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Leadership Styles

The truth that leadership techniques are predictive was clarified before a couple of decades ago. Social psychologist Kurt Lewin and his associates identified three group leadership styles through studying a summer camp for boys.

In the experiment they trained the camp counselors to lead in different ways, and then studied the effects of their leadership on the boys in their units.

The Experiment

The boys who experienced autocratic leadership were the most organized. Their counselors told them what to do and when. They finished a lot of projects, but - surprise! - at the end of camp none of the boys wanted to take their projects home! The boys in these units were also the most aggressive and hostile.

The boys whose counselors used a laissez-faire leadership style accomplished very little. At the end of camp they hadn't completed any project to take home. They seemed dissatisfied with their camp experience.

Boys in units in which their counselors used a democratic leadership style decided together on group and individual goals for their camp experience. These units didn't finish as many project as the boys who had authoritarian counselors, but they took all their projects home! And they were happy with their camp experience. The boys under this style of leadership were the least hostile.

Many subsequent studies have verified these patterns.

We will focus primarily on leadership styles as they affect families. But all of us who lead – whether we relate to parishioners, students, employees, or volunteers - will benefit by evaluating our leadership style. And the results of our leadership will be similar in any group.

Does our leadership style make people hostile and turn them off? And if it does, can we change?

Yes. We can modify our leadership style.

How Your Leadership Affects Kids

In the 1960s Diana Baumrind first applied Lewin's three styles of leadership to families. She called these parenting styles authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative. Subsequent research identified a fourth parenting style - neglectful.

In 1983 Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin published a review of more than 500 studies on parent-child relationships. This research reveals that each leadership style has a predictable effect on children.

Parental style is also closely related to children's self-concept, the social skills, and their creativity. Of interest to us as Christians is the fact that parenting (or teaching or pastoral) styles affect children's values, religion, and their ideas about God.

Two Key Elements

Support and control and are the two main features of the parent-child connection that are the explanation to its failure or success.

On the accompanying diagram of parenting styles, control is represented by the horizontal line. One end represents high control; and the other, low control. Think of this line as measuring how much influence you try to exert over what your child does.

As a parent or teacher, do you feel children need to be strongly guided and taught what is right and wrong? Do you feel children will usually make the right decisions on their own? Do you see your role as being a resource person or a firm guide?

Control also describes who are in charge in the family - the parents or the children.

The vertical line symbolizes the support feature of parenting. Support can span from displaying responsiveness and strong acceptance to being unresponsive and refusing at the other opposite.

Supportive parents are child-focused. They comprehend that children have special requirements because they are inexperienced. Supportive parents inspire individuality and independence. They converse with their children a lot; the children comprehend the basis for family standards. Parents regard their children with love and warmth.

By contrast, nonsupportive parents engender hostility in their children because they are primarily adult-centered. They are unresponsive to the needs of their children. They are caught up in maintaining their authority. They are afraid that if they let their children express an opinion, they will lose control. They tend to use excessive physical punishment. Independence and individuality are taboo.

Emotional Climate

The emotional atmosphere of a home originates from two sources: how parents treat each other and the level of support they show in their leadership technique.

Emotional climate is of specific attention to Christian parents. This climate often decides whether children will take or refuse the values and religion of their parents. It is this climate that gives family life an atmosphere of happiness and joy or sadness and repression.

Here are four parenting styles.

1. In the authoritative style, parents exhibit both high support and high control.

2. The permissive style characterizes parents who provide high support but low control.

3. In the authoritarian style, parents give low support but exact high control.

4. The neglectful style represents parents who offer low support and low control.

How These Leadership Styles Work Out in Real Life

Authoritarian. Danica, 17, arrives home 30 minutes late from a Saturday night date. On the journey home her car had a flat tire. The spare was in bad shape and had to be inflated twice.

When Danica attempts to explain, her father interrupts her. “Do not give me any of that lie! No more excuses! You are grounded for 30 days! You are totally negligent!”

Danica's mouth squeezes in a tight line. She realizes better than to attempt to clarify - that would only give her a more serious punishment. But it does not seem correct. She attempted to get home on time. Two weeks from now is the senior banquet, and she has a role in the stage play. How is she going to clarify this to her escort?

Resentment grows inside. I cannot accept this anymore. Hey, next week is my eighteenth birthday. Maybe…

Experts call the authoritarian method an “iron rule,” a very expressive phrase. Danica's father, expecting the worst, does not permit Danica to clarify and reprimand her character. A need for control and power distinguishes his joyless relationship with the family.

What is God like? Sadly, the authoritarian method of parenting is very frequent among religious conservative families who sometimes tend to conceal behind the misunderstanding of God's authority as the directive for their own actions.

The outcomes tend to be negative. Young people have the tendency to reject and rebel parental values. Others become too compliant; they cannot confront tough decisions, and require an authoritative figure to dictate to them what to do.

If the adult children stay religious, they sometimes seek the safety of a legalistic method to Christianity. Since they did not feel acceptance in the parent-child relationship, God's grace is not easy to comprehend. They see God as vengeance-seeking, wrathful dictator ready to punish anyone who does not measure up!

Neglectful. Karen is a vivacious dark-eyed beauty who wears the latest styles and has plenty of spending money. At 14 she is popular with both boys and girls. Her parents are both lawyers and provide everything she ever wanted - except love, time, and attention.

Karen's parents don't specify when she must arrive home after dates. If she comes in after midnight, no one notices. Karen is very lonely. Her friends at school are really her family.

Neglectful parents may be the classic abusive parents who do not supply their children with their daily need for food, shelter, and clothing. On other hand, they may be well-educated, career-conscious men and women who are so involved in their own lives they have no time left to support or guide their family emotionally Karen's parents did not want to sacrifice their own convenience for their child's emotional needs.

Faraway God. Children from neglectful households often respond in the same fashion that children from authoritarian households do - they may defy and accept negative values. They may have deep emotional problems related to the neglect they have experienced. Karen attends church but is not sincere about religion. To Karen, God is a far away ruler of the universe who is not involved in human being's daily lives. She perceives God as one who really does not mind what occurs on earth.

Permissive. Mark, 5, is a rascal. He explores around the house, goes inside all the rooms, and plucks up whatever he wants. His parents just look and say, “Well, you know how children are…” Mark goes to bed when he feels like sleeping, eats when he desires, and has no table demeanor. “After all, he is just a child,” his parents declare. Mark's parents are warm and caring, but they don't encourage mature behavior. They have few rules. Permissive parents tend to avoid authority, controls, or restrictions.

An indulgent God. As a result of the parents' laissez-faire attitude toward guidance, their children tend to be impulsive. Waiting for the rewards of tomorrow doesn't appeal to them. Responsibility is not their strongest character trait, but they are usually kind toward other people.

They see God as accepting and loving and as one who smiles and looks the other way when humans misbehave. Sin isn't really a major problem in the universe. After all, it is just human nature.

Authoritative. Jamie, 8, rushes in from school, breathlessly calling, “Mom! The guys are all going to play ball. Can I go with them?”

“Have you completed your jobs for today?” Mother asks.

Jamie shakes his head no.

“Remember our agreement?” she asks. “Work and then play.”

“Aw, Mom, let me do them when I get back.”

“I'm sorry, Jamie.” Mother puts her arm around him. “I know how disappointed you are. I'm sure you'll remember to do your jobs tomorrow.”

Jamie nods slowly, disappointment clearly showing on his face.

Mother gives him a little hug. “I'll help you. Maybe we'll have time to bat a few balls before supper.”

The authoritative, child-focused parenting method sets clear benchmark and expectations for sensible conduct for children, while also fulfilling their needs. Children are encouraged to be independent and responsible.

These parents explain rules in an overall climate of warmth. They are not consumed with their own authority. They listen to their children's viewpoints and respect their feelings. These children generally feel whatever punishment they receive is deserved. They know that their parents care about them.

A fair and friendly God. Children from authoritative homes usually have strong values and stand up for them. They are often helpful and caring toward others.

These children can resist negative peer pressure because they have a strong, reasonable conscience that guides their actions. They see God as one who forgives their misdeeds and helps them grow in grace and faith. Their God is a blend of mercy and justice.

I personally believe that only the authoritative parenting style truly represents the way God deals with us – loving and encouraging, but at the same time eager to help us grow.

Using the authoritative style of leadership in our homes, at the office, and in the church gives others a chance to see a true picture of God. All the other styles distort and misrepresent God.

Society | Self-Help


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