How Leaders Should Think About Leadership Models

By Dave G Jensen

The two FBI agents stared at me from across the table. The woman’s blue eyes narrowed and her forehead wrinkled as she aimed her next question, “If you teach leadership, maybe you can tell me how important all these leadership tests the FBI makes me take really are?”

Me, “Depends how they use them.”

Her, “They use them for promotions, reviews, screening… lots of ways.”

Me, “Well then, it depends how predictive the tests are. Many leadership assessments have not been researched well; they therefore, don’t have a high predictive value. For example, in France, many companies use handwriting analysis as part of the hiring process. Yet, my understanding is that it has no predictive value.”

Her, “What about the leadership courses you teach?”

Me, “I think it’s important to use an evidence-based approach that is flexible enough to adapt it to different situations and clients.”

Her, “Interesting.” Then she and her FBI-agent-husband took a bite out of their hotdog, and turned to watch their son perform a perfect cannonball into the swimming pool.

Our leadership discussion was over. The conversation drifted back to how we all knew the host of this picnic celebration.

As my wife and I drove home after the party, my mind wandered to leadership models. After all, there are many leadership models and assessments, several of which are quite good. Here are three reasons that might help you think about leadership models in order to lead your team more effectively.

  1. Adapt to Many Situations. A good leadership model can be used to manage many situations. Thus, a powerful model incorporates all four leadership styles into one (Visionary, Rational, Commanding, and Empowering). With this as a platform, it becomes easy for leaders to expand their leadership capacity by growing one of their four styles.For example, have you ever seen a leader that has a wonderful service-oriented style? Have you ever seen this actually create a problem (e.g., employees become reluctant to speak up for fear of being perceived as non-team players)? Can a servant-leader culture discourage managers from holding individuals accountable for results? Leaders need to understand that they should access their wonderful “Empowering” style of serving others, and at the same time, they must also stretch to access their “Commanding” style (so employees feel free to speak up on difficult issues). Supervisors need to learn how to counsel underperformers, conduct excellent performance reviews, and create individual development plans by applying both Empowering and Commanding leadership styles.
  2. Lead by Managing Tension. Everyone seems to be searching for balance these days. The editors of the Harvard Business Review even dedicated an entire issue to this issue of balance. When was the last time you felt balanced? Balance is not always or easily attainable is it? Things are moving so fast these days and issues are so interdependent, that the question is no longer just, how can I find the right balance? The new question is, how can I lead by managing the ongoing tension?

    For example, how do you manage the tension between: Meeting the needs of the team and Meeting the needs of the individual; the Vision of where you want to go and the Reality of your budget; Improving service and increasing productivity/accountability… A powerful leadership model helps leaders manage the tension among these interdependent and opposing imperatives. How are you helping your teams manage the tension in their work work?

  3. Apply the Research. Many leadership approaches are based on a smart person or winning coach writing about how to get employees to do their work better, faster, cheaper, happier… Most of these approaches lack the research that demonstrates if you follow their prescription, you will experience their results.

    We need to apply the tools of science to leadership in the same way we apply them to medicine. The essence of science is prediction (i.e., probability). If you apply a model based on solid science, there’s reason to believe you probably will achieve what the model predicts.

There are many good leadership models available. I encourage you to use one that is adaptable, illustrates the tension among competing imperatives, and predicts success.

Keep stretching when you’re pulled!

Dave Jensen helps leaders manage ambiguity, gain buy-in to any change, improve decision-making, and achieve difficult goals in today’s complex, competitive, and conflicting environment. For a FREE Chapter of his forthcoming book, The Executive’s Paradox – How to Stretch When You’re Pulled by Opposing Demands, or to receive his highly researched, yet practical leadership tips once a month, sign up for his free eZine (Dave’s Raves), visit

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