Service leaders sometimes are their own worst enemies when they use a leadership style not tailor-made for the situation at hand. Not only does a mismatched leadership style waste scarce time and energy, but the thorny seeds of future relationship problems also are planted when a situationally inappropriate leadership style is used.
For example, the morale of idealistic volunteers is bound to sag when leaders “hatch” important and consequential decisions in isolation. The head of one committee learned this lesson the hard way when she unilaterally approved a $150 expenditure for a service project. Even though the other members of the committee eventually agreed with the decision, they felt hurt by being “cut out” of the deliberation process.
Program effectiveness is sometimes unintentionally sabotaged in the opposite way when overly democratic team leaders “major on the minors” by squandering valuable time in holding team meetings for routine matters (such as filling out simple paperwork or distributing minutes from the last meeting). They carry participative management too far and trivialize its true intent.
No wonder volunteer workers (as well as paid staff) often are so apathetic about meetings. And no wonder so many service leaders never find the time to carry out long-range planning or follow through on detail work—they’re spending too much time in low priority meetings!
In a misguided attempt to save time, leaders sometimes make the mistake of handling, in a bureaucratic (isolated) manner, technical problems they know little about rather than counseling with capable team members. Even worse, a leader might get into the political arena and attempt to sell technically qualified employees on an impractical or otherwise unworkable solution.
One principle is certain: when leadership style and operating circumstances don’t jibe, time and energy will be wasted and relationships frayed. This error adds up to organizational sabotage. It’s not enough for leaders to take leadership action—their timing and situational tailoring must smoothly mesh.