The most popular four leadership styles are listed first because they appear in organizations more frequently than others and, by all accounts, are the most effective, especially when used in combination with each other.
- Situational Leadership – the leader chooses the most effective leadership approach based on skill levels and experience of team members, the work involved, the organizational environment and their own preferred or natural style. These leaders instinctively switch between styles according to the situation.
- Transactional Leadership – more of a management than leadership style since it focuses on short-term tasks, limits knowledge-based or creative work, but is common in many organization. Transactional leadership appeals to leaders who prefer clearly defined responsibilities, including rewarding employees for meeting objectives or punishing them for missing objectives.
- Transformational Leadership – a true leadership style that inspires a team constantly with a shared vision for the future. Transformational leaders are good at “thinking outside the box”, are visible role models and spend lots of time mentoring, communicating and delegating. Their enthusiasm often needs to be supported by “detail people”. A word of caution about this style: be very sure your organization wants to be transformed.
- Laissez-faire Leadership – colleagues and team members are left to get on with their own work. It requires leaders to monitor what is being achieved and communicate this back to the team regularly. Laissez-faire style works best for teams in which members are experienced and skilled self-starters. Watch for the perception that you are not exerting enough control.
Situational leadership merits a closer look because it comes into play when you have to make tough decisions quickly or when you or someone else (let’s hope not!) notices a drop in your team’s or an individual team member’s performance.
(Sidebar: I can remember a couple of times when someone from another department would come to me and complain about a member of my team. My first reaction was to be defensive – after all, they’re members of MY team and I was intensely loyal to them. But when I had a chance to think about it, there was a problem that needed to be addressed. Either the problem was with a team member’s performance or with someone who perceived there was a problem. As the team leader, it was up to me to decide which and resolve it. My Situational Leadership style sure helped.)
Based on original work by Dr. Paul Hersey and Dr. Ken Blanchard at the Center for Leadership Studies, Situational Leadership is gaining prominence in the workplace, particularly because it:
- Calls attention to the readiness of the follower to follow
- It practically eliminates tendencies for leaders to micro-manage
- It keeps followers from taking on too much too soon
Within Situational Leadership, there are four descriptors of leader’s style:
- Directing – the leader provides clear instructions and closely supervises the work of the followers
- Selling – the leader explains decisions and provides opportunities for clarity and buy-in through negotiating, influencing and consulting with followers
- Participating – the leader provides support and facilitates problem solving and decision making through a joint approach, to support and develop the followers’ confidence in their abilities
- Delegating – the leader turns over responsibility for task implementation to the follower
The style the leader chooses depends on the level of readiness of the followers. This readiness has two dimensions:
- Willingness – to perform the task (motivation)
- Ability – to perform the task (knowledge, skills and available resources)
A helpful graphic representation of Situational Leadership looks like this:
I strongly encourage you, as a first-time women leader or manager, to focus on adopting the Situational Leadership style. It came naturally for me, without any conscious style choice, and worked wonderfully with the best, most effective team I ever led. Many professional leadership trainers and coaches also sing its praises and tout it as the style that has the most practical applications.
Other Leadership Styles
You may also be able to identify some of the following leadership styles in your company. I include them here more for informational reasons. (If you are part of a discussion about them, you’ll be one of the savvy leaders who know what they are talking about.)
But I’ll bet you find your leadership style among the above top four, possibly with a dollop of Servant Leadership, depending on how forward thinking your corporate culture is.
- Servant Leadership – the leader leads simply by meeting the needs of the team. Proponents suggest this may be the style of the future in a business world where values and ideals are increasingly important. Opponents of this style believe its use in competitive situations may result in servant leaders finding themselves left behind.
- Task-Oriented Leadership – the leader focuses only on getting the job done. Leaders using this style put structures in place, plan, organize and monitor, giving little thought for the well-being of team members.
- Autocratic Leadership – an extreme form of Transactional Leadership where the leader has absolute power over members of the team. The team has very little, if any, input.
- Bureaucratic Leadership – a “by the book” style, appropriate for work involving safety risks or where major money is involved.
- Charismatic Leadership – similar to Transformational Leadership with big doses of enthusiasm and energy from the leader. It can be risky because if the leader were to leave, the team could collapse so it requires a huge commitment on the part of the leader.
- Democratic/Participative Leadership – members of the team contribute to the decision making process although the leader makes the final decision. It increases job satisfaction and helps to develop employees, helping them to feel more in control of their own destiny. Since participation takes time, using this style makes things happen more slowly.
- People- or Relations-Oriented Leadership – the leader is focused on organizing, supporting and developing team members. Because it is participative, it leads to good teamwork and creative collaboration. It’s the opposite of task-oriented leadership.
- Strategic and Operational – strategic means envisioning the company’s future and investing the resources necessary to create it; operational means implementing the vision of the strategic leader. This style requires leaders to do four things: select talent based on excellence and ability to work with others; motivate people by designing responsibilities that engage a person’s competence and values; coach people to strengthen their motivation and develop their competence; and build trust by walking the talk. In today’s unpredictable business world, it’s not always possible to keep promises so increase trust by promoting transparency and involvement.
If you would like more information about any of the leadership styles discussed here, just “Google It”! There is tons of information out there for everyone, from a neophyte psychologist to a PhD.
But I’m only interested in you!
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