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Your leadership style under pressure

Aug. 15, 2017 | by Bob Whitesel

Having read hundreds of students’ papers over the years on leadership, I’ve become convinced that leaders have a fallback behavior on which they rely when they are uncertain, conflicted and/or under pressure. This leadership behavior can become a person's “leadership style” for it is rooted in personality, experience and comfort. 

Understanding the leadership style and behavior on which you feel most comfortable (and may in times of pressure fallback) is critical for good leadership.

I have identified each of these leadership styles and named them the “three C’s.” Most people I've observed tend to prefer one over the others.

Competitive leadership style

This is not the most pervasive, but is probably the most popular and lauded. 

A competitive leadership style involves a person who “competes” with others in a way to make his or her way preferred. When a subordinate brings up a new idea, the competitive leader counters with their own ideas. 

This leader may be insecure in their abilities or skills and therefore may display behaviors that indicate they are more knowledgeable, more experienced and/or just more correct than the other person. 

They often grow organizations quickly. But because they typically alienate people along the way by refusing to collaborate and welcome in outside ideas, the organizations tend to die quickly after the crisis passes. However, they are celebrated in popular culture because of their superstar position in the organization.

Conciliatory leadership style

This is probably the most pervasive. 

A leader with this style accommodates and gives in when confronted with a competitive leadership style in another person. While the conciliatory leader may share their ideas initially, they quickly acquiesce to the other leader's ideas, subjugating their creativity and insights. 

These may be people who have an accommodating personality, having become accustomed to complying with the will and wishes of others. 

Sometimes these can also be competitive leaders, who feel they are unable to compete with another leader. For instance, the other leader might be their boss or someone they highly respect. As a result, they cannot compete with them and rather conform to the stronger leader's ill and wishes.

Collaborative leadership style

This is probably the least practiced, but the most important for success. 

These are people who draw out the best in others and then form a team of leaders where multiple ideas and personalities work together for a common goal. 

They tend not to see things as black and white, but as a wonderful multi-hued mixture. 

John Wesley, after his conversion, increasingly demonstrated this style of leadership. His collaborative approach including utilizing lay-preachers, giving women (second-class family members at the time) leadership roles and passionately reaching out to the poor.  

These are but a few of the many examples of the collaborative way that John Wesley led the Methodist movement into a world-wide force for good. 

Today, more than 70 million Christians trace their heritage back to the collaborative leadership skills of John Wesley.


Bob Whitesel

Bob Whitesel (D.Min., Ph.D.) is professor of missional leadership and founding professor of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. A sought after speaker, church growth consultant and award-winning writer of 12 books on missional leadership, church change and church growth; he also holds two earned doctorates (D.Min. and Ph.D.) from Fuller Theological Seminary where he was awarded “The Donald McGavran Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Church Growth.”



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