What's Your Leadership Style?

Former Campbell Soup chief executive officer Douglas Conant learned early on in business that when it comes to effective leadership, it's the small stuff that matters. One of his favorite anecdotes is about the time he lost his job with a big mortgage to pay and a young family at home to support. Demoralized, he contacted a job outplacement agency and was greeted with four magic words that would define his career: "How can I help?"

That, he says, was a "touchpoint" moment. It was Conant's ability to recognize and lead with those moments that helped him re-engage disenfranchised employees and revitalize profits at both Nabisco, where he served as president from 1995 to 2000, and Campbell Soup, where he was CEO from 2001 to July 2011.

What worked for Conant at Campbell Soup might not work for every company or every executive. Identifying and implementing a leadership style that works for a particular company or individual project is critical. So how do you know which one is best?

Defining Your Style

Daniel Goleman, author of "Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence," identifies six types of leadership styles: visionary, coaching, democratic, pacesetting, commanding and affiliative.

Does your company need a sweeping change or a massive overhaul? Perhaps a bold, visionary leader is necessary. "Visionary leaders articulate where a group is going, but not how it will get there, setting people free to innovate, experiment, take calculated risks," Goleman writes.

But what if your firm is employee-owned? Could one person lead the pack without leaving the rest behind? Probably not, which is why CEO Ed Crenshaw and the executive team at Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets lead with a more "democratic" approach.

"The democratic style builds on a triad of emotional intelligence abilities: teamwork and collaboration, conflict management and influence," Goleman says.

Both are what he describes as styles that build resonance. Also in that category are "affiliative" leaders who bond employees by creating harmony and "coaching" leaders who implement a one-on-one approach of developing individuals. Then there are the "pacesetters" and "commanders," two completely different styles that fall into a more risky category of dissonance, with the first setting extremely high standards for performance and the latter adopting a military-style, "Do it because I say so" model.

Which was Conant? Perhaps some combination of the several styles, a democrat creating harmony with vision.

Leading by Touchpoints

In the book he co-authored with consultant Mette Norgaard, "Touchpoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments," Conant writes, "Taking the lead in a touchpoint is not a matter of title or position. It is a matter of behavior."

During his decade at Campbell Soup, Conant says he sent out about 30,000 personal notes to employees, seizing on "touchpoint" moments to engage them in building a better company.

And Conant, known for turnarounds at both Nabisco Foods Co., where he served as president, and Campbell Soup, says these small moments of leadership also can evolve from something as simple as a question or a customer complaint.

A true leader can handle the small moments with a few well-timed words that can create powerful connections with others and bring strategy to life. To get started, Conant and Norgaard recommend thinking of interruptions as opportunities for engagement.

They offer a step-by-step process of first asking, "How can I help?" followed by listening intently, framing the issue and advancing a solution. With practice, leaders can learn to make an impact in a few minutes.

The changes Conant made at the helm of Campbell were bold and swift. Three years in, he reportedly replaced 300 of 350 managers because they weren't engaged in the kind of culture-building he instituted with the program that would put the company back on track, called "The Campbell Promise: Campbell Valuing People. And People Valuing Campbell."

These policies, and Conant's practice of listening, modeling and nurturing engagement, continue under the leadership of Denise Morrison, who became Campbell's president and CEO last August.

Adaptable Leadership

How much does adhering to one particular style matter?

J. Richard Hackman, a professor at Harvard University and author of "Collaborative Intelligence: Using Teams to Solve Hard Problems," suggests that it's not a leader's management style that leads to success but the way that leader designs and supports a team. The best leaders, he says, create conditions for other people to excel in different projects.

"You need to be the leader that understands the situation at hand and adapts accordingly."

–Paolo Goelzer,

IGA Coca-Cola Institute

"You need to be the leader that understands the situation at hand and adapts accordingly," says Paolo Goelzer, president and CEO at the IGA Coca-Cola Institute, a Chicago-based provider of retail leadership training programs. "I believe in a democratic style, but more than that I believe that leadership in a complex world like we have today needs to be interchangeable."

Goelzer, who grew up watching his own parents run their family business in Brazil and who also teaches an international supermarket management class at the institute, says he doesn't believe that one style fits all.

"Almost like with your kids, I don't think you can be democratic with your kids all the time," he adds, stressing leadership by example. "People follow a model. If [employees] follow the person, then they will follow the plan. If you can't walk the talk, then you are phony. That's what I learned. My dad and my mother were both in the business and they were both hard working. They did great because they led by example by modeling what needs to be done."

But good leaders shouldn't pretend to know everything. "If I say that I don't know things, I am building my credibility. My role is not to be omniscient but to create conditions for things to happen," Goelzer says.

Setting the Pace

Publix has operated for 82 years with the motto, "where shopping is a pleasure." While an employee-owned structure demands a degree of teamwork and democracy, elements of the company's leadership philosophy also borrow from the "pacesetting" style.

"We are deeply rooted in our culture," explains Maria Brous, director of media and community relations for Publix, which was ranked as one of Fortune magazine's "Best 100 Companies to Work For" in 2011. "Our customers know what to expect from us. We're always trying to meet and exceed, and we've remained very consistent on that."

This "pacesetting" started in 1930 when founder George Jenkins opened the first Publix Super Market in Winter Haven, Fla., with the notion of pleasing the customer and always raising expectations.

Today, CEO Crenshaw is continuing the model his grandfather, "Mr. George," built. When the recession hit, Crenshaw led by example by keeping his own salary in check, citing his grandfather's words of wisdom: "Don't let making a profit stand in the way of doing the right thing."

And like many executives of this Fortune 500 company–including President Todd Jones–Crenshaw's first job at Publix was bagging groceries. The result is a leadership style that's part "pacesetting" with elements of "coaching" and "democracy."

With 151,000 employee owners, everyone has a stake and an opinion that matters. But ultimately, decisions need to be made, and sometimes the "democratic" model needs a commander in chief.

"We, as a company, are focused on the strategic goals. It's very important for all of us to understand the strategy and how we go to market. We have a lot of cross-functional teams. Lots of folks have a seat at the table. But ultimately decisions have to be made," Brous adds, speaking on behalf of Crenshaw and his team.

"We have lots of folks who can provide input and make recommendations and are a valuable player to the team. But at the end of the day, there's only one [decision] for every project that's assigned."

"We have lots of folks who can provide input and make recommendations and are a valuable player to the team. But at the end of the day, there's only one [decision] for every project that's assigned."

–Maria Brous,

Publix Super Markets

Family Democracy

Kevin Stormans, the fourth generation to manage the Stormans Inc. grocery chain in Olympia, Wash., with his brother Greg and sister Charelle, defines his corporate style as a blend between "affiliative" and "democratic."

An affiliative leader seeks to build harmony and teamwork among employees. Even though it's a family-owned business, Stormans stresses that not every family member knows everything. For that reason, the "democratic" style of drawing on people's individual skills is also important.

"We formulate and lead and set the targets and goals, but we really try to do that within the context of more of a team approach," he explains. "We can lead them in a direction we want to go, but if we don't have buy-in with people who are making it happen, it will not succeed."

"We can lead them in a direction we want to go, but if we don't have buy-in with people who are making it happen, it will not succeed."

–Kevin Stormans,

Stormans Inc.

Stormans, who was named as the 2011 Grocer of the Year by the Washington Food Industry Association, says his family and his company have been lucky. The leadership style the Stormans have in place works because everyone feels included and their input is valued.

"We give our store management and department heads a lot of autonomy. My brother and I run the company, but we do give them a lot of freedom," he adds. "I think we're fortunate in that my brother and I have diverse interests. We've had very, very little differences of opinion and have had no situations where we've come to loggerheads."

But as Goleman and other leadership experts suggest, at the end of the day, someone needs to be the decision maker. "We take the team approach and we're not big on titles," says Stormans. "But you need to have someone steering the ship."

What's Your Style?

Which of Daniel Goleman's six leadership styles is closest to your own? Take this leadership quiz and find out:

Imagine there's a major new project or product to roll out at your company with an urgent deadline. Which of the following best describes your response:

  1. Articulate what the group needs but then let the team decide where to take it from there.
  2. Assemble a team and help every individual figure out how to best contribute.
  3. Assemble a team and nurture togetherness and harmony.
  4. Get the group together and try to build consensus.
  5. Take the lead and set the standards high for the rest of the team.
  6. Take the lead and keep it. You are in control.

ANSWERS: a.visionary, b.coaching, c.affiliative, d.democratic, e.pacesetting and f.commanding.

Sherry Thomas is a freelance writer and journalist based in Chicago. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, USA Today online and North Shore magazine.