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Leadership Styles that Build Strong Teams


Leadership guru Warren Bennis separates managers from leaders this way: managers do things right while leaders do the right thing. But what, pray tell, is the right thing?

Daniel Goleman’s research on emotional intelligence identifies six leadership styles: Coercive, Authoritative, Affiliative, Democratic, Pace setting and Coaching. Most people are capable of one or two. Enlightened leaders choose styles like a golfer chooses a club, according to the situation. Doing the right thing means understanding where you are, where you want to go and what styles will be most effective along the way. The Vancouver Canucks leadership team of Head Coach Alain Vigneault and General Manager Mike Gillis provide a good case study of these styles in action.

Vigneault has coached the team for more than four years and his leadership style has progressively changed.

In 2006 Vigneault took over a group of aging stars, journeymen and young, unrealized talent. This likely required a lot of Coaching (‘try this’) and Pace setting (‘do as I do, now’). Undoubtedly, after a slow start, there were also moments he needed to be Coercive (‘do what I tell you’). The team surprised most people that year winning their division and a playoff round.

As the team has matured, Vigneault has adjusted his leadership style. Now with a group of players high in talent and experience, there is less need to be Coercive or Pace setting. Those styles are effective to kick-start a young or underperforming team but generally have only short term success and long term negative impact.

This season Vigneault appears to be using more of a Democratic style (‘what do you think?’). With the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo having matured into leaders, Vigneault seeks their input and expects the players to manage much of their own preparation. This is the mark of a successful team, with input and leadership coming from multiple sources.

Mike Gillis sets the tone and direction for the organization. He has outlined a clear vision and players have accepted less money to be part of the team. In this way, he has been Authoritative (‘come with me’). The organization has also developed a good reputation around the league for treating players well. This has been a priority for Gillis and an example of the Affiliative style (‘People come first’).

Together, Gillis and Vigneault have built a competitive, entertaining team whose members are accountable and have a voice, which is important if a group is to take ownership and responsibility for results. This doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time for people to grow together and to learn how their individual contribution fits into the big picture. And it takes leadership that can adjust its approach according to the situation, understanding how to motivate and develop different people into a cohesive unit. Leadership, in short, that knows how and when to do the right thing.

This blog post is a cross-post of my bi-weekly column featured in the Vancouver Sun. Juma Wood is a manager with Meyers Norris Penny's organization and people consulting group based in Vancouver.