered with correction) encouragement and positive feedback. And the incredibly frustrating thing about that need is that when I started this job, Leader B had me fill out a form about how I want to be taught and how I respond, etc, so it’s not as if she doesn’t realize there’s a conflict.

I’m trying really hard to sift through the difference in her coaching style and my learning style so I can glean something from our time together. I know intellectually that she is a wonderful asset, and that I should learn as much as I can from her. I really am trying. I just feel like there’s an enormous brick wall of a learning barrier between us, and I’m trying to scale it or bring it down or something–but I’m not getting much help from her in conquering it.

And it frustrates me to realize how well I responded to Leader A. Under his coaching, I think I would have the potential to really succeed at my job. But…Leader B is the one who works with me most days, and that’s not something I can choose.

Anyway, what do you think? Have you ever been in a situation where you and your leader spoke different languages? Do you think all leaders are valid, and we just need to be more aware of how we pair up a leader and a learner?


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12 Responses to Leadership

  1. Ben says:

    I wouldn’t necessarily say that there are different leaders but different personality makeups. Sometimes those personalities clash. Some people are more direct and others like to stand back, look at all their options and choose from that point which can come across more passive. In a book, I read how we tend to live on our color of the beach ball. If I live on the red stripe, I see everything as red and can’t understand when the person who lives on the blue stripe comes in with their blue opinion. That becomes a problem in the long run and can create conflict unless you’re willing to have a fierce conversation and confront the issues that clearly need clarification.
    Sometimes, through that clarification you can see where you strongly compliment one another but also define your boundaries so that person is aware of how their actions may be creating strain instead of helping. Both people need to be flexible and mature though otherwise it won’t work.

    • semmie says:

      I love the beach ball analogy. It is very fitting, I think. The thing is–I can understand why this Leader functions the way she does. It really is a strength for her. It is just so opposite to how I function (counter-logical to how I think, even), that it’s really a challenge for me to learn from her. As I said, I’m trying to make the best of it, and learn as much as I can, and I recognize that some people would respond very well to her.

      You mention boundaries. The struggle in a work environment (and specifically, in a manager/employee relationship) is that there’s pressure to learn it and get it right–whether you respond well to the other person or not. I can express my frustrations to her, but at the end of the day, I do what she says, whether I’ve “learned” or not. That’s a real tragedy, in my opinion. And you’re right–it takes both people to meet on that edge where the red stripe and the blue stripe meet.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Ben.

      But I would add one question: Don’t you think an effective leader is one who figures out what his followers respond to individually, and coaches them each from those perspectives? I dunno. My brain is all twisted up.

      • Ben says:

        I would suggest that is an unrealistic expectation. Leaders are leading a vision, they are trying to move the needle and their product or company ahead. Unfortunately, not all leaders are good mentors but they can be if those around them will communicate the positives and negatives. Of course doing the job no matter what the situation is what keeps you employed but eventually you will learn something from it, they may learn something from it or another opportunity will come along where you can take what you learned and expand it elsewhere. Not all jobs are going to be walks in the park but they can be teachable moments that help form you for the long run.

        • semmie says:

          I’m not sure I follow your train here, Ben. But you raise an interesting difference between a leader and a mentor. Perhaps that is for another post. For the moment, I’ll only remark that I think you may be mistaken in saying that “leaders are leading a vision.” I don’t think vision is what makes a leader; rather, the ability to spur people in one direction or another is what makes a leader. I think (whether it’s wise or not) you can lead without vision. And I say that not to be contentious with you (even though it’s fun to goad you sometimes 😉 ), but because I think I was a vision-less leader when I was leading worship. I could not have articulated where we were going or what we were headed toward, but the congregation always joined me on the journey; and that terrified me.

          But I do agree with you that sometimes you have to “suck it up” and do what needs doing, and eventually it will all fall into place. And I also agree that a job will not necessarily be a walk in the park.

          Thanks for sharing and challenging today, Ben! I appreciate it!

  2. Toge says:

    1. Anyway, what do you think? Have you ever been in a situation where you and your leader spoke different languages? Do you think all leaders are valid, and we just need to be more aware of how we pair up a leader and a learner?

    Response: Yes! By God’s grace, I’ve always faired very well when it comes to leadership in the workplace and in ministry. I never had any game-changing leadership issues until I moved to Tulsa. Since then, it seems like I have had nothing BUT difficult leaders/bosses over me. I was very blessed to have active-voiced, but laid-back personalities for leaders in Michigan. Which I excel under…they always defined their expectations clearly, but left room for creativity and change based on my abilities and interests.

    I’ve had 2 particular leaders, since moving to Tulsa, who were passive-voiced leaders. One was manipulative and threatened by me, while the other simply didn’t know how to “speak my language”. In both cases, I had to quit the organization. One I was happy to leave…the other I was very disappointed, but saw no other option after approaching the leader time and time again to get better directives.

    However, looking back on the situations, I learned a lot about my preferences for leadership. Now I know what to look for in a leader when I submit myself to their leadership. While it would, of course, be more effective to pair leaders and learners with those who would work together well and communicate well…that doesn’t always happen in real life. I don’t think that makes one leader less valid than another…but less effective.

    2. Don’t you think an effective leader is one who figures out what his followers respond to individually, and coaches them each from those perspectives? I dunno. My brain is all twisted up.

    Absolutely! I think this is the key to a really great leader: flexibility and understanding! Remember that leaders have experiences that may be completely different then your own experiences….and they are going to lead from those experiences. Have grace for them, and use discernment in how to approach them… A good leader is going to be open to your suggestions and will respond to your personality.

    • semmie says:

      Funny, Jen…I was just thinking about a situation you wrote to me about last year (or the year before?) where you and your leader were just not on the same page, and how disappointed you were to have to step away from that. I think I understand that. Because the truth is–even when we “speak a different language” than someone, it doesn’t mean we CAN’T communicate, right? We do all we can to build a relationship, to not grow frustrated, to be teachable…and in the end, it can be so disappointing to have all of that hard work go down the drain, so to speak. And that’s really where I’ve been the last few days. I’ve been working so hard to keep my head about me and not allow our language barrier to keep me from learning, or to allow her style of teaching to keep me from taking away the appropriate lesson.

      I love your point, also–that a leader may not be less valid, but less effective. Very well spoken.

      And yes…Grace. Always, always, more and more…Grace. I confess, I did not have much grace last night. But thankfully, I recognized myself enough to sincerely apologize to her for being difficult. What can I say? I’m learning. 🙂

      • Toge says:

        I know it helped me to do some research on leadership styles. I was so used to flexible, direct leaders. Vague directives are SOOO frustrating! I’m glad I’m not in that situation anymore…but it is really sad to not be able to communicate…especially with other believers. I hope you find ways to overcome the frustrations! Especially since its a new job! May God give you wisdom and discernment to get through each and every day. 🙂

  3. Steve says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Leader “A” may have somewhat of a teaching background. But he may just be a true gentleman and is being polite because you’re a woman. So male chauvinism isn’t that bad!

    Leader “B” sounds a lot like my Dad.

  4. Rachel says:

    I don’t necessarily think that one leader is better than the other. However I do think that as a leader, the leader should attempt to adjust or adapt their leadership style to the “fit” the person they are trying to teach or lead. The leader is going to be ineffective if they use the same leadership style on everyone as everyone is the not the same as previously mentioned. Now just think is Jesus had used the same tone with the Pharisees as he did the villagers or treated Mary Magdalene like everyone else did? Where would we be today if he did that? Than again God is very gracious. I’m sorry I may have gotten a little of track and I am tired and what not. Anyways just wanted to state my thoughts.

    • semmie says:

      Nope! You’re not off track at all! I think you’re right on the target with your remarks. Leadership is just an exalted form of any other relationship. You don’t interact the same with each of your friends; you don’t interact the same with each of your siblings (believe me, I know). Relationships are always unique, and require unique attention, otherwise they may be–as you said–ineffective.

      God is, indeed, very gracious; and we can be gracious, too, with His help.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Rach! Very good stuff. 🙂

    • Toge says:

      Good words, Rachel. Jesus is the greatest example. It is really neat, and educational, to see how he interacts with all the different personalities among the disciples and other followers.

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