Does the Leadership Style of a Client Dictate the Success of an Event?

Articles / March 6, 2018

Does the Leadership Style of a Client Dictate the Success of an Event?

Over the years, as an event planner, I have had the privilege of working with some exceptional leaders across many industries. The events executed for these visionaries were a highlight, as there was flow, ease and clear lines of communication. I maintain that how an event is created, is how it will be received. Organize from a place of mutual respect, authenticity, honesty and integrity and the guests seem to come away from the event having integrated those principles. I have always had great working relationships with my clients but at a recent networking gathering a fellow small business owner asked the question of the group, “Does the leadership style of a client dictate the success of an event?” It started a lively conversation. There were a few colleagues who seemed to have experienced a negative style of leadership that had impacted their ability to execute their events perfectly.

Here are some leadership styles that facilitate a great working relationship as well as a few that could pose some challenges.

How to Spot a Leadership Style That Facilitates Smooth Sailing?

There have been so many insightful, groundbreaking books written on leadership in the 20th and 21st centuries one would imagine that those core learnings would have been adopted across all industries by now? Sadly, that is not the case.

Back in the 1930’s Kurt Lewin, a psychologist, put forward his framework. Lewin’s leadership styles included the following three approaches:

  • Autocratic leaders are those who make all the decisions and never consult their team. Those with a penchant for this approach demoralize their workforce and are rewarded with high absenteeism and staff turnover. Although they are great in a crisis when decisions have to be made on the spot.
  • The Democratic leadership approach ensures all team members participate in the decision making process and encourage creativity. Needless to say employees experience high levels of job satisfaction which leads to increased productivity.
  • The third approach is the Laissez-faire leader who gives team members a long leash to set their own work course. While great for the team members sense of autonomy, it is not ideal if the individual is not good at time management or self motivation.

These three approaches have formed the foundation of many theories that developed in subsequent years.

The Various Attempts to Categorize Leadership

The Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid (1964) is a people and task focused approach. The people-orientated style advocates supporting and developing team members to foster creative collaboration. The task-orientated style focuses on getting the job done by clearly defining roles and responsibilities with structures in place to execute and monitor work. A combination of both styles is seen as the ultimate leadership goal.

In 1971 the Path-Goal Theory dominated, where it was suggested that there be one style of leadership for highly-capable people engaged in complex tasks and then a different approach needed for employees with low ability and simple tasks. You would choose the relevant style based on the individual’s needs and the task they were entrusted with completing.

By 2002 we were heading into the realm of emotional intelligence where six emotional leadership styles were revealed in the book, “Primal Leadership” by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee. The adjectives to describe each style says it all – Visionary, Coaching, Affiliate, Democratic, Pacesetting and Commanding. With the latter two, we see the most negative aspects exposed – obsession with doing things better and faster, or a “military” style of criticism and undercutting morale with no praise.

Finally, transformational leadership has been touted to be the most effective style, where the individual in question displays a high EQ, has integrity and is empathetic, humble, authentic and self-aware. They hold themselves accountable and don’t blame shift when the going gets tough. They usually have exceptional conflict-resolution skills.

So, armed with this knowledge of what makes a great leader and what makes a bad one I went about distilling a list of ones that my networking team might have run into along the way.

The Leaders That Don’t Make Good Clients

The leadership styles that tend to dam up momentum or make for a challenging work environment are:

  • The bureaucrats who are so bound by rules that there is no room for creativity or innovation. It’s a great attribute when you are leading a team working with dangerous machinery or toxic substances but not so good when you’re organizing an awards dinner celebration.
  • Charismatic leaders who think they are invincible, and believe that because of their great personalities, “everything is going to work out just fine”. They can end of up not seeing the bigger picture and fail to take the necessary steps to circumvent potential issues. E.g. “I know you say the venue is booked on those dates, I’ll speak to the owner, go ahead and send out the invites in the meantime”. A week later you’re re-printing and sending out the new invites with the changed venue.
  • The transactional leader is quite a handful. They are paying you and you must do what they say to the letter. They can be punitive, and their behavior can border on amoral. They believe that they “own” an employee or supplier which can create an unhealthy environment of possessiveness. They are controlling and demand respect. They micro-manage every tiny detail which can get claustrophobic and leave you exhausted.
  • The reactive leader is always waiting to see what happens and delays all decisions. They are slow to take any action. It is extremely difficult to get these people activated to meet deadlines or proactively solve potential issues.
  • A good friend of the reactive leader, is the distant leader. You can never ever find them. You can never get them to the table to make final decisions and they seem to be MIA from the company. It can be frustrating when you need to sign contract with venues or suppliers and the leader is nowhere to be found.
  • Of course there is the well known narcissistic leader which we already know so much about. They love the glory and frequently take credit for their team’s work. They also undermine others to make themselves feel all powerful. On an event they can be tiresome because every aspect of the event is about how it will showcase them, and their team is left out of the picture feeling unrecognized and underappreciated.

Fortunately, I have not had the misfortune of dealing with very many of these archetypes, but a few discussions with colleagues in the industry led to the unpacking of “case studies” of various destructive leadership styles and how they impacted the event planner’s ability to deliver on the expectations. Sometimes the event went off without a hitch but the experience of working with such negative individuals ensured they would never work for that particular company again.

A Modern Leadership Resource

Recently, I have really enjoyed reading Dr. Ernest Jone’s #EverydayLeaders posts on LinkedIn. He is a Director, Organizational Change Movement at Teva Pharmaceuticals, and is in the process of interviewing 100 everyday leaders.  He generally posts the articles every week. It makes for inspirational reading as you see how different leaders are really trying to find the ideal leadership style for themselves and their team. I respect how these individuals all recognize that the old-school, top down, controlling, autocratic style does not work for anyone anymore (not that it ever did). One only wishes that more leaders chose to self evaluate, accept feedback and actively upskill themselves in relevant leadership formats and approaches for the 21st Century.

An Event Planners Ideal Leadership Style

I like working with leaders who can change with the times, don’t rule from a manual but create an optimistic office culture, and banish the old paradigm of “my way or the highway” thinking. These are the visionaries and they really do make the best clients. I choose to work in collaborative environments where people are valued, where accountability is high up on the list of priorities along with integrity and a big dollop of good humor.

I would love to hear all about your experiences with different leadership styles and how they have impacted your ability to execute events? Feel free to leave a comment below.

If you are looking for stress-free, high-end event solution, please give me a call. I would like to walk you through our event specialties.

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