Leadership Style Matters
Samuel Maverick was a nineteenth-century Texas politician and rancher who refused to brand his cattle. There's debate over why he wouldn't do so: to avoid animal cruelty, to express a general disinterest in ranching, or so that he could nefariously round up everyone's unbranded cattle and call them his own. In any case, the term now implies independence, perhaps to the point of truculence.
Palin showed that kind of independence at her resignation last Friday, for sure. But her decision highlights an inability to adapt her leadership style to fit the situation - something that's critical for real leaders, and a basic principle I teach on every leadership course.
As an Alaska resident, when Sarah Palin beat incumbent Frank Murkowski in the 2006 gubernatorial primary, I was impressed by her grasp of the situation and leadership style. Palin was up against a corrupt "old boys" network, complete with multi-billion dollar petroleum contracts, nepotism and backroom deals. In that situation, Palin's maverick, folksy approach was the perfect leadership style to appeal to the populace. A good leader inspires her followers to act -- in this case, to vote en masse against the powers that were.
However, a wise leader employs a broad repertoire of styles. After a brief honeymoon on the national stage, Palin's situation was quickly re-defined by her interview with Katie Couric. Her apparent inability to address international and even national issues fit her folksy style all too well. Palin may have lacked knowledge, but not intelligence, and certainly not ambition. She studied intently and, one could argue, held her own against Senator Biden in the debate. Her folksy style did not change much, however, with repeated quips like, "Say it ain't so, Joe."
After the election, her situation shifted yet again. In addition to questions about her readiness for national office, she faced attacks from political enemies closer to home as well as challenges in her family. Re-election was not certain. Her choice to resign, apparently without notifying her party's leaders, is consistent with her maverick nature. But it was not the best style for the situation, unless she truly wishes to withdraw from the public stage. In fact, that decision may haunt her for years to come.
If she is running for president in 2012, she will need to address questions about whether she has the intense perseverance required for the national stage. Her choice to resign may lead to learning opportunities, but the country is yearning for leaders who can be mavericks at times, policy wonks at times, and hard-working executives at others. Knowing when to buckle down and accomplish tasks--and when to weather political storms--is critical.
As Emerson said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." A good leader will change her leadership style to match her situation.
July 7, 2009; 10:49 AM ET
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Posted by: pkm123 | July 7, 2009 3:57 PM
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