By Brian McKay

Leadership. This one word can scare people, excite others and destroy or elevate institutions. Some people seem to have it naturally, while others have to learn it through repetition and study. Others want nothing to do with it and will never have it.

So leadership is scary, exciting, necessary, natural, learned, practiced and scorned. It is many things but what is most important is finding out what your style of leadership is and being able to modify it as necessary.

Companies have to move quicker than ever before and disruptors have to be the most flexible. Dynamic teams, disruptive innovation and competing against the big guys, all require leadership that adapts as needed. It may sound funny to say this, but sometimes you need to be Gandhi. Other times you might be Gene Kranz, in charge of the Apollo 13 mission at NASA mission control. During extreme circumstances, you could have to be General Patton.

Yes, all the movies about each of these three have become a routine for me in comparing and reevaluating my own management style.

Gandhi is a study in gentle guidance and being at one with those being led. He was a transformational leader who led by example. His march to the sea to make salt, called the Salt March, was not only an act of civil disobedience but a style of leadership that few truly achieve. Gandhi departed for the 240 mile walk to the sea with 78 followers and eventually attracted thousands upon thousands more. In the end, millions of Indians revolted against a salt tax imposed by the British. At no point was there an uproar, just Gandhi walking for 24 days and speaking nightly at the villages in which he stayed. His humility and willingness to live in poor conditions, wearing homespun cloth, endeared him to an entire country.

So what of Apollo 13 and Patton?

Apollo 13 is a style of leadership that fosters cohesive and effective teams. When Apollo 13 was essentially adrift in space with systems failing, it took tremendous teamwork at mission control to engineer and devise solutions to get the astronauts back home. It was a moment that demonstrates absolute perfection in teams working together to devise solutions. Leadership at mission control defined the parameters of what needed to be worked out and let functional teams of experts do the rest. When carbon dioxide was building up in the cabin and needed to be removed, a team at Mission Control was able to develop a genius solution using common items found in the cockpit.

Gene Kranz was a tough leader at Mission Control when needed. He defined the parameters and allowed teams to do their work with the expectation of results. As a leader he also turned the focus away from things that were not mission critical and focused his teams toward what was. Once focused, he trusted his teams to do the job without his intervention. His teams knew he had absolute faith in them, but they also knew that failure was not an option. It was under this leadership style that the near impossible was pulled off.

Patton is a leadership style I often reserve for certain moments where a tough battle must be won. He was brash and abrasive but also brilliant. General Patton did not lack for self-confidence. His leadership defined the parameters that needed to be met and then used a leadership style to make sure they were. He demanded absolute loyalty but at the same time he didn’t have leaders under him just to like him. They were there to go out to the front lines and actually lead. While harsh at times, he was respected by his men. Not one to sit back in a tent simply formulating the strategy, he rallied his men from the field. During the tense periods of battle, Patton was the guy that combined his knowledge and confidence into a leadership style that took charge. If a critical battle needed to be won, Patton was the guy to do so.

The three styles also share a commonality in that each leader was constantly among their people. zenruption articles have continually reaffirmed the need of real leaders of disruptive companies to be willing to do the job and be close to their employees. Whatever style is in use, it must be on the front lines and not removed from the action.

One can’t always be Ghandi. A leader doesn’t always find herself in situations that require being a Gene Kranz or needing the brashness of a Patton. Being a pliable leader is what matters the most. This piece set out not just to ask you what style of leadership you use, but also to figure out how to use all three as needed.

First figure out what type of leader you are and then seek to incorporate the other styles. Most importantly, be willing to ask yourself when situations arise which leadership style is the most appropriate at the time. Stay among your employees, lead appropriately and disrupt.

Go zenrupt some business.

Brian McKay has his MBA from Boise State University. He has absolute love and respect for the disruptors in the world and always seeks to be one himself. If he can disrupt while having a cold craft beer, even better.





Feature photo courtesy of Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license