Selecting the Right Leadership Style

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At some point, all of our children received tools from their grandfather. These thoughtful gifts were a great way to equip them with the tools they need to begin to learn how to build, fix and create. However, I often found myself chuckling as they learned to use their tools. I have seen hammers used to drive a screw into a two-by-four. Conversely, I’m also seen them use a screwdriver to drive a nail into the wall. However, with practice and a bit of teaching, they learned to use the right tool for the right task.

This simple metaphor contains a profound lesson. As leaders, we must be able to recognize what tool is needed to get the job done. This is the premise of Michael D. Watkins STARS leadership assessment model in his book The First 90 Days. Like using different tools for different tasks, Watkins outlines five different leadership strategies for five different types of situations. While his book is designed for leaders who are in new roles, they are equally applicable for almost any leadership situation. Each of the letters in the STARS acronym outlines how each type of situation requires a different style.

STARS Leadership Model

There are a several lessons which we can learn from this model. First, we must understand that there is more than one tool in the leadership toolkit. Our inability to use multiple styles will hinder our performance. Second, we must remember to use different tools for different reasons. Many new leaders have failed because they relied on past skills (styles that previously fostered success) in an environment that needed a different approach! Third, leaders must equip themselves to read-and-respond to new opportunities. Similar to a game of chess, our game plan must be contingent upon circumstances. Finally, we must be cognizant of the strengths and weaknesses of our own style. Few of us will excel at all of the STARS categories but I’ll bet most of us are really good at one or two of them!

In conclusion, I encourage you to consider the following questions:

  1. Do you know your preferred tool from the STARS model?
  2. What is your weakest tool in the STARS toolkit?
  3. In which STARS category have you experienced the greatest success? The greatest failure?
  4. Who can you utilize to help assess a situation and/or your leadership to ensure you are using the right leadership tool?

To take a closer look at Watkins book you can click the photo on the right.

Head Shot

Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman Email:

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  1. Rich Frazer

    Great insights, Dr. Suderman!

    Realizing the different strengths and corresponding strategies for what we call “Leadership” is liberating and motivating.

    Seeing that I don’t have to reproduce the identical skills of another leader nor thrive in every environment provides the freedom to thrive in our own workshop. It also seems to open the possibilities of inviting others with complementary STARS strengths into the system we’re in – without being threatened.

    You’re a great man passing on great stuff. Thanks for helping all who read your blog to become more effective leaders.


    • Jeff Suderman

      Thank you for your kind words Dr. Frazer! I resonate with your comments and believe this model helps us understand the type of people and skills we need to surround ourselves with as leaders!


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