There Isn’t Just One Right Leadership Style

By Wilhelmine “Willow” Bellevue, author.

Part one of two.

In the Bible, Paul says to be all things to all people (I Corinthians 9:22). Believers must “style flex” their leadership style in the marketplace to successfully attain their goals. Even some leadership styles that are often condemned outright by theologians of leadership can in fact be beneficial when used rightly. Through flexibility and mobility, leaders can gain trust, time and loyalty from their followers (Rajbhandari et al., 2017).

Jesus used style-flexing to manage a diverse group of individuals from an array of professions, social classes and personal backgrounds. Simon Peter and Andrew were fishermen (Mark 4:18-19), Luke was a physician (Colossians 4:14) and Matthew was a tax collector (Matthew 9:9). Paul was a Pharisee before his conversion, a true Hebrew, and from the elite tribe of Benjamin (Philemon 3:5). Mary Magdalene was the first woman evangelist (John 16:18). Though Lazarus was known as the beloved man whom Jesus raised from the dead (John 11:35-44), he was later seen as a threat to the chief priests and targeted for execution (John 12:9-10). Despite a broad range of personalities and backgrounds, Jesus still managed to reach each individual by speaking their language (Luke 24:32).

According to Northouse (2015), leadership is overseeing a group and helping those individuals toward goal attainment. Versatility is essential, as utilizing only a single leadership style can lead to derailment and stagnation. With flexibility and wisdom, one can use leadership strategies such as laissez-faire, transactional, transformational and servant leadership to lead a diverse team in the marketplace. Regardless of the leadership style, the objective is to execute the primary vision and achieve as many goals as possible.

The Battlefield of the Marketplace

In biblical times, the marketplace was a setting of judgment and persecution. For example, Paul and Silas were dragged into the marketplace and beaten for casting out a spirit of divination from a slave girl (Acts 16:16-23). Moreover, when the Jews were upset about Paul and Silas preaching the word of God, they instigated a riot, leading the angry mob from the marketplace to the home of Jason, a follower of Paul and Silas (Acts 17:5). Confrontation was not unusual in the marketplace. For instance, Jesus engaged in physical and spiritual warfare when he confronted the money exchangers and those selling goods within the temple courts (John 2:15). Lastly, an abundance of deceit, wickedness and greed resided in the marketplace. Jesus even referred to the Pharisees as hidden graves, impure and filthy (Luke 11:40-43).

Though it may sound like a relic of the past, the marketplace in biblical times is not so far removed from the modern era. Today’s “Battle Space Environment” is parallel to the biblical marketplace in many ways. Working with corrupt, competitive and stubborn people requires the ability to determine which leadership style to use, with whom and when. One must be able to put their emotional preferences aside, to some degree, to win followers. Once you know your environment and your people, you can commit to a leadership style that exemplifies who you are, tweaking it as you go along. Style flexing is not inauthentic; it is a supplemental tool for increasing leadership efficacy.

In the battlefield of the marketplace, you must have extensive information about the enemy and their behavior to make pivotal decisions. Having a thorough understanding of your organizational culture, employees and staff will empower you to make proper assessments and implement appropriate leadership styles. Choosing the right leadership style helps minimize challenges and enables you to face them head-on when unavoidable.

Laissez-Faire Leadership

“Laissez-faire” is sometimes taken to mean an absence of leadership (Norris et al., 2021). However, laissez-faire is French for “hands off” or “let them be” (Northouse, 2015). Many scholars have condemned laissez-faire leadership, and you will rarely see a leadership theologian praise a laissez-faire leader. But what if laissez-faire leadership is what a given employee or team requires to be productive? What if the organization’s top producer likes to go to work, get the job done and leave? Does such an attitude exclude the employee from being a team player because they prefer to separate their work life from their personal life? The answer is no. A functional team requires members to embrace their best selves to contribute to the collective goal. Leaders can do more harm than good by assuming everyone needs a coach, mentor or role model.

One potential risk of laissez-faire leadership is being too hands-off. Otherwise called passive management, a leader might only address employees or problems when havoc arises (Taylor & Francis, 2018). In other words, they shy from innovation and stick to a formula that works rather than make improvements (Taylor & Francis, 2018). Taking this leadership style to extremes can result in stagnation. If everything stays as is and only substantial challenges are addressed, then the organization will never grow. This type of leader tends to be stuck in their ways and will only change when forced to do so. Often, companies that lack innovation experience organizational derailment. Additionally, a laissez-faire leader may come off as cold, as if they do not care for their employees’ emotional, physical and mental well-being. This attitude can be increasingly damaging as millennials, in particular, like to feel accepted, valued, and heard (Mangat, 2019).

But there are biblical grounds for thinking this kind of leadership is sometimes appropriate. God himself takes what we might call a laissez-faire style of leadership as he gives the human heart free will. In Judges 3:1-4, God did not remove Israel’s enemies, to test the Israelites’ devotion to God. The Israelites were also presented with a list of laws for how to live and how not to live, with blessings and curses attached; at the end of the discourse, they were given the option of which path they wanted to take (Deut. 30:1-20). If God can manage without micro-managing, so can we.

A laissez-faire leader is most effective when they recognize their followers’ individual needs, provide the necessary resources, and leave them to accomplish goals. Leaders sometimes make the mistake of forgetting they are not paid to parent adults. They are paid to lead, and leaders are primarily visionaries. If you are too hands-on, employees may feel severe pressure, consequentially hampering performance. For example, a top producer may start to fail and make uncharacteristic mistakes due to stress caused by micromanagement.

Though it relies heavily on trust, laissez-faire leadership utilizes benchmark checking to ensure goals and deadlines are met. It is imperative that a laissez-faire leader takes the time to evaluate how employees are doing, even if the follower prefers to be left alone. Spot-checking and pointing out mistakes to your employees will let them know that you are on top of things, even from a distance. You should also inquire about any additional resources they may need to succeed. Ultimately, we have limited knowledge of other people’s mental backgrounds and what makes them tick. Keep the lines of communication open to identify their motivating factors and provide adequate levels of independence.

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