Leadership? It’s All In The Style

Leadership style

Much has been written about ‘leadership style’ over a great many years and I have contributed my own thoughts on the subject through articles and speeches many times.

Adaptability is certainly the greatest ability that a leader needs to be successful and I saw a great tweet the other day from one of my own training team at MTD. Stuart Allen tweeted “A great leader is a ‘Calm in a Storm’ (reassuring) and a ‘Storm in a Calm’ (energising).”

Leadership Style

This tweet reminded me of the Hersey-Blanchard ‘Situational Leadership Model’ whose theory is that there is no single “best” style of leadership. Where effective leadership is task-relevant, and the most successful leaders are those that adapt their leadership style to the maturity (level of existing skill & motivation) of the individual or group they are attempting to lead or influence.

My only concern with Situational Leadership is that it assumes the ‘leader’ is always already competent in the task to be achieved. This is not always the case but when I raised this question with the tutor on the Situational Leadership course that I attended many years ago, they couldn’t answer!

A good study on the subject of leadership style is Daniel Goleman’s Leadership That Gets Results, a landmark 2000 Harvard Business Review study. Goleman did a three-year study with over 3,000 middle-level managers. Their aim was to discover specific leadership behaviours and determine their effect on the bottom-line profitability of the business.

His research calculated that leadership style was responsible for 30% of bottom-line profit! As I run a management training and development business this is an article that I use all the time to ‘prove’ the real value of leadership training. Here are the six leadership styles Goleman uncovered and a brief analysis of the effects of each on the corporate environment:

Types of leadership styles

The Pacesetting Leader:
(expects and models excellence and self-direction)

This pacesetting style works best with already motivated and skilled teams, and quick wins are required. Overused though, this style can overwhelm staff and stifle innovation.

The Authoritative Leader:
(mobilises the team toward a common vision and focuses on end goals)

Works great when a new vision or business direction is required. Authoritative leaders encourage entrepreneurial spirit and energy. As per my gripe about Situational Leadership above, this is not the best leadership style when the leader is working with experienced experts who know more than they do!

The Affiliative Leader:
(creates emotional bonds that bring a feeling of togetherness)

This style works best after a crisis where staff members need to rebuild trust. This leadership style should only be used for short bursts as a reliance on praise alone can encourage mediocre performance.

The Coaching Leader:
(develops people for the future.)

The coaching style is for when the leader wants to help team members ‘grow’ in terms of personal development. It only works when both parties want to achieve the same goals and where the leader is proficient at coaching.

The Coercive Leader:
(demands immediate compliance)

This leadership style is required and affective during times of business, political or environmental crisis or disaster. Can also be used in performance management as part of a disciplinary process. This dictatorial approach rarely works outside of the above circumstances as it is too strict and rapidly leads to ‘disengagement’.

The Democratic Leader:
(builds consensus through participation)

The democratic style is effective when problem solving or the leader needs the team to take ownership of a key decision, plan, or goal. Democracy is never the best choice in an emergency situation or where a flamboyant and verbose team member stifles the debate for others.

Management leadership styles

The biggest challenge we face as leaders is when to use the right leadership style and for how long? That decision is down to the empathy/EQ (Emotional Quotient) capability of the individual leader added to their knowledge and experience of their business and industry.

I haven’t mentioned one of my favourite leadership styles so far and I will finish on it as it encompasses them all – Authenticity! Some people say to me “how is it possible to be both ‘adaptable’ and ‘authentic’?”

For me authenticity is about ‘who you are as a person?’ for example, your attitudes, morals and beliefs. These should be consistent, demonstrable and ‘real’. I call this your ‘substance’. The adaptability refers to the leadership style required given the specific circumstances that you face.  A great leader must therefore have BOTH ‘style’ and ‘substance’!

Tel me what style do you present? Can you add to the list?

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  • Robert Loomes

    Thanks Sean, a great 3 minute read. It’s wonderful to be able to differentiate the varied quantities and to be able to see this from now on when someone delivers a seminar or training.

  • Phil Wood

    Amazingly different styles and approaches for each situation. Great explanation of each type. Thanks for the insight.