The history and philosophies of leadership are topics as old as time, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody. As early as societies existed, some form of guidance has been necessary to maintain some form of order. The difference, of course, comes in how this order is maintained, and the kinds of leaders that have maintained and do maintain order.
In his book I Love It Here, Clint Pulver explores some of the leadership philosophies, or “types of managers,” that he encounters in a contemporary setting. These are The Removed Manager, The Buddy Manager, The Controlling Manager, and The Mentor Manager. He also makes a specific distinction between Traditional Leadership and the Mentor Manager style. Let’s take a closer look at this last distinction.
The traditional leader, naturally, is one who meets all of the stereotypes of leadership that we’ve learned either through personal experience or through media. The traditional leader takes decisions and makes tough calls, they focus on the big picture, and they set the team on a course of action—hopefully towards success.
This means, of course, that a traditional leader leads and the team follows. A team needs guidance, after all, and behind every great team there is a great leader. Right?
A different perspective to take, and a different kind of leader, is that of mentorship. Leaders, in the traditional sense, set the vision and path for the team. This ultimately boils down to giving orders to some degree which, we all know, can be awfully divorced from the needs and experiences of the team. Mentoring, on the other hand, plays close attention to the individuals on the team, focusing on the personal and individual growth of team members and helping them achieve their personal goals within the framework of the organization.
Much like servant leadership, and as Pulver puts it, a mentor manager “has the ability to focus on the people within the ship, instead of just where the ship is heading.” If you invest in your team, your team will invest in their work, and that investment will end up showing up in results.
Bringing It All Together
Importantly, neither Pulver nor I am saying that either one of these approaches is “better” than the other, only that they are different. Something that Pulver emphasizes is that one major difference in how these play out is in how much engagement team members respond with. As charismatic and astute as a traditional leader may be, simply following orders isn’t exactly anybody’s idea of a great workplace experience. That being said, focusing on individual growth alone likely isn’t going to take the business anywhere, either.
That’s why great leaders don’t just fit into one category or the other—they take the best of both. Acting as a mentor helps you build a culture of community and empathy, making sure your team members are aware of how much you care about them and how much you are investing in them, motivating them to invest their time and effort back into their work. Acting as a traditional leader helps you ensure that the company vision and trajectory are both intact and principled. You have to focus on the people within the ship and where the ship is headed. Leave either part out and you’ve got a mutiny on your hands—eventually.
So, what does this look like for you? This can be a difficult question to answer since good leadership will ultimately look different for every team and every company, but here’s a really great tip: talk to your team. You can’t worry about everybody within the ship without getting to know them and their needs, and you can’t get the ship to where it’s heading without knowing how your crew works. Good leaders know what is to be done. Great leaders get involved.
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