by Chris Reinhardt, feedlot specialist
What is a leader? There are many appropriate responses that are all good and right and true. George Patton was a leader. As was his boss, Dwight Eisenhower (a good Kansas boy). Patton is legendary for his swagger and aggression; Eisenhower is iconic for his serious, pensive, decision-making and consensus-building. Outspoken autocrat vs. quiet, thoughtful team-builder.
Both Patton and Ike were successful and highly-effective leaders. However, which of these great generals practiced a leadership style that is likely to be applicable to your workplace in the modern business environment where good employees have options of other places to work?
In battle, democracy doesn’t work above the squad level. When bullets are flying and bombs are exploding, and lives are in jeopardy, decisions must be made and orders must be followed—immediately. Patton won battles, but Ike won the war. Winning a battle requires a short-term strategy of exploiting your own strengths and your enemy’s weaknesses. But winning the war required not just military strategy but political strategy as well—something Patton was likely not good at or even cared greatly about.
Most employees will follow an autocratic leader if they trust the leader’s vision for the organization, and provided the work environment is not oppressive. However, if the contributions of ideas and strategy by individual employees which could help attain the corporate vision are continually ignored or suppressed by the leadership, creative, proactive employees will eventually lose their motivation. They will quit trying to make the workplace better and quit trying to improve the company. Enthusiasm wanes, and they will leave when the opportunity arises.
Your greatest strength, maximized, may be your greatest weakness. The visionary autocrat, without humility and compassion, will eventually be followed by uninspired automatons who must be dragged through their daily duties by the leadership. However, the visionary leader who routinely requests and welcomes input from the team will create a powerful synergy, harnessing the work ethic and creativity of the team to their own directional vision—the engine effectively synchronized with the steering wheel.