Exploring Your Leadership Style


He stood five-foot-four, and weighed one hundred pounds.

He was a shy intellectual with a quiet voice that couldn’t put a crow to flight. He worried constantly about his frail health. Thoughts of his mortality plagued him. Yet this man was a leader, a tenacious bulldog, the leading voice of his cause, a man of grit and character who wore down his opponents to win our freedom. This was James Madison. This is the man who gave us our Bill of Rights.[1] Madison and the leaders of the American Revolution are proof positive that leaders come in all shapes and sizes.

Many trees have been sacrificed in an effort to make the paper that holds the ink that communicates ideas of leadership. Leadership is vast forest of theories. Peter Northhouse notes, “In the past 50 years, there have been as many as 65 different classification systems developed to define the dimensions of leadership.”[ii]

  • Great Man theorists view leadership as belonging to a select few “great men” and “great women” who were born with superior qualities.
  • Behavioral theorists see leadership in autocratic, democratic, and Laissez-faire approaches to influencing people.
  • Trait theorists believe that “leaders share a number of common personality traits and characteristics.”[3]
  • Situational theorists believe that leaders manage both task and relationship. Different situations calls for different actions on the part of the leader.
  • Transactional theorists view leadership as a transaction between the leader and the follower. The politician makes promises in exchange for votes. Work gets done because it gets rewarded.
  • Transformational theorists see leadership as a process where an individual establishes a connection with the follower that raises the level of motivation.[4]

Understandably, identifying leadership styles is an inexact art. The following is not exhaustive list, but it is offered as a means of helping people identify ways they lead best.[5]

  1. The Visionary Leader This individual has a clear picture of what the future holds, casts compelling pictures of “the hill” the team or organization must take, and helps instill incredible enthusiasm among followers. The visionary leader is not always process strong. Visionaries may include Nehemiah and Martin Luther King, Jr.
  2. The Strategic Leader A strategic leader helps to make the dream of the visionary leader a reality. They are able to take a vision and break it down into manageable steps. Strategic leaders help people understand HOW the vision will become reality. The strategic leader often serves as a “second leader” in organizations. Raymond Moley was a strategic leader behind FDR. Timothy may have served in a strategic capacity for the Apostle Paul.
  3. The Autocratic Leader Autocratic leaders are large and in charge. Through force of character, expertise, longevity, or power structure they are able to call the shots and move people toward their goal. In a tribute to Steve Jobs, The Economist noted, “Few corporate leaders in modern times have been as dominant—or, at times, as dictatorial—as Mr. Jobs.”[6]
  4. The Shepherding Leader Shepherding leaders have a natural bent toward nurture and community over vision and mission. They move teams and organizations (often at a slower pace), by providing love and personal support. They care, they listen, they pray.
  5. The Team Building Leader Team builders have an innate capacity and keen insight for identifying the right people for the right positions to create the right results. They examine team member’s character, competency, and chemistry and place them together in ways that get the job done. As Hybels notes, team builders have a bent toward the vision whereas shepherding leaders give preference to nurture and community building.[7]
  6. The Managing Leader Managing leaders don’t dream the dream, but without them the dream doesn’t become reality. We make a mistake when we draw a hard line between leaders and managers. Many managers lead. They intentionally organize people, processes, and resources to help effect real change. Joseph served as a managing leader for Pharaoh in the book of Exodus.
  7. The Pioneer Leader Pioneers get fired up about starting something new. They are entrepreneurial. Functioning best in “start-up mode,” some pioneers lose steam after the initial launch. The wise ones know when to pass the leadership baton to the leader who can take things to the next level. The Apostle Paul exhibited characteristics of the pioneer leader.
  8. The Re-engineering Leader These leaders are great in turn-around environments. They assess and uncover key components of the organizational DNA and revive them. They reevaluate personnel, strategy, and values to help the team or organization regain its footing.
  9. The Intellectual Leader Some people are such great stewards of their intellectual capacities that they are able to lead from the Ivory Tower of academia. C.S. Lewis, as an example, has had a profound impact on Christian leaders everywhere.

Two Questions:

  1. What is your predominant style?
  2. How can knowing your style and that of your leadership team help you be a better leader where God has placed you?

A closer look at leadership styles helps when it comes to assessing leaders and leadership, but we are wise to remember the words of Samuel:

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD's anointed is before him.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” - 1 Samuel 16:6-7
  1. Richard Labunski, James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights. Labunski provides a masterful sketch of the challenges Madison faced and the leadership he provided at this time in our nation's history.
  2. Peter D.  Northouse, Leadership Theory And Practice, 3rd Edition., page 2.
  3. There is an excellent summary article from www.mindtools.com, entitled, “Leadership Styles: Using The Right One For The Right Situation.”
  4. See Northhouse, pages 170ff.
  5. I’ve borrowed heavily from Bill Hybels, Courageous Leadership. Chapter 7, “Discovering and Developing Your Own Leadership Style” is a great resource. Additionally, Gary Wills’ Certain Trumpets, is an exceptional study that examines the nature of how leaders lead.“
  6. A Genius Departs,” The Economist, October 8th, 2011. Page 80.
  7. Bill Hybels, Courageous Leadership, page 150.