Leadership Fad or Trend?

By Katherine L. Poehnert, M.Ed. Psych., PCC. There are many current, sparkly new terms out there describing approaches to leadership.  As an Executive Leadership Coach I have heard many (although I am sure there are more coming down the pike)… and, truth be told, I have utilized some, and actually even coined one myself (Neuro-Flow Leadership).  Here is just a sampling of what is out there:

Do these terms just represent a passing craze, a good book title, or do they offer new and much needed approaches to leadership in a changing world (or maybe some combination thereof)? Perhaps they are repackaged classic concepts offered up in new clothing?

As Bob Lutz from Forbes indicates: “Many are mere restatements of the time-honored basics of leadership, cleverly disguised with layers of new jargon, designed, evidently to create a sense of ‘new and recently discovered.’”

Which may not be a bad thing….

Some leaders, or organizations even, do what Mike Morrison from Rapid BI calls “Fad Surfing”- defined as “Adopting one fashionable management style or strategy after another.”

Probably not a great idea!!  But in terms of choosing a “new” approach and trying it out, there may be some positives: 

  • New and interesting processes or approaches give people an opportunity to grow and learn — and they feel more valued
  • When change is tried, there is usually some immediate positive result that is seen (perhaps due to positive expectations)

Certainly, we know that control and command leadership is out (although, unfortunately some leaders did not get that memo), and an approach utilizing soft skills is the way to go…as coaches, we are there to help leaders hone some of these skills.  But what approach should these leaders be taking? Because the soft-skills approach is most effective, and so many of the above styles embrace some aspect of it, many well-intentioned leaders embrace this approach but take it too far; involving everyone in decision-making to the point of creating “too much democracy, too much debate, too many people involved, too much time wasted, too few leaders who say “time’s up, gang. Here’s what we’re gonna do!” (Bob Lutz, Forbes)

So, do these “new” approaches help leaders in determining how best to apply a more soft skills approach to management and leadership?

It has been said that common sense should prevail, and while it seems there is a generally established idea of what this means, HOW it is employed makes a big difference.  Do these approaches direct Leaders in doing so?

This article will not address each style in any depth but does offer some commonsense questions to ask when assessing one of the above approaches.  Thoughtful consideration is so much more effective than an impulsive adoption of an approach, particularly if the approach will signal a major change in culture, and will impact many people.  

When assessing an approach: 

  1. Use a healthy amount of skepticism, but don’t allow the “negativity bias” in the brain to override the possibility there may be some worthwhile benefit to looking deeper.
  2. If it is just a fad, it may have the following characteristics, so be careful:
    • It is prescriptive, telling managers/leaders exactly what to do.
    • It may be falsely encouraging
    • It has a one-size fits all approach.
  3. Does the approach have a track record for performance and measurable outcomes in similar companies facing similar challenges? (Harvard Business Review)
  4. Are the changes it would require within our company’s capabilities and resources? (Harvard Business Review)
  5. Does this Fad align with the organization’s Vision (should you be zagging while others are zigging?) 
  6. Learn everything you can about the new approach, and ask the following questions:
    • If we implement this strategy, what are our goals?
    • Are we already doing this in our organization, and just not calling what we do the latest fad? 
    • If we implement this addition, what will not be done and is it still important work?”
    • Could we achieve the same results without using the massive resources to implement the strategy throughout the organization?” (adapted from Today’s Manager – Joe Owen)

It is certainly true that leadership approaches have to adapt to changing times, in fact A research study from the Institute of Leadership and Management suggests that the single most important feature of future leaders will be flexibility. In order to succeed in the future, mangers will need to become more agile, responsive and develop an ability to adapt to different needs generated by changing workplaces

If these approaches offer help in a changing world don’t “throw the baby out with the bath water:” use common sense, look at what aspects might work, which ones do not, and, above all utilize common sense!

To discuss a commonsense approach to your organizations’ leadership strategy, contact Kathy for a consultation.