What makes a good leader? Part 1

Democratic and dictatorship are two styles of leadership that may be used in a 4-H setting.

What makes a good leader? Are there qualities that one must possess to be a good leader? Does their style of leadership determine if they are a good leader? How do you know what style of leadership is best for any given situation? The most important thing to remember is that each situation is different and unique. A good leader will realize this and understand they have to adapt their leadership style to the situation. There are many different defined leadership styles out there and even more tools to help you determine what type of leader you are. However, instead of looking at the person, you should look at the situation.

Which leadership style is best served when running a country? How about surviving a zombie apocalypse or a topic that is much more serious, like trying to raise a child? Each scenario may require a different style to best handle the situation and get the strongest results.

This article will discuss two of four styles of leadership and how each may be used in a 4-H setting. Michigan State University Extension’s 4-H leadership civic engagement team does training around these four leadership styles through the Backpack to Adventure curriculum and advisory group trainings.

The first leadership style is the democratic style where all participants may be involved in the decision making process. The total group will discuss and decide what is best for the group. This process is used with 4-H boards and committees to help guide the local and state programs. This style is also most often used in a 4-H club setting when the membership of the 4-H club guides the direction or projects that the club goes in. Every member has the opportunity to make a motion and vote on decisions of the club.

Another approach to leadership is through dictatorship. This style often gets a bad rap and many shy away from the name. It is described as when the group does not get a say, but must do whatever the lead person says. In a 4-H setting, this is actually an important style needed for staff when decisions need to be made quickly. For example, if the rules are set before the county fair but then a question arises as to how to interpret the rules, the staff person may do this as needed. Although the rules were made through a democratic process, it is much more effective to have one person make the decisions at this point as long as they keep them consistent and fair. Another example may be an executive committee, which is utilized when time does not permit for the entire committee to meet. Another example may be when safety is a concern. If the weather is poor and the leader determines to cancel the event for everyone’s safety, then the style of dictatorship is the best approach.

A good 4-H leader will analyze the situation and determine which style of leadership is the most appropriate to assure youth get the most out of the experience. The leader wants to make sure youth are safe, but still being an active part of their development.

To read about the other two styles of leadership, see, “What makes a good leader? Part 2.” For more information about the Back Pack to Adventure Curriculum, contact the 4-H leadership civic engagement team at 4-HLeadership@anr.msu.edu.

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