Selecting the Right Leadership Style

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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Carroll vs. Belichik: Who Leads Most Effectively?

Prior to the Superbowl I watched a fascinating interview with the two head coaches, Pete Carroll and Bill Belichik. As they spoke about the upcoming game, their simple comments provided insights regarding how they each lead their teams in different ways. Here is an abridged transcript of the interview:

Reporter: “Amidst all that is going on [during Superbowl week], how did game preparation for this week go?”

Carroll: “The opportunity to play in this game is so special…we’ve had a great two weeks and nothing but fun…”

Belichick: “I don’t know if fun would be the word I would use, it’s been a huge challenge, [Seattle’s] a tough team to prepare for…”

These comments reveal two very different leadership approaches. So who had the best leadership style? Did the New England win prove that hard work is more important than fun? Was Seattle’s fatal play choice an example of the perils of fun? Or was Belichik’s verbal admiration of the Seahawk player’s work ethic a demonstration that Pete’s fun can also work hard?

It is easy to get stuck in discussions about what makes great leadership because we try and place it all into a nice tidy box. Life experience tells me that there are many ways to get things done.  For Carroll it’s by having fun. For Belichick, it’s hard work. There are many boxes!

What if both styles are best?  Specifically, what if good leadership is using your innate style to the max? Or, what if bad leadership stems from trying to be someone you are not? Pete and Bill taught us a valuable lesson this weekend. Leading with your strength is the best way to lead. Whether it’s through ‘fun’ or by ‘hard work’ they both demonstrated that different styles can work

So does style matter? Yes! There are coaches that few players want to play for. But there is a line-up of players that would love to be coached by these two men.

So what is their secret? Socrates said it perfectly – “know thyself”. To accomplish what they have, you must understand and use your unique style. For Carroll, that means having fun. For Bellichick, that means working hard.

This lesson is just as important for followers as it is for leaders. It took me too long to learn the type of boss I excelled under. When I worked for the right style, my organization had an amazing employee. When I didn’t, I was a mediocre employee (at best!). You need to understand who brings out the best in you. We all thrive under different circumstances. Some of us need Pete. Some of us need Bill.

Superbowl XLIX afforded us the privilege of watching two coaches who understand their strengths. They used these strengths in ways to achieve what few others do. You and I can do the same. As you get to know yourself, you will lead and follow in ways that shine. So if Pete shines having fun and Bill shines working hard, where does your shine come from?

You can watch the full interview here (quotes were taken between the 30 second and the two minute mark)

Jeff SuHead Shotderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman