Recent Gallup polls demonstrate that more than half of those surveyed had left a job because of a bad boss. Further, eighty percent of the reasons people leave jobs are things that supervisors and managers have control of.1 Supervisors have a direct and final influence over two of the three most toxic workplace elements that incubate violence (Abusive Supervision and Toleration of Bullying). Of the third, Perception of Injustice, supervisors have direct control over the most important subcategory: Interactional (or interpersonal) Injustice.
Any discussion of reducing the risk of workplace violence has to begin right here, where much of the risk is generated: The management habits, skills and priorities of supervisors.
Psychologist and best-selling author Daniel Goleman published his work, “Primal Leadership” in 2001, and it has come to be regarded as the gold standard for understanding basic leadership/management styles. He identifies six distinct styles of leadership, along with their strengths, weaknesses and the situations in which they are most and least effective. Goleman and his co-authors assert that there is no single “magic bullet” leadership style, and that the most effective leaders can pivot among all these leadership styles according to what the situation calls for.
Briefly, they are:
Visionary. This style is called for when an organization has lost its focus and people must be called to a common set of shared objectives.
Writes Dr. Goleman, “Visionary leaders articulate where a group is going, but not how it will get there – setting people free to innovate, experiment, take calculated risks”
Coaching. This style works individually with workers to help them develop their skills and connect their objectives to the mission of theorganization. It’s appropriate for workers who strive for improvement, but may sometimes be poorly received as an attempt to micromanage, and could actually undercut the self-confidence of the coached employee.
Affiliative. The goal of this style is to enhance team identity and symbiosis by facilitating connections to each other and bolstering trust. Goleman cautions against using this style exclusively, as group praise can create a pass for poor performance and produce the perception that “individual mediocrity is tolerated.”
Democratic. With this style, the leader seeks to build consensus through a democratic process of mutual contribution. The leader can build corporate dedication to common goals. It taps the group’s individual knowledge and skills and collective wisdom. It creates a safe environment for individual contributions to the goals of the organization. Goleman warns that this style can be disastrous during times of crisis which demand quick, decisive action.
Pacesetting. Goleman writes, “The pacesetting leader is obsessive about doing things better and faster, and asks the same of everyone.” The leader sets the bar high for himself and expects the same performance from the group. This style has its place, but can actually damage morale and make co-workers feel inferior. Goleman writes, “Our data shows that, more often than not, pacesetting poisons the climate.”
Commanding. This last style is the least effective style, yet is easily observed as the most often used. This style evokes images of the military drill sergeant barking orders. The Commanding leader will be highly critical and will very rarely praise. It makes good morale and job satisfaction nearly impossible. It is, however, effective in a crisis when things need to change quickly to avert a catastrophe, but beyond that has very little usefulness.
Goleman’s characterization of the Commanding style as the least effective is interesting because it confirms my own observations about the behaviors of abusive supervisors. One of my favorite questions is, “Describe the worst boss you have ever had.” I’ve listened to scores of these descriptions for over the last decade, and with few exceptions the bad bosses were characterized by behaviors associated with a Commanding leadership style.