Top 3 Leadership Styles For Socio-Eco Innovators

‘What is your leadership style?’ Many recruiters ask this seemingly simple question to get insights into a candidate’s (1) level of self-awareness, (2) knowledge of leadership styles and how they apply to different organizations and situations, and (3) fit within their organization. Therefore, defining your leadership style is key to secure an opportunity in companies that want to drive change through a triple bottom line approach that benefits people, planet and performance.

First things first, what is leadership? There are many definitions of leadership. My favorite one so far is that of Jim Collins, who defines true leadership as the ability to convince people to contribute to your goals when they have the freedom to not. Leadership styles can be defined as approaches that you can use to implement plans by providing directions and motivating people.

Importantly, and as noted by Jeff Mowatt in a conversation around Blake Poston’s post on Social Enterprise Partnerships last week, no matter what your leadership style is, you will need to rely on partnerships to do more with less in our global interconnected world. A ‘Me Too rather than a Me First’ approach to business and sustainability is key to generate better results for people, the planet and performance. As socio-eco innovator (SEI), partnering with other people and organizations that can amplify your impact and save you the valuable time and money you would spend by re-creating the wheel and building new programs from scratch. A new focus on collaboration is also the theme that Marcia Stepanek will be blogging about throughout her participation in the 2010 Skoll World Forum in the next few days.In highly interdependent environments, authority is likely to be distributed across many internal and external constituents.

Here are a few insights into 3 leadership styles that foster results in highly interdependent environments. Learning more about these leadership styles can tremendously help you define or refine your own leadership style:

  • The Legislative Leader – One might think that this leadership style would only be found in politics. However, legislative leaders can be found in all mission-driven organizations where clear distribution of authority does not exist. For example, think about the American Red Cross. How can they drive consistency in message and procedure across each of their local Red Cross Chapters, each of which operating independently? In these types of situations, legislative leaders succeed in driving results through their listening and negotiation skills. They engage their constituents in conversations that build consensus and convince others of the benefits a project would present for internal and external constituents. In our global economy, autarcy has been largely replaced by interdependence of organizations, leaders, and individual contributors scattered all over the world. Legislative leaders succeed in situations driven by interdependence. Legislative leaders build and nurture strong and mutually beneficial relationships, which in turn foster a collaborative environment. For more on legislative leadership, I recommend Jim Collins’ ‘Good to Great and the Social Sectors’.
  • The Servant Leader – Similar to legislative leaders, servant leaders also thrive in situations of interdependence. But rather than building and maintaining relationships themselves, they serve as humble stewards of their organization's resources (human, financial and physical). They use skills such as listening, empathy, persuasion, and conceptualization to empower their reports and constituents to formulate projects design to implement the organization’s mission. Examples of servant leaders include Dr Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health, and Howard Behar, former President of Starbucks Coffee. For more on servant leadership, I would recommend the library of resources from the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.
  • The Incomplete Leader – Every great leader recognized by Awards such as the Ashoka Fellow Program, the Social Innovation Awards or a Nobel Prize, chances are that the recognized leader has generated results through a team of like-minded professionals. In a Harvard Business Review in 2007, Deborah Ancona and al. discuss how the professionals who support the recognized leader add tremendous value by providing perspective, support, innovative ideas, and strong implementation skills that significantly contributed to the results the leader is recognized for. The best leaders are highly self-aware of their strengths and developmental opportunities. They surround themselves with team members that have strengths complementary to theirs, and can productively address any blind spot before they lead to costly mistakes for the organization. Wendy Kopp leads Teach for America (TFA) with the help of a tremendous leadership team that has been strengthening TFA’s approach to improving teaching effectiveness of their fellows and developing a research arm that is further driving the selection of future fellows.

As an SEI, your goals are to increase social equity and build environmental sustainability by driving results. By defining or refining your leadership style and preferences, you can tremendously increase your chances to succeed as an SEI. You can develop leadership qualities no matter what your current title is. When working towards your goals at work, ask yourself: What leadership style am I most comfortable with? Are my leadership preferences helping or hurting this project? Am I making this decision based on a ‘Me Too’ approach, instead of a ‘Me First’ approach to getting things done? Answering these questions might lead you to truly pave the way to being recognized as an ethical SEI and a leader of positive change.

Do you find it easy to understand conceptually, but not so easy to implement this in your career? It is definitely the case, and I look forward to reading your comments and further discussing leadership styles and how to they apply to SEIs!

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