Leadership Part 3: Neal A. Maxwell Looking at Leadership

It was months ago when I published two articles on leadership: Part 1: Jesus, the Perfect Leader and Leadership Part 2: Captain Moroni. I meant at that time to also post a third article on leadership. I got a little side tracked, but I’m happy to finally present part three of my leadership series.

This final portion on leadership comes from Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s 1967 talk entitled “Looking at Leadership” which used to be but is no longer posted on LDS.org and I hear it also appears in Maxwell’s book: “A More Excellent Way: Essays on Leadership for Latter-day Saints.” As with many of Elder Maxwell’s talks, much of it is over my head, so I know it may not be easy for pre-missionary-aged young people to understand. Still, these are important concepts in leadership, and with careful study, I think we can all learn to become more like Jesus, the perfect leader.

Elder Maxwell talks about three basic leadership styles and how each has its advantages and weaknesses.

Ultimate Model of Leadership: Jesus Christ

“The ultimate models for us are, of course, God the Father and Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith advises us in his Lectures on Faith that God has perfected each of the attributes that make him God. That is, he is perfect in knowledge, power or faith, justice, judgment, mercy, truth, and love… Any leader on the proximate, mortal scale who does not seek to work on these same attributes, cannot be fully effective or fully safe in terms of the power he possesses to influence and to direct the lives of others.”

Style 1: Manipulative Leadership

“There is, first of all, manipulative leadership, ranging in its more sinister form from the Machiavellian kind on through to the kind of modest manipulation each of us at times may consciously or unconsciously practice on those around us.

…The disadvantages of this form of leadership are: it can be, and usually is, crushingly condescending; it seeks to carry out the wishes of the leader and to meet his needs, not necessarily the needs of the group. It can miscarry badly with an evil leader or end in chaos with a leader who is not sophisticated in his manipulation, and therefore, who is more apt to be exposed early. It uses or ignores people and their feelings without aiming at their growth.”

Style 2: Directive Leadership

“A second basic pattern of leadership is directive leadership, in which the leader seeks to maintain his greater “psychological size” in relation to the members of the group. He is the dominant figure and though he may be very sincere and dedicated, he clearly calls the shots and makes the most crucial decisions.”

“…We have all seen examples of this kind of leadership in a crisis. It is not a popular form of leadership in some quarters today, but we must be reminded that it has real advantages. [Former United States President] Herbert Hoover observed that while the American people like the “common man,” when they are in a crisis, such as war, they want the “uncommon general.”

“…But there are disadvantages to directive leadership: it can create very dependent followers who rely too much of the time for too many things in too many circumstances on the leader.”

Brigham Young said of this type of leadership: “I am fearful they will settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation.”

E Maxwell continues: “It is neither realistic nor wise to expect leaders to provide all of the answers all of the time, to provide solutions to all of the problems that will arise.”

“…Over-dependency can thwart the purposes of God, who desires our individual growth and development, and followers who can be much more effective and supportive of leaders by sharing the commitment of the leader. Directive leadership also has the potential disadvantage that the leader is often not aware of all the facts and feelings present among the followers. The talents of the followers and members of the group cannot be as fully developed unless they share more extensively in decision-making and implementation.”

Pigeons and Eagles Analogy

“Very often the talented directive person becomes very impatient with clumsiness and mediocrity in other people. The talented person may also bridle under the supervision of someone whom he believes to be inferior to himself. Abraham Maslow has observed: “When the pigeon bosses the eagle, the eagle is miserable.” But in a Church of eagles and pigeons, people need to learn to follow as well as how to lead, and there are times when pigeons temporarily lead eagles, and the eagle has a responsibility to learn from this experience as does the pigeon.

…[The talented] can become so anxious over their superiority that they hold back the full impact of their talents for fear they will be seen by others as being too dominant and too adequate. What often arises in these situations is a kind of false display of humility. If, however, the “pigeons and the eagles” have a commitment to each other and each other’s well-being, there is a way they can draw on each other for appropriate skills, talents, and help—but this requires a system of openness and trust.”

Style 3: Participative Leadership

“A third kind of leadership is participative leadership in which members of the group share widely in decision making, in which the group is democratically run, in which procedures are adopted and traditions built to insure that this will be the case. This kind of leadership has these advantages: it often uses the talents, feelings, and facts of group members very effectively. It gives group members a chance to invest in goals and in problem solving so that there is greater group compliance and team work in obtaining these objectives. It often creates excellent conditions for individual growth.

Participative leadership seeks to call upon the maximum resources of the group members. When it succeeds, this kind of leadership results in a higher achievement than the individual alone could produce. Participative leadership assumes that everyone has something to give, which is not inconsistent with the teaching that “For all have not every gift given unto them; there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.” ( D&C 46:11 .)

…The disadvantages of participative leadership are that, at times, groups focus too much on feelings and become too immobilized to take needed action. A group may listen and hear only the signal of “an uncertain trumpet.” Group problem solving can, when it miscarries, result in the stifling of individual creativity and can result in a great deal of mediocrity.”

Best Leadership Style: A Blend of Directive and Participative

“Both experience and the scriptures suggest the need for a blend of leadership styles— directive and participative, in which these styles are used in those circumstances most appropriate for them. We have an unique blend in the Church of directive leadership and participative leadership in which everyone grows and everyone moves forward in terms of eternal goals.

“…A leader is best apt to be able to blend directive and participative leadership if he is personally and seriously engaged in the divinely intended process of improving his attributes of knowledge, faith, justice, judgment, mercy, truth, and love.”

“There is ample opportunity—far more than we use—for us to become involved as leaders and followers in activities which will build the kingdom and also assist us to grow. We have more opportunities than we ever recognize to use our talents and to get our feelings and facts into the process of Church decision-making in those situations in which participative leadership is appropriate. . . .

If we would honor God in the particular style of leadership each of us assumes, we would honor him best by emulating him in developing those attributes which insure wise, effective, and safe leadership.”

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