If anything seems to define the leadership style of Todd McFarlane, it may best be described as evolving from perceived necessity. Certainly, there is nothing in McFarlane’s career that indicates a visceral leadership motive or quality; rather, he appears to have “stumbled into” the role, as his ongoing ventures continually reveal the same process. It is likely, for example, that McFarlane would have been content to work solely as an artist with Marvel, had the company allowed him the freedom and artistic authority he desired. What actually occurred was abnegation as statement, or leadership as arising to resist conditions simply unacceptable to him as an individual. McFarlane originally asserted himself with Marvel, not to demand a leadership role, but to express discontent and advise the company of his imminent departure. This is hardly the type of behavior associated with leadership, yet it began the evolution of what would become McFarlane’s. More exactly, whenever circumstances have been perceived by him as restricting, he acts to break away and create new circumstances. The leadership quality is then expressed by means of this basic resistance to remain one with the group.
More identifiable leadership styles may be seen in the further progress of McFarlane’s career. Having gained some artistic freedom with Marvel, he nonetheless was dissatisfied with the company’s controls over its artists and, in 1991, demonstrated several types of leadership in organizing a collective of Marvel artists equally dissatisfied. It is evident that charismatic ability was in McFarlane, for he clearly was the guiding force in encouraging these peers to break from Marvel. This is no insignificant accomplishment, and it reveals innate leadership quality. That is to say, McFarlane’s appeal to his fellow artists must have been potent enough to create bonds of identification with him, and this is a hallmark of the charismatic leader. He is “as one” with the others, which inspires trust even as it fuels personal resolve. It is important to note as well that McFarlane was not leading a desperate assembly; these were successful artists in a major company. Nonetheless, his charismatic presence must have been such as to generate the confidence required for them to take such a daring step and form a new enterprise.
That enterprise demonstrates another leadership style, and one McFarlane apparently finds as natural to him as his reflex to dismiss the unacceptable: servant leadership. The formation of Image Comics was radical in more than one way, as it was both a powerful challenge to Marvel and a highly cooperative venture. A traditional leader might well have simply assumed the direction of a rival company, determined to shift the organizational parameters to allow greater artistic freedom. McFarlane took – with his peers – the radical step of ensuring that each contributor be the “leader” of their own productions. Image would be a single entity, but it would be one marked by full equality of components, and no corporate presence would dictate. In establishing this form, McFarlane represents true servant leadership, in that any impulse to “take the reins” is offset by a greater commitment to the group’s individual interests. This in turn ties into McFarlane’s charismatic approach, in terms of an authentic ability to foster participation.
Other McFarlane pursuits reflect the same impulses to leadership that inspired his departure from Marvel, in that he assumes leadership only as the means to obtaining sufficient artistic control and autonomy. His leadership behavior never appears to be what may be called overt or aggressive; instead, it is more a reactive form, generated by an unwillingness to accommodate the norms in place. There is as well a highly pragmatic aspect to how this leadership functions, in that McFarlane makes the most of the commercial opportunities his efforts allow. As he negotiates only with film companies that permit him control, he then turns this control to producing the greatest possible revenue for all concerned. Ultimately, however, it may be said that the truly unique quality of McFarlane’s leadership path is a striking lack of interest in leadership itself. His choices are made to suit his personal needs as a creative force, and it is actually incidental to the nature of these choices that leadership then evolves. This, then, is a powerful form of leadership in itself, in that it inspires others to be as independent. McFarlane is charismatic and clearly of a personality that supports servant leadership, but his strongest asset as a leader is his commitment to his own individual desires.