Thought Leadership


Deffet Group’s thought leaders regularly produce educational content, keeping our firm current on industry trends and research in aging services, human services, and best practices in not-for-profit executive search. Our senior leaders participate as regular attendees and presenters at national and state-level LeadingAge and other not-for-profit association conferences. To discuss how our firm can provide your organization with personalized educational sessions for board members and senior leadership teams, please contact Elizabeth Feltner at


A Question of Leadership

Elizabeth Feltner, M.A., A.B.D.

What constitutes effective leadership?

Only in the most general sense could we say that today’s management experts even deal with similar leadership issues. Without question, all of them are concerned with how the quality of leadership can be improved in the workplace. Further, all would agree that leadership skills can be taught. Beyond that, however, they rarely even agree on the definition of leadership. There are at least four major aspects involved in leadership: (1) the personality of the leader; (2) the attitudes, needs and personality characteristics of the followers; (3) the purpose, structure and nature of the tasks performed; and (4) the social, economic and political environment. In essence, effective leadership is not the sole property of the individual - it is a complex relationship among these four variables. Is there an ideal leadership style that is related to good performance under all conditions? Several prominent behaviorists contend that a good leader has to be permissive, directive, or participative. Neither the participative, considerate leaders nor the autocratic, directive leaders obtain optimum performance under all conditions. For example, few people would contest the right of a train’s conductor to shout commands if the train they were on had suddenly begun careening out of control. During an emergency such as this, participative, democratic leadership would make little sense.

Should leaders act differently from situation to situation?

Yes, particularly if the question involves making decisions with either autocratic or participative methods. Autocratic, one-person decision-making can be effective whenever your subordinates are unaffected by the decision. Participative decision-making techniques should be utilized when the goal is to increase employee motivation, handle resistance to change, improve the quality of a decision, promote teamwork, or develop your subordinates.

Is it important for your people to recognize what leadership style you’re using?

It is absolutely critical. Many problems between managers and their subordinates occur because management has not made it clear how they plan to use their authority. A common mistake some leaders make is to use a democratic facade to conceal the fact that they have already made a decision. When solving a problem, it is extremely important for all leaders to be honest in describing what authority they are keeping and what role they are asking their subordinates to assume.

How can leaders motivate their people?

The answer is that they can’t! People are self-motivated by nature. They stop being self motivated when they are dead. Hence, the task of a leader is to create an environment where members at all levels can best achieve their own objectives by directing their efforts towards the goals of the organization. By doing so, productive, positive people motivate themselves.

In Summary

If there is a common thread it is this - the successful manager is neither autocratic nor democratic. Rather, the effective leader is one who accurately assesses the forces that determine what the most appropriate behavior should be at any given time, and then behaves accordingly.

About the Author
Elizabeth Feltner, M.A., A.B.D. photo

Elizabeth Feltner, M.A., A.B.D., is Vice President of Deffet Group, Inc. She works collaboratively with clients nationwide to identify and retain executive leaders and advance organizational success. An accomplished public speaker for employers and national conferences, frequent topics include succession planning, on-boarding, and leadership development.