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Leadership style: Be true to yourself

  • Published
  • By Col. Barry Roeper
  • 6th Maintenance Group commander
As we each develop our own leadership style, we often try to emulate those we view as successful leaders. After all, if their leadership style worked for them, it should work for you, right? Not necessarily.

We all have different personalities, and our leadership style needs to fit our personality. Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but it is not the best way to lead. When developing your personal leadership style, remember to be true to yourself.

Most inexperienced leaders trying to define themselves look to people they admire as models for developing their own style. These archetypes may be historical figures they read about, famous people they see or hear through the media or someone they personally know that they have come to respect. Studying the leadership styles of these people and borrowing some of their leadership techniques could actually be a great idea.

However, the key is to identify techniques that fit your personality and mold them into your own unique leadership style. To try to copy other people's style outright would, at best, be less effective and, at worst, disastrous. Moreover, copying someone else's style is unnecessary. Practically any leadership style can be effective, if it fits you.

Our U.S. military history has some excellent examples of leadership. Studying three prominent U.S. generals from the 20th century, John J. Pershing, Douglas MacArthur, and Dwight D. Eisenhower gives us a great place to start. Their leadership styles were about as mutually disparate as you can get.

Pershing was a spit-and-polished, straight-backed, no-nonsense soldier who was not very well liked, but always respected. He was hated by the press.
MacArthur, on the other hand, was a flamboyant glory seeker who arrogantly circumvented rules and regulations.

Then there was Eisenhower who, despite serving as MacArthur's aide for a number of years, could not have been more different in his leadership style. Eisenhower preferred to work by consensus (though he was not afraid to make a decision alone, if necessary), he unselfishly gave the credit to others when things went well, while accepting all the blame when things went wrong. He was loved by his men, as well as the press.

There you have it, three great generals and three totally different leadership styles. Yet despite being so completely different, all three generals were highly successful leaders and all served as chiefs of staff. But what would have happened if one of these great leaders tried to copy the leadership styles of another?

If MacArthur tried to emulate Pershing by stiff arming the press while casting off his cigarette holder, four-foot long muffler, and riding pants to don an immaculate uniform with shiny brass buttons and spit-shinned boots, would he have been selected viceroy of postwar Japan, laying the foundations of democracy in a country devastated by war?
If Eisenhower tried to impersonate MacArthur's ostentatious antics, would he have been selected to lead Operation OVERLORD as the supreme commander of the European theater?

I believe if these men tried to copy someone else's style, we would not know their names today. If your leadership style is not consistent with your personality, you will come off as a fake and will not earn the respect of your troops.
So as you are developing your personal leadership style, by all means read and observe successful leaders. Pick up some useful "tools" to put in your kit-bag. Just make sure the techniques you choose fit your personality.

Experience is our greatest teacher and, over time, you'll develop your own unique techniques and style. Remember that whether you are authoritarian or liberal, you can be a successful leader. Just make sure you are true to yourself.