Newsletter #533 – Nurturing Leadership

IncWhen I saw the June, 2013 cover of Inc. magazine I almost skipped the lead article. It looked like a discussion about gender and leadership, including another list of leadership traits. But once past that, I found an insightful article about how effectiveness in leadership is changing.

Here is the core message, backed by numerous research studies: In the last several decades, leadership has moved through three stages.

  • Up through the 1980s, we had The Age of Autocracy, where leadership was top-down, “command and control” with micromanaging bosses giving orders and expecting everyone to jump and comply. Jack Welch was an example. This continues in some companies, churches, and countries (like China and India), especially among older leaders who assume that leadership must be decisive and where influence is assumed to come with power. Production and execution of plans is key; failure is not an option.
  • The Age of Empowerment came in the 1990s. Starbucks founder Howard Schultz is an example. His expansion plans included store-level employees making decisions based on knowledge of their regions. Empowerment leaders inspire others and expect success but acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers. So they involve employees in decision-making and seek advice from those who are closer to the action.
  • In the last decade we’ve moved into what the Inc. writer (Leigh Buchanan) terms the Age of Nurture. This is supported by studies showing how engagement and commitment among followers/employees is greatest when they feel fulfilled, trusted, and able to grow in their careers and dreams. Here are followers who feel appreciated and part of something bigger and worthwhile. No more anxious cowering before a dictatorial boss.

In this current stage, the most effective leadership traits include empathy (being sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others), vulnerability (admitting one’s mistakes) and humility (open to serving others and sharing credit). In addition, effective leaders today are generous with their time and availability, effective listeners, caring and sensitive, flexible, respectful, open to collaboration, and willing to keep long term perspectives.

The article never mentions coaching but the more I read, the more I could see “This is what coaches do.” This is why coaching is emerging as a growing and effective way to lead and build leaders. Do you agree? Please comment.


  1. I think that coaching is a necessary and vital aspect of empowering leadership. But I think that it may sometimes not put enough emphasis on the need for the leader to provide direction and an example.I believe that Jesus and Paul were the ultimate examples of a player-coach. This might be a more complete paradigm for biblical discipleship.


    1. After I sent this post I had a fleeting thought similar to what you articulated. Coaching can be very effective but maybe it builds too much on its foundations of inner answers (no place for outsiders including God or the Biblical writers or a coach’s wisdom), American individualism, humanism, and pursuing self-created goals.
      Interesting thought that Christian coaching could be a model for discipleship like coaching can be to the core of effective leadership and leadership development.


  2. Gary,
    Yes, I heartily agree with you that this is what coaches do. Additionally, a professional coach can help equip leaders to hone their skills in nurturing employees and all that entails!


  3. Coaches, all right, maybe. But “In this current stage, the most effective leadership traits include empathy …”? Woah!

    Have you not seen the CCTV cameras going up by the 10s of 1000s? Home Land “Security”? Confiscated retirement accounts? You guys have not worked on the floor in one of the few remaining factories, being threatened by a sicko straw boss. Or worked at a minimal wage, minimal survival job. Or been shouted out of queue by an enraged 20s-something.

    Wherever those “most effective leaders” are operating, it is not here in post-reason Amerika. Maybe inside some journal writer’s imagination?


  4. Ngallendou Dièye, I think that the traits that you described would be classified by just about everyone as NOT being effective leadership traits. We would point out those people as being examples of people who are in desperate need of precisely those leadership traits that were discussed in the article.


    1. I appreciate the perspective of Ngallendou Dièye, especially for the perspective of somebody who probably is different from many who read this newsletter. But Duane, I also value your response. Sometimes people respond out of their hurt and anger but this does not negate the experiences and viewpoints of others, in different circumstances. Thanks for your response Duane.


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