Matching Style to Organization
Any organization is like a big person. Organizations have personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. They come in all ages, tastes, and sizes. Each one has its own set of expectations and idiosyncrasies. As with individuals, there is no single form of leadership, and you'll have to adjust your style to work within the context of the organization's culture.
Culture in this case means much the same as it does in society. An organization promotes certain types of behaviors and discourages others. It has its own way of communicating, planning, structuring activities, and accomplishing things. One other thing the organization has is an almost irresistible force.
The force comes in a number of forms, but the most formidable is psychological and operational inertia. Consider the existence of organizations, and it becomes clear why there is inertia — and why it's necessary.
If you have N people, the maximum number of two-person relationships within that group can be expressed mathematically as follows:
Now add an additional person and you have additional possibilities for two-person relationships. As the group gets larger, the number of people and the interactions among them increase. In a short amount of time, you have an incredibly complex interrelated set of relationships. If you could introduce unchecked change to the system at any relationship, the entire organization could come apart because there would be no stability. Different groups could head off in opposite directions, which eliminates the possibility of progress.
Inertia in physics is technically the inherent characteristic of resisting change. An object can be moving or sitting still. Either way, you'll have a difficult time changing its course.
The entity must have a certain amount of inertia to ensure that work continues in the same direction. Of course, that direction may be right or wrong, and the work might be good or flawed. But what do you want? It's a bureaucracy, and it's doing the best it can.
Leadership As Navigation
Inertia is like the currents of the Mississippi River. It's a force that ebbs and flows, and if you aren't careful, it can drive your craft in directions you hadn't intended to follow. Captains on the Mississippi, as on any large body of water, must learn the currents, know the capabilities of their vessels, and understand how to steer. They can't change the currents, but they can learn to work with them to minimize the interference and even to use it.
A leader must do the same thing in an organization. Inertia is a force, and some leadership tools and techniques might work better with the inertia in one organization than in another. For example, if you have a large number of inexperienced people, more coaching will be necessary. People who have been under stress for an extended period of time might need more in the way of recognition and reward to help them remember that there is something for them to attain. You might have to encourage experimentation if the organization has been overly controlling or push on the discipline front if people are creative but not applying enough diligence to get things done. The important thing is to look for the characteristics of the organization — just as you'd look for the characteristics of yourself or of your team members — and match your approach accordingly.