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It is well known that all organisations need to develop leaders, managers and people who can interchange roles depending on the prevailing situations and needs of the complex issues or problems being faced. Leadership is a crucial ingredient of success in any organisation. This is an accepted fact but ‘what is the best style of leadership’?
This article explores different leadership styles, the internal importance of trust, diversity and inclusion and encourages fire and rescue services to consider a new form of leadership commonly known as ‘generative leadership’ as a means of meeting the complex challenges facing the Fire and Rescue Service in 2020 and beyond.
The first thing that must be noted is the difference between leadership and management. Some will know this intuitively but may not be able to clearly articulate their understanding of the difference; whilst others see them as synonymous. Therefore, management can be described as a process of planning, decision making, organising, leading, motivating and controlling the human resources; financial, physical, and information resources of an organisation to reach its goals in an efficient and effective manner. Simplified, management entails directing and controlling a group of people or an organisation to reach a goal. Or as Peter Drucker once said: “Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their jobs done.” In contrast and simply put, leadership can be described as the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. The three highlighted words are the factors to be considered in determining approaches to leadership.
Looking at the history of the Fire Service leadership training, we can see before the adaptation of Adair’s Three Circles Model, most people associated leadership with the so-called “heroic leadership” or “Great Man Theory”, or the idea that leadership required outstanding people with outstanding talents and skills. Adair changed all that by focusing on what leaders did. His model was based on three overlapping circles representing the three responsibilities that leaders have. These are a responsibility for the Task, for the Team, and the Individuals in the team. The reason these three overlap is because, firstly, the task can only be performed by the team and not by one person; secondly, the team can only achieve excellent task performance if all the individuals are fully developed; and thirdly, the individuals need the task to be challenged and motivated.
Adair crucially showed that leadership could be taught and did not depend on the traits a person had or was born with. We could all see the benefits of this leadership style as it was so easy to apply to the Fire Service operational roles. Yet with the modernisation of the Fire and Rescue Service, is the Adair model still relevant?
“The effective leader must be authentic, inclusive, value driven, honest, open, and transparent”
What others style of leadership exist?
What other factors can aid effective leadership?
Firstly, we hear a lot about, “servant leadership”; in this model the leader needs to focus on others’ needs, especially the needs of team members before considering her/his own. The role being to acknowledge the perspectives of other people and support them in achieving their goals in the right manner.
Secondly, “transactional leadership”; this is one of the most commonly used leadership models. Here, assign certain tasks to the employees, manager and team members agree pre-set goals on which the employees agree to follow under the right leadership and achieve the expected results.
Thirdly, “autocratic leadership”; a variant of transactional leadership. The leader has the ultimate power and control over their team. Staff members have limited opportunity to suggest or comment on what would be the best for the team. The style is found to be useful in crises when you simply need to make the decision and implement it without wasting any time over the discussion.
Fourthly, “laissez-fair leadership”; this leadership style is the opposite of the autocratic leadership type, focusing mostly on delegating many tasks to team members and providing little to no supervision. Because a laissez-faire leader does not spend their time intensely managing employees, they often have more time to dedicate to other projects.
Fifthly, “democratic leadership”; the democratic leadership style (also called the participative style) is a combination of the autocratic and laissez-faire types of leaders.
Sixthly, “transformational leadership”; the transformational leadership style is like the coach style in that it focuses on clear communication, goal setting and employee motivation. In the drive to make sustainable changes in modernising the Fire and Rescue Service, transformational was advocated as the leadership style most appropriate to the time.
Seventhly, “situational leadership”; the fundamental principle of the situational leadership model is that there is no single “best” style of leadership. Effective leadership is task-relevant, and the most successful leaders are those who adapt their leadership style to the ability and willingness of the individual or group they are attempting to lead or influence. Effective leadership varies, not only with the person or group that is being influenced, but it also depends on the task, job, or function that needs to be accomplished.
So, is one style of leadership the best? No, is my personal view, leadership may not require definition or classification but is predicated on individuals applying experience, knowledge and judgement to the situation in which they find themselves. The simplicity of the John Adair model may still have some relevance to the FRS almost as much as the transformational model. The Fire and Rescue Service is not a homogenous body. Its structural complexity affords the possibility for the requirement to apply a range of leadership styles to the range of potential situations.
“Together with diverse style of leadership and trust we also need to think about the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion”
At the same time the key value that binds all the leadership style is “Trust”. We know trust lubricates leadership effectiveness. We know the importance of “cognitive trust” and the confidence of how confident someone feels in the leader’s technical ability to do the job or sometimes known as “trust of the head”. Secondly, the “trust of the heart”. This is built by empathy, closeness and genuine feelings of concern and care. It is characterised by feelings of security and perceived strength of the relationship, as well as the degree to which we think someone’s intentions are trustworthy, their ethics sound and their integrity whole. It is a type of interpersonal trust, strongly driven by emotion and relational factors.
The importance of trust as described above was recently highlighted when the first ever State of Fire report was published last month. Inspectors found colleagues had not been treated with ‘enough humanity’ and a ‘toxic’ culture is present in some fire and rescue services across England. Therefore, together with the diverse style of leadership and trust we also need to think about the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion. These cultural change issues introduce the need for different behaviours, traits and characteristics. The issues of values and trust have become the staple of the good leader. The effective leader must be authentic, inclusive, value driven, honest, open, and transparent. In addition, s/he needs management skills and traits that support the establishment of trust and following.
At the same time if you look at all the style of leadership it is pretty clear that a key assumption remains that real leaders can see a solution, or a preferred future, and can articulate this in a way that captures followership: “the chief knows”. This includes the expectation that leaders provide “winning” goals, targets, and strategies that others can steer by and in the complex world in which leadership operates, the leader may not have all the solutions. Therefore, in complex situations that fire and rescue services operate in we need to consider a different style of leadership known as “generative leadership”1.
“Generative leadership invites senior leaders to show vulnerability and empower key stakeholders to self-organise and to find the solution to complex issues”
Essentially, generative leadership requires leaders to frame change that requires identifying the issue or problem that needs to be addressed and framing it in a way that will motivate the variety of stakeholders who are “part of the problem”. As opposed to a top-down, identify and then implement the best solution strategy, this is a top-down-bottom-up, learn as you go strategy. Rather than saying: “I am the chief and I know the answer, follow me,” generative leaders say: “I know the challenge but don’t know the answers, and I invite you to decide what you will do about it.” To do this successfully requires identifying not a problem, but a “purpose” that captures something the stakeholders, who ultimately must act to successfully address the challenge they care about.
Finally, the main point of this article has been to describe and explain the need to look beyond just one form of leadership but also consider new forms of leadership that are emerging to take on the increasing complexity of organisational life. As highlighted generative leadership is different from the traditional transformational or transactional leadership, in that it does not provide a vision, goals, and roles or analyse problems in order to make decisions. Instead, generative leadership invites senior leaders to show vulnerability and empower key stakeholders to self-organise and to find the solution to complex issues. This requires as highlighted both trust and valuing the importance of diversity and inclusion and leaders being comfortable with chaos/ambiguity and sticking to the belief that leadership is the responsibility of teams, not individuals and is needed at all levels.
1 Bushe GR, Nagaishi, M. Standing on the past to imagine the future: organization development is not (just) about change. Org Devt J 2018;36(3):23-36.
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