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God created each of us to lead, but we all find unique ways to express our personal leadership style. Intelligence, energy, emotional intelligence, and personality all shape our individualized approach to leadership.

Personality contributes significantly to how we lead as well as influencing the arenas in which we lead. People who tend to be more domineering engage that aspect of their personality to lead; those who are more collaborative lead using a more sensitive, relational style. Extroverts employ an outgoing style of leadership while those who are more reserved lead in a way that reflects their more reticent approach to life. We all find ways to apply our personality to the areas in which we are called to lead. No single leadership style fits all situations.

Personality plays into the leadership mix so powerfully that casual observers have mistakenly assumed that there is a distinct leader personality. When only one style of leadership is appreciated and understood, only one personality type can fit that role. In many Western cultures dominant, aggressive, decisive people are seen as leaders. They are leaders, but they may also be bullies.

Leaders who cast vision, build trust, develop consensus, and inspire people to act are in fact more noble leaders since their followers respond based upon positive emotions such as faith, hope and love. Leaders who employ the more domineering approach tend to depend upon raw power, fear, and intimidation. Mao Tse-Tung said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Peter Drucker said he believes that Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung were the three greatest leaders of the twentieth century. They were certainly the three greatest bullies.

Each personality type exerts leadership differently, and every person must find a style that fits his or her basic design. This search is generally not conscious but more of a process of fits-and-starts until a comfortable default manner of leading is established.

Three moments of reinvention are critical in personality development and in establishing a personal leadership style: the early teenage years, early adulthood, and an experience of severe emotional trauma. First, as adolescents engage the world with a new sense of independence and identity, they explore and establish ways of leading that fit their new awareness of themselves and the world. Opportunities to lead in school, church, and other community groups allow a default leadership style to emerge.

As people enter college or the work force, they leave home, choose life-long friends, and establish new relationships. They also have an opportunity to reinvent aspects of their personality and hone their leadership styles. This window of opportunity reinforces previously set patterns of leadership or allows new approaches to appear. A person’s first boss or mentor is crucial in setting leadership expectations for the rest of their life.

The difficult and painful transitions in adulthood also form leadership styles. The loss of a job, divorce, bankruptcy, death of a loved one or other similar traumas tend to break old molds, modifying personalities to some degree and allowing new styles of leadership to emerge.

Versatility is critical. The more a person is able to adapt his or her leadership style to the needs of the moment, the more opportunities he or she will find to lead effectively. A crisis calls for strong decisive action. Visionary planning works best with collaborative consensus building. Only experience and wisdom will tell what leadership style is needed, and only versatility will allow a leader to adapt his or her methods accordingly. Too much versatility creates the risk of the leader appearing weak and uncertain, but not enough flexibility limits the arenas in which a person can lead.

The better we know ourselves, the more likely we will be to apply our leadership where we can make a valuable contribution. The continual process of self-evaluation and a growing sense of self-awareness are invaluable as we become the leaders God designed us to be.

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