Leadership Styles in Technical Environments

Wild MustangsMany technical environments are traditionally heirarchical in nature, so in many R&D organizations leadership styles are often the outcome of lord-serf relationships. This situation is an archetype of the academic environment from which so many technical professionals emanate. This leadership style fits well within the heirarchical corporate culture, yet how does one adapt their style to other types of cultures, namely, the market, clan, and adhocracy cultures.

Short answer: flexibility is the trait one needs best to adapt and align with other stakeholders notwithstanding the type of corporate culture, like the approach taken by Strategyn. Clan cultures are typically family owned and dominated by a single dynamic and sometimes charismatic individual who runs almost everything So in some companies, a it is best to be willing to share the limelight and credit yet simultaneously provide “push-back” toward an organizational tendency to switch research initiatives prematurely before fruition. Instead of succumbing to an opportunity du jour environment, a sturdy hand on the rudder approach wins in the long run–in the end, we all need to deliver to provide value.

Market cultures tend to be highly driven from the view of the marketing department’s needs (typically a good thing), which can quickly change from week to week or month to month, depending on the industry. For most companies with the market culture, the research agenda is set well in advance so it is helpful for sustainability to have small skunk works to augment the innovation effort. The adhocracy culture is innovation driven, so the opinion of the technical leadership looms large in the direction of such companies. Most any leadership style that is non-hierarchical can work, because the company’s progress largely depends on the pace of new deliverables.

In sum, flexibility to the particular culture and adaptability to change helps direct the leadership style that best fits with the culture and align with stakeholders.

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