THERE are two major schools of thought in leadership that sit on the opposite ends of the spectrum.

The first is the militaristic “command and control” style. This is characterised by an authoritative leader who has a domineering way of getting things done.

Charging ahead like a bull, he will steamroll over anything — or anybody — who gets in his way. Instructions given are clear, specific and often unidirectional. It is “my way or the highway”.

Often, the nicknames used for such leaders include “dictator” or “dragon lady” (for female bosses).

The second is the more dynamic “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom” style.

Unlike the first, leaders here adopt a laissez-faire approach to leadership and management, allowing their colleagues flexibility to run the show whichever way they want to. Instructions, if any, are often ambiguous.

Members of this team need to “roll with the punches” and guard their own backs as the game proceeds.

Nicknames used for such leaders? “Country club manager”, “leader of the band” or just “dude”.

The question is: Which leadership style works best for your organisation?

It could be the first, the second or something in between.


A new or transitional organisation

In a new or transitional organisation like a start-up, a company undergoing restructuring or a merger-and-acquisition target, a tougher style is needed.

Here, survival is paramount. Having everybody on board and paddling in the same direction is key if one is to ride the storms of entrepreneurial uncertainty.

With an objective clearly fixed in everyone’s mind, the only way to move is forward.

Some may argue that some flexibility may be needed in times of change. This depends on the maturity and experience of the staff on the team.

While some leeway could be given to competent talents, the limited time and resources available often mean that you cannot spend too much time on divergences and discourse.


A more steady-state organisation

In a more steady-state organisation like a market-leading company or a long-time family business, a looser style of management may work better.

Here, the key is product or service innovation — that is, “What’s the next big thing?”

Often, the team members in a mature organisation tend to be more experienced and have stayed longer with the firm.

The goal here is not so much to tell them what to do but, rather, to excite them and light their fires so that they can create and innovate once again.

By relinquishing some control, you are better able to engage the minds of your team in reflecting on your current situation and coming up with the next game changing innovation.


Two theories

To help you visualise how to put these theories into practice, let me introduce two charts and theories in organisational management.


•  Situational leadership theory

The first is the situational leadership theory (below) developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard.



Unlike other charts, this one actually moves backwards from right to left.

Beginning from S1 and ending at S4, you can see that a more delegatory style of management is embraced as the organisation and its team matures.


•  Tuckman’s Stages of Team Development





Combining this with the stages of an organisation, we get the next chart (above), also known as Tuckman’s Stages of Team Development.

In the “forming” stage, everybody begins to get acquainted with each other’s preferred relational style.

Here, independent-minded players must make an effort to work together as a team. Leadership tends to be unidirectional and more top-down.

Moving on to the next “storming” stage, differing views and ideas must be synergised by the leader, with a fine balance needed.

Here, leaders put in more effort in selling their ideas while being open to receiving some feedback from the team.

“Norming” is what happens next when teams can agree on a common goal and to move forward.

Consensual leadership is the modus operandi here, with open and transparent dialogue between supervisors and subordinates.

Over time, successful teams will reach the final stage of “performing”.

Here, leadership is primarily a coaching and mentorship role, with employees empowered and equipped to make most of the daily decisions.



From the above, one can tell that the degree of management control really depends on many factors.

Evaluate what stage your organisation is in. Gauge the maturity levels of your team members. Match these against your preferred leadership style.

Finally, and most importantly, be open and transparent about the journey which your organisation needs to take.


Article by Walter Lim, the director of Cooler Insights, a boutique marketing, PR and social influence consultancy. He provides free business and management advice at Contact him at