Leveraging Your Leadership Style

Everyone has a unique personality.  No problem.  Every personality in leadership interacts with other personalities. Now that can be a big problem!  In my roughly 30 years of vocational ministry, I have heard (and said!) it many times….”Ministry would be no problem if it weren’t for the people!”  I’m sure you are like me in that you’ve had experiences where you have wondered why people didn’t “get it”, or why they did things a certain way.  I used to get frustrated with church members and leadership team folks when I discovered that they were different than I am.  Now I just try to laugh and enjoy the differences!  What has made the change for me is that I’ve learned to appreciate the variety and I have learned to draw from the respective strengths of various leadership styles.

I recently wrote a book with my co-author Lorraine Bosse’ Smith called, Leveraging Your Leadership Style (Abingdon Press, 2007).  The goal of the book, similar to 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, was to help leaders understand their personal leadership style and the leadership style of their team members.  Using a customized leadership assessment tool, we have helped hundreds of leaders identify their specific leadership style and the styles of their team members.  In this article, I’ll try to help you understand the four leadership styles:  Commanders, Coaches, Counselors, and Conductors.  Each has specific strengths and weakness and understanding them as they apply to you or the people you work with will help you be more effective in your leadership role.

A Little Background

When I became a leader, I assumed that my position alone would guarantee my success. I quickly learned that positional authority guarantees you blame but does not guarantee you success! I spent my first couple of years in leadership learning quickly that leadership was about relational influence more than positional influence. Further, most of the things I had learned in my formal training, I would have to unlearn now that I was in actual leadership roles!

When we wrote our book, our purpose was to equip present and future leaders to understand how they can be most effective in their leadership roles by operating from their strengths and connecting with the strengths of others. My experiences is that the best leaders are those whom we choose to follow because of who they are rather than what they do or what position on the organizational chart they occupy.

In our work, we identified four basic leadership styles:  Commander, Coach, Counselor and Conductor.  Each of the leadership styles has a different approach to being on the team and leading the team.   For you as team leader or team participant, your challenge is to understand the “why,” the “how,” and the “who” of people’s participation in and leadership of teams.  The more you can understand yourself and others as well as the interaction between them, the more you’ll leverage your leadership!

A Trip Down Memory Lane

When I was a kid, my parents never liked owning a home.  In fact, they have only ever owned one home.  It had a pool and was really nice.  But, it took a lot of work, and it kept them from the one thing they loved for us to do together…travel!  I can’t tell you how many “road trips” we took when I was a kid.  In fact, one of the luxuries of my dad’s 24-7 job was that we got 3 to 4 weeks of vacation every year.  I complained terribly (mostly about riding in a cramped backseat with my three siblings), but as an adult, those trip memories are some of my greatest childhood treasures.

So, I thought we’d take a short road trip together.  I’ve become convinced that every team and every leader are a little bit like drivers and passengers on the road trips of my childhood.  In fact, each trip is different based on what the driver is like.  Think about the teams you serve on or perhaps the teams you lead.  Do any of these road trip descriptions sound familiar to you?

Road Trip!

Road Trips with a Commander:  Commanders are about achieving the goal.  Finishing the journey is the most important thing.  Well, not exactly.  Finishing the trip is close to being the only thing! Getting there ahead of schedule, ahead of others and ahead of projected personal calculations are the primary objectives.   If you are a passenger with a Commander, DO NOT drink any water.  Bathroom stops are highly discouraged!  Side trips will only happen for this group if they are a short cut!  A passenger traveling with a Commander driver will finish the journey before anyone else.  But, unless this group is full of Commanders, it is probably not the happiest carload of people.

Road Trips with a Coach:  Coaches are about the team.  Making sure that all the passengers in the vehicle are happy with each other is a key concern.  Coaches develop a game plan that will help them complete the journey, but they are also very concerned that the team members are fulfilled on the journey.  If you are a passenger with a Coach, be prepared for frequent rest stops to make sure everyone is “on-board”.  In fact, a side trip might even happen if EVERYONE agrees that it would be fun.  Passengers traveling with good Coach drivers will finish the journey-TOGETHER.

Road Trips with a Counselor:  Counselors are about the health of the individual.  Counselors want to know that each person is fulfilled, living a life of purpose and meaning and also fulfilling their potential.  Taking a road trip with a Counselor?  Expect frequent probing, supportive, and penetrating questions about how you are experiencing the journey.  Side trips for this group could happen if the driver is convinced that it would be personally enriching to each passenger.  You will probably arrive at your destination later than most, but you will have a great deal more understanding of the journey you’ve traveled.

Road Trips with a Conductor:  Conductors are about the strategy and the structure of the trip.  Conductors will want to ensure that the trip is well planned, researched, and executed.  Mileage markers (and bathroom stops!) will be known in advance and calculated.  Conductors will start later than others because of the preparation time involved, but the overall efficiency of the trip should far surpass any other driving type…and if it doesn’t, expect pressure!  Passengers traveling with Conductors can rightly expect an on-time arrival with the most direct route planned in advance.  Don’t expect time for side trips on this bus; they don’t fit into the efficient schedule the Conductor has planned.

So, have you taken a road trip with one of these drivers?  Have you BEEN one of these drivers?  I hope you are smiling…because I bet you recognize yourself in these drivers. I know I do (and I’m sure my poor family recognizes me as well!).  Self-awareness is a key to leadership.

Strengths & Weaknesses

Each of the leadership styles has strengths and weaknesses.  We need every one of the leadership styles.  As you are speaking and working with various other styles, it might be helpful for you to consider the chart shown in the sidebar.

In my working with the various styles, I have discovered that part of what distinguishes each style is that each person starts with a different vision and that determines how they respond to specific circumstances

Commanders start with the vision of the future
Coaches start with the vision of the team
Counselors start with the vision of the individual
Conductors start with the vision of the system

If we become more effective in our leadership, then we learn to be both self AND others aware.  Leading ourselves and our teams to fulfill God’s purpose and vision is a grand “road trip” that God wants each of us to experience!  It is my hope that you will leverage your leadership style and faithfully lead those that God has entrusted to you.  END OF ARTICLE.

Dr. John Jackson is the Founding Pastor of Carson Valley Christian Center (www.cvcwired.com) and the Executive Director of Thriving Churches (www.thrivingchurches.com).  John is the author of several books, including Leveraging Your Leadership Style and Pastorpreneur.  You can find more information about John and his leadership resources at www.pastorpreneur.com


Dr. John Jackson is the President of Jessup University. He’s the author of 10 books, the most recent being “Grace Ambassador”. He’s a transformative leader, committed to equipping believers and fostering change in their local communities… Read more

Become A Grace Ambassador Today!

Grace Ambassador: Bringing Heaven to Earth

grace ambassador book

It’s time to become a heavenly ambassador that shares the grace you’ve been given with a world aching for transformation.