We Need a Strong Leader

We need a strong leader! This becomes the mantra of the employees of an organization during the time of a crisis or a re-organization. I’ve heard it on a regular basis over the last two years. But what does it mean? What are people trying to say?

When I ask if they want a leader who can tell you exactly what needs to happen and what to do, there is usually a pause. Then they say something about this might be alright until the leader tells them they have to do things differently. It appears this kind of leader would be tolerable for everyone, but “me.” So a strong leader is not someone who stands up and proclaims they have the way.

What would a strong leader say and do? What would they look like? What would they believe in? This last question is really critical and where people like to focus their energy. People appear to care far less about what leaders do and say and more about how they do it and say it. And the how seems to be tied to their leadership philosophy, their beliefs about leadership, and their values of leadership.

When I reflect upon this at length, which I seem to do a lot these days, I find my thoughts returning to the work of Roger Schwarz in The Skilled Facilitator. In this book Schwarz describes what he calls the “Unilateral Control Model” and the “Mutual Learning Model.” When I think of a strong leader, as described by the many individual conversations I’ve had over the years, I really think that people are describing the “Mutual Learning Model.”

In the “Unilateral Control Model,” the core values and assumptions are;

1. Core values

  • Achieve my goal through unilateral control
  • Win, don’t lose
  • Minimize expressing feelings
  • Act rationally

2. Assumptions

  • I understand the situation; those who see it differently do not
  • I am right: those who disagree are wrong
  • I have pure motives: those who disagree have questionable motives
  • My feelings are justified

Leaders who function out of this perspective would not be likely to engage others, especially if the others had a different idea, in the decision making process. The result of this would be an alienation of others and a mistrust of the leader. I don’t believe this is what the folks I talked with meant by a strong leader.

In the “Mutual Learning Model,” the core values are;

1. Core values

  • Valid information
  • Free and informed choice
  • Internal commitment
  • Compassion

2. Assumptions

  • I have some information, others have other information
  • Each of us may see things the others do not
  • Differences are opportunities for learning
  • People are trying to act with integrity, given the situation

As I think about strong leadership, this model really speaks to engaging others and working with others to make effective decisions. It describes what I heard people describing when asked what they meant by “strong leader.” And, I believe, it leads to trust of the leader and commitment to working with the leader.

Perhaps we need to examine this model closely and see what it can do to impact the behavior of leaders and the people they influence in their attempt to provide leadership. I encourage you to review the work of Roger Schwarz.

Until next time, continue asking what is meant by “strong leadership.”