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Paternalistic Leadership Approach - What Is It and Is It Outdated?

Paternalistic leadership is an approach that is based, intentionally or unintentionally, on the idea that the leader is in a better position than the followers to know best what is good for the organization, or the followers. In a nutshell it's the "leader as expert father figure".

In today's climate where participation and involvement in the workplace are much more popular than before, the paternalistic leader often acts in ways that many leadership gurus would criticize.

The reality is that most leaders sometimes act in paternalistic ways, and make decisions on behalf of followers that work out well, and it's also a reality that leaders sometimes (or in fact, often) are in positions that allow them to have information and expertise that others in the organization may lack. The issue is whether leaders acting in paternal type roles make decisions that would be better than if followers made them or had extensive input into them. There is really no definitive answer.

However, when paternalistic leadership incorporates an over inflated ego, and a strong refusal to keep in touch with followers in an organization, it's often the case that the leader becomes harmfully dictatorial and makes poor decisions.

The strong belief that a leader "knows best" (when it is held by the leader) can lead to catastrophic results. That said, leaders should recognize that part of leadership is being "in front", rather than "leading by consensus", or "leadership by poll".

It's also important to be aware of the fact that many people who would be in a "follower role", may want to be lead by someone who they perceive "takes care of them".

What is Paternalistic Leadership?


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Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992. Since then Robert has trained thousands of employees to deal with angry, hostile, abusive and potentially violent customers. He has authored over 20 books on various subjects, many published by McGraw-Hill.


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