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What’s your leadership style?

What’s your leadership style?

By: Phil Hardwick - May 17, 2024

  • Plato, Ike or Max. Business columnist Phil Hardwick offers three styles of leadership for employers to consider.

If you search online, you can find at least 10 named leadership styles.

In this column, we look at leadership styles as a continuum, with “follow me” at one end of the spectrum and “I’ll follow you” at the other. 

In general, leadership styles refer to the behavioral approach or techniques employed by leaders to influence, motivate, and direct their followers. I’ve labeled three styles that illustrate the extremes and the middle of the leadership styles continuum. The labels are my own.

The Plato Style

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, part of The Republic, he describes a setting where prisoners are chained in a cave. They cannot turn their heads. All they can see is the wall in front of them. On the wall, they can see shadows of objects passing in front of a fire behind them. They can hear the sounds echo off the walls of people talking behind them.  The prisoners believe these sounds come from the shadows they are seeing. This is their reality. 

One day, a prisoner is set free. He goes outside and discovers that the reality is more than the shadows and sounds in the cave. He discovers sunlight, fresh air, and blue sky. He can’t wait to return to the cave and tell the prisoners that the cave is not their reality. He describes what he saw outside and suggests that the prisoners should leave the cave for something better. The prisoners are suspicious. One even asks him to turn around and look at the shadows on the wall and tell them what he sees. Unfortunately, the sun has caused his eyes to dilate, and he does not see any shadows on the wall. The prisoners think he has gone crazy and that anyone would be a fool to follow him.

This style is when the leader says they have a vision for the future and attempts to persuade others to follow them. It requires trust in the leader. The followers do not participate in identifying the goal or the vision.

The Ike Style

General Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower, five-star general and 34th President of the United States, is recognized as a great leader on the battlefield and in the political/government arena. His thoughts on leadership are the subject of numerous articles, and there are even college courses on his leadership style. For example, The Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College “…connects aspiring young leaders with public policy experts to discover their passion and tackle society’s most challenging issues. We are nonpartisan, inspired by President Eisenhower’s approach of engaging diverse people and ideas to find common ground and take action.”

Eisenhower once said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want to be done—because he wants to do it.”

That, of course, is an oversimplification, but it is an excellent way to describe his style. To learn more about Ike’s leadership thoughts, it is suggested that one read an article written by Eisenhower himself, published in Reader’s Digest, June 1965, pp. 49-54. It is titled “What is Leadership? 

Unlike the Plato Style, the Ike Style suggests that the leader has a vision. However, instead of asking others to follow blindly, this style asks followers to engage in selecting and implementing the vision.

The Max Style

Max Dupree is the son of D. J. Dupree, the founder (along with Herman Miller) of the Herman Miller Corporation, one of the country’s most admired and recognized companies. The company is a leader in office furnishings and corporate values, receiving awards for recruiting military veterans, growing its minority supply chain, and creating an equitable workplace.

Max served as CEO during the 1980s and wrote several books. One that this writer often refers to is Leadership is an Art. In it, he discusses his views on leadership and those of his family as they led the company. In chapter one, he tells the story of the millwright, a key position in a manufacturing company in the 1920s.  

One day, the millwright died. Max’s father went to the millwright’s home after the funeral and joined the family in the living room. The widow asked if she could read aloud some poetry. She retrieved a bound book from another room and read poems for several minutes. Max’s father was spellbound and asked who wrote those beautiful poems. The widow replied that it was her husband. Max’s father wondered: Did he have a millwright who was a poet, or did he have a poet who was a millwright?

Max Dupree said this about leadership: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” His thoughts and style gave rise to the concept of servant leadership.


So, there are three styles of leadership. At one end of the spectrum, the leader sets the path, and the followers follow. At the other extreme, the followers are the leaders. 

Which style is best? It depends on the situation.

Sometimes, the situation calls for the Plato style, such as in the military or perhaps a startup company. Other times, the Ike style may be appropriate, such as when it will take all employees to play a significant role in accomplishing the goal. And then sometimes, the Max method is best, such as when employees are engineers or technicians. It also depends on the personalities, skills, and attitudes of all parties.

Happy leading.

About the Author(s)
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Phil Hardwick

Phil Hardwick is an award-winning business columnist and semi-retired economic developer. He also served as an adjunct faculty member at the Millsaps College Else School of Management for many years. He has taught over 1,000 students, written over 800 columns, written 11 books and assisted over 100 communities and organizations with strategic planning. In February 2016 he was inducted as a Lifetime Member of the Mississippi Economic Development Council.