Leadership Styles

Let me say it up front. There is no best ideal leadership style. There are so many leadership styles and theories on it that it almost seems like a "flavor of the month" type of thing.

Every now and then, someone comes up with something that they portray as the final answer to leadership problems. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t exist.

We all have a preferred or default style of leading. And that is closely linked to our beliefs, values and personality preferences. In addition, the culture of the organization in which the leader operates, tends to reward and praise certain styles, while others are perceived as negative.

Personally, I am a fan of David Rock's "Quiet Leadership" approach. But even that style can't be used in very situation.

The most appropriate leadership style arises out of the situation, incorporating the characteristics of the followers and the task or challenge at hand.

So as you can see, it is important to master a number of different styles, while remaining aware of the style you naturally prefer.

However, there is something much more important than mastering leadership styles...

Love Thy Employee...

The common view these days is that certain leadership styles are viewed as "outdated", like the autocratic, command and control style. On the other hand is the perception that something like Transformational Leadership is more appropriate these days.

There is a lot of truth in those beliefs, but I have encountered autocratic leaders that are very successful. I have also seen leaders with a more "modern" style being hopeless leaders. So what is it then that you need to be an effective leader?

In short, if you love your employees, you can use any style you want as your predominant style. I know it sounds corny, but if you care about them, value them as just as important as your customers and are passionate about their growth, it doesn’t really matter which style you use.

And I have seen it. It’s not formal research. But if I have to look for the common aspect of all the leaders who have followers who are willing to walk through a brick wall with them, it is this one aspect of love.

If you don’t like your employees that much...if you see them as an irritable necessity, no style would be effective.

Fine, now that we have that foundation of leadership sorted out, let’s look at the evolution of the different leadership models...

The Evolution of Leadership Models

Service Sellers

The way people thought about leaders, evolved quite a bit through the years. There are three distinct chapters. From early thoughts that leaders are born, to a body of research exploring how we can learn to become better leaders by changing our behavior, to most recent theories that focus on the personal values and self of the leader, as well as his/her relationships with followers.

It is important to note that none of these paradigms has completely replaced those that preceded it.

The Born Leader (1920’s to 1940’s)...

Early theorists sought to define what kind of person makes a great leader. They were looking for natural born leaders so to speak.

Trait Theory

This theory suggested that leaders had certain essential identified traits like intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity and sociability. The Trait theory ignored both the impact of the followers and the situation.

It presumed that personality is stable over time. It offered little scope for leadership development at the time.

Charismatic Leadership

This is the same as the Trait Theory, with the exception that it acknowledged the important connection between leaders, followers and the situation.

Charismatic leaders are viewed to be the product of the followers and the situation.

It also incorporates the leader’s so-called “dark side”. This involves the abuse of the high level of power he or she enjoys. This manifest usually through defensiveness, manipulation, dominance and impulsiveness.

Early Thoughts On Leadership Styles That Emerged Out Of These Models...

Early research conducted by Kurt Lewin in the 1930’s suggested a close link between the different leadership styles and their preferred method of decision-making.

Three broad and distinct leadership styles emerged from that research:

1. Autocratic

This type of leader takes decisions without consultation. This style causes the greatest level of discontent from followers in relation to other styles. This style works best if there is no need for a decision and it would not affect the motivational levels of the followers.

2. Democratic

The democratic leader involves people in decision-making. The final decision ranges form consensus to the leader having the final say. This style is usually appreciated by the followers.

However, if there is a wide range of opinions without a clear way of reaching a final decision, this could be an ineffective style.

The original research by Lewin found this style to be the most effective.

3. Laissez Faire

This type of leader consciously minimizes his or her involvement in decision-making. The followers make all the decisions. The leader may remain responsible for the decision outcome.

This style is very effective when people are capable, motivated and have no need for direction.

The Grown Leader (1940’s to 1980’s)...

This chapter of the leadership story propose an alternative to the trait theory. During this time theorists suggests that leaders are nurtured and grown throughout their lives in a process of learning through experience.

Transactional Leadership

This theory is based upon a transaction between the leader and the follower. If the follower meet the expectations of the leader, they are rewarded. But if they fail to do so, they suffer negative consequences.

Contingent rewards, management by exception and laissez-faire leadership characterizes this approach.

Social Change Theory

This distinguishes between elected leaders and leaders who are there because of their position. It examines situations in which leaders have proven themselves to be of benefit to the group.

In return, the leader is given status and privilege. In other words, this theory acknowledges the power that the followers have.

Situational Leadership

This theory propose that the extend of the task and the psychological maturity of the followers impacts on their willingness to perform the task.

The leader assesses the situation and adapts his/her leadership style according to the task and maturity of the followers.

In this theory, followers can be drawn through a development process over time...from telling to delegating.

The Right Leader (1990’s to Present)...

Lately people started to focus on a combination of the following:

  • Qualities and characteristics of leaders with the emphasis on personal values

  • The relationship and interaction between leaders and followers

Participative Leadership

This model operates on a continuum that ranges from autocratic, consultation, joint decision and delegation.

If the followers know more than the leader, this usually results in higher quality decisions. It also enhances team building and conflict resolution.

Another upside of this philosophy is the overall growth in the followers. Especially with regards to decision-making.

Transformational Leadership

This goes beyond the Transactional Leadership style. It focuses on the transformational process that takes place when leaders and followers connect. In the process, it raises the morality of both parties and stretches their long-term goals.

This model considers the simultaneous process of performance and development. Leaders are strong role models and provide the following to their followers:

  • Provide charismatic, so-called “idealized influence”

  • Provide inspirational motivation, including a shared vision

  • Goes beyond their narrow self-interest

  • Give intellectual stimulation

  • Provide development opportunities to the followers and support them in the process.

Servant Leadership

The theory of Robert K. Greenleaf considers leaders to be in the service of their followers. Servant leadership places emphasis on the ethical behaviors expected of leaders, to an extend beyond that proposed by transformational leadership.

The Role of Daniel Goleman

Recently, Daniel Goleman (more famous for his work in Emotional Intelligence) described six distinct leadership styles.

Coercive, Authoritative, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting and Coaching.

He mentions that leaders who have mastered four or more leadership styles, especially the Authoritative, Affiliative, Democratic and Coaching styles, develop the best working climate. They also tend to achieve the highest level of business performance.

Here is a summary of his leadership styles:

The StyleThe leader's Modus OperandiThe Style in a PhraseUnderlying EQ CompetenciesWhen the style work bestOverall Impact on Climate
CoerciveDemands immediate compliance"Do what I tell you"Drive to achieve, initiate, self-controlIn crisis, to kickstart a turnaround, or with problem employeesNegative
AuthoritativeMobilize people towards vision"Come with me"Self-confidence, Empathy, Change catalystWhen changes require a new vision or a clear direction is neededMost stongly positive
AffiliativeCreates harmony and builds emotional bonds"People come first"Empathy, Building relationships, CommunicationTo heal rifts in a team or to motivate people during stressful circumstancesPositive
DemocraticForges consensus though participation"What do you think?"Collaboration, Team leadership, CommunicationTo build buy-in or consensus, or get input from valuable employeesPositive
PacesettingSets high standards of performance"Do as I do, now"Conscientiousness, Drive to achieve, InitiativeTo get quick results from a highly motivated and competent teamNegative
CoachingDevelops people for the future"Try this"Develop others, Empathy, Self-awarenessTo help an employee improve performance or develop long-term strengthsPositive

And there you have it. Remember what I have mentioned at the start of this article. "Love Thy Employee" and you will make the right choice of what leadership style to choose in almost every situation.

If you want to read more about effective leadership, you will find it here, and here.

If you want me to help you with Leadership Developmemt, read more about my Leadership Program, Unleash Potential Through Leadership here .

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