May 25, 2022

Article 6.1


Most every adult has some leadership ability and responsibility whether they are: the CEO of a big firm; a parent; a volunteer leader; or a teacher to someone with less experience. In spite of best intentions, some leaders are effective and others are not. Some do well in one situation and then get promoted or transferred to another situation where they fail.

An effective leadership style is part of a three-way dynamic which is illustrated below:


To explain the diagram with examples, imagine an effective drill sergeant at a boot camp where recruits have one set of expectations. After military service, how would these recruits respond to a boss that had the same style as the Sergeant? Probably not well, because the environment for and the expectations of the recruits would have shifted.

Employee expectations in 1956 must have been different from those in 1978 based on what country western songs became number one popular hits - "16 Tons" by Tennessee Ernie Ford in 56, and "Take this Job and..." by Johnny Paycheck in 78. If we do not change our leadership style with the times, then our followers are apt to leave physically or psychologically.

Changing ourselves, however, isn't easy, and it is more difficult to change an organization of followers, but good leaders must do both. "Management" is simplistically a set of necessary skills that allows us to maintain a healthy flock, but when the environment changes to make the status quo ineffective, leadership is required. Leaders must: articulate a new way of doing things in a compelling, lead-by-example way; help the followers try new things, fail, learn, and try again until an improved order is achieved. Leaders shoulder most of the risk and blame for failures along the way and then finally thank the followers for making the plan succeed, giving them as much credit as possible for the success. Good parents use the same process with their children.

The demand for leadership ability at all levels of business and society has never been greater because the complexity of problems and the pace of environmental change continue to increase. We need more forward-looking, innovative, transformational solutions and less managing of past ways.

Most of us fortunately have lots of undeveloped leadership potential. If we can start to transform ourselves, then we can attempt to help followers transform themselves to meet the challenges of the times and achieve their expectations. A sequential checklist of elements for leadership growth might help.


The diagram below details six groups of elements that undergird an effective leadership style. The elements have been sequenced in a first-things-first order; e.g., having "leadership skills"(#6), is of little value if any of the preceding elements are deficient. Because all elements rest upon "psychological maturity"(#1), it is the most important one.


Effective Leadership Style

    1. Other leadership skills

5. Environmental Knowledge

4. Technical knowledge

3. Leadership philosophy, values, beliefs

2. Mental/tempermental development

1. Psychological maturity


To briefly explain the building blocks, we will start with psychological maturity(#1). Although human beings can grow psychologically for a lifetime and go through Erik Erikson's "Eight Ages of Man" to become a truly integrated person, only a small percent do.

Whether we use Erikson's model or others, they all agree on four general stages. First we want to become independent from Mom and Dad; next, we want to embrace and fit in with community values and be judged a good-worker, spouse, parent, citizen, etc. Then, we hit the introspective, mid-life crisis zone in which we seek self-knowledge of our true gifts, bliss and callings. In the final stage, we realize that ultimately we are all interdependent and nothing much can be done by ourselves. Happy with our-selves we become wise, joyful givers or servant leaders to those that are struggling behind us on the path.

As we grow through these stages, we also struggle to grow out of self-shame and low self-esteem and achieve a healthy, stable, high self-esteem which allows us to lead. With high self-esteem: we can pay value to followers and build them up instead of having them praise us and we can take the blame for mistakes, because we did our best and know that we are OK as humans. We then can give credit to low self-esteem followers. If we told them the truth, they might be emotionally paralyzed and not try again.

People who equate self-worth with the sum of their possessions, power, perks, wins, etc. have shaky self-esteem. We must all work to psychologically grow to minimize the need for esteem boosters because they preoccupy us from taking care of the needs of followers.

"Mental and temperamental development" (#2) is also self-knowledge material, but far less threatening and complex than psychological maturity. For this step we can take profile tests to determine what our mental aptitudes, strengths, weaknesses and preferences are. We must work hard to develop ourselves in a whole-brained way and to surround ourselves with trusted others that compliment our weaknesses to avoid blind spots in decision making.

"Leadership philosophy"(#3) involves a strategic selection of leadership beliefs or values. Exploitive capitalism worked well until the customer became strong enough to demand perfection, choice, speed, and low prices too. Now we need good employees who want to make all of the customers' demands happen. We must serve the employees, so they will stay and serve the customer well.

Financial management with 10 year forecasts worked from 1946 to 1974+ in the U.S. as we harvested our post WWII monopoly with exploitive, financial, scientific and intellectual management philosophies. Pieces of these philosophies are still prevalent in the U.S., but they are yielding to decentralized, participative, servant leadership. If we unconsciously choose to follow a dated set of leadership values, then we will misguide ourselves in mastering elements #ed 4,5, and 6.

Technical knowledge(#4) is mastering information specific to an industry, a craft, or a company. People go to those who can provide answers and help in a constructive way. It helps leaders to be technically fluent with whatever they are doing.

Environmental knowledge (#5) usually comes after someone has mastered knowing a company and an industry. Great business leaders perpetually study a broad range of business and economic topics to better understand the total business context and how it is changing. This is a necessary prerequisite for identifying the best forward looking strategies for a firm.

It is quite common to find pseudo-leaders who are well versed in company and industry knowledge, but who are weak at understanding the environmental big picture. If they trust their narrow, historically-based knowledge too much and do not have good environmental advice, then they are often blind-sided.

The last element group, "leadership skills(#6), is an all-other category which gets the most publicity. Skills like - effective listening, public speaking, coaching techniques, team building, win-win negotiations, etc.- are all good things that can be taught at "leadership schools."

The trap is to think that leadership courses can make leaders out of articulate, obsessive-compulsive achievers who have been promoted to their level of incompetence; followers, for example, don't trust them or want to work with them. We can not gain psychological maturity, self-esteem, character, trustworthiness, judgment, etc. at school. Schools can teach growth objectives, provide roadmaps and travel tips, but the long patient journey of self-transformation is up to the individual.

It is ironic that obsessive achievers are driven by shaky self-esteem. Their self-worth equals what they have achieved today. These "type A personalities" aspire to be managers, but once they get there, low self-esteem keeps them from being effective leaders.

If we gain new insights into what being a leader is, there are two paths that we can take. One is to start a conscious psychological growth journey. The other more common one is to deny or minimize our shortcomings, and to start to intellectually preach what we have learned, while still behaving in the same old way. "Do as I say, not as I do" leadership is very demotivating.


Good leadership and management are terms that can not be precisely defined or separated; both come in lots of styles, some may be effective in some contexts and not others. In a general sense, leadership is for transforming situations to stay in tune with environmental changes and to stay one step ahead of the competition.

These tough and changing times are exposing many pseudo-leaders who often score well on element #s 4 and 6, but are usually weak on #s 1 and 2. Remedial courses and trying to act the part of a leader on the outside will not cure the root-cause problems of most ineffective leaders.

Since no one can tell us what our psychological baggage is and where it came from, we must be our own best teachers. Although some types of coaches can help us to recover our damaged past, we must consciously and often painfully transform ourselves before we can attract followers and help them transform themselves.

Merrifield Consulting Group, Inc., Article 6.1