A leadership style refers to a pattern of behavior and actions leaders use to achieve the desired outcomes. It describes how they set up standards for the team, develop their teams’ short- and long-term goals, listen to employees, provide them with the feedback, motivate, reward and punish them.
Sometimes a leadership style for the executive would be dictated by the company itself, its history or a certain philosophy it may have on managing people. Sometimes the leadership style would be a function of your personal characteristics, mentorship experiences in the past, or other factors, which would make you gravitate toward a given style as your main style.
Leadership styles are different. There are no good or bad, right or wrong leadership styles. The most effective leaders know how to adjust their leadership style depending on the situation they are in. In addition, while a certain leadership style may work well for you today, it may no longer be effective in your future roles. If you get promoted, for example, and now have to lead a team with more senior members you may need to adjust your style to rely more frequently on Visionary or Coaching styles. On the other hand, you may be in a situation when you are dealing with an employee who no longer responds to your efforts to motivate or develop him. In that case you may resort to Commanding style to resolve the issue at hand. If you are in a startup, an investment bank, or in any other fast moving and competitive environment, it may be more appropriate to use Pacesetting leadership style.
There are six main leadership styles (Goleman, 2002):
Commanding Leadership Style
The main objective of this style is immediate compliance. When you use this style you tell employees what to do with no solicitation of their input or listening to their reactions. You monitor your employees closely, rely on criticism and conveying the consequences of failure to comply.
This style is appropriate in crises, urgent situations and instances where non-compliance will have serious consequences, such as safety. You may also apply it with unmotivated employees where you tried everything you could, but do not see the hoped for follow-through. It may also used in environments of simple and straightforward tasks, where no creativity or innovation are required. While this style is probably the most frequently used in today’s business, beware that in the long run it may result in employees passively resisting, rebelling or leaving altogether.
Pacesetting Leadership Style
The main objective of this style is executing tasks fast and with high quality. When you use this style you would emphasize excellence and improvement in performance for your employees and would set challenging goals. The description of your attitude would be: “if you can’t keep up, you shouldn’t be on my team,” or “if you can’t do it right, I’ll do it myself.” You would be apprehensive of delegating tasks to anyone who is not an outstanding performer, tend to work individually and promote individualized effort rather than team, set examples of task execution to the employees and expect highest standards of execution and quickly take the responsibility away from those who underperform.
This style is appropriate if your employees are highly motivated and do not require manager feedback for further growth. It often works in fast paced and competitive environments where the direction and objectives are clearly defined. It can also be used with underperforming employees who are not showing the signs of improvement. Research shows, however, that used for extended period of time this approach tends to impact morale.
Visionary Leadership Style
The main objective of this style is to provide long-term goals and vision. When using this style you explain to employees the company’s direction, ask for their perspectives (but indicating clearly that you are in charge) and motivate them by relying on both positive and negative feedback. You set up performance goals based on the larger vision and measure the success in relation to those goals.
This style could be effective in startup, turnaround and realignment situations when explaining the new direction or vision to employees is needed, when you are perceived as an expert in the subject matter. You can also use it with newly hired employees.
Affiliative Leadership Style
The main objective of this style is creation of harmony. You are using this style if your primary focus is to meet your employees’ needs, stress things that keep them happy and avoid confrontations. You would instead try to provide positive feedback and reward employees based on the personal characteristics as much as on performance.
This style is appropriate when your employee base is conflicting and you need to promote harmonious environment, when you need to repair broken trust in your organization or when employees are experiencing personal difficulties. Relying on this style excessively, however, may result in loss of motivation of employees who are better performance as group praise may send a message that poor performance is tolerated. Make sure the performance of employees is adequate.
Democratic Leadership Style
The main objective of this style is reaching a consensus. When you use this style you rely on your employees making the decisions impacting their work, trust their abilities to make those decisions, which sometimes may be complex and cross-functional, and reward group rather than individual performance. You create a group commitment to the goal.
This style could be appropriate when you are not clear about the path forward and you need to leverage the knowledge of your employees. They need to be self-sufficient, competent and have at least as much information and insight about the situation as you do. The style will not work when the environment is fast changing and the decisions need to be made immediately.
When you use this style, make sure you or somebody else enforces the deadlines. That will ensure that the execution of the decisions is not slipping. If that does start to happen, consider creating a ‘crises’ (or a feeling of a crises) to get everybody through checkpoint. During the meetings, ensure that those who have not spoken, or you think are afraid of speaking out, have had a chance to express their thoughts. Often, those members of the team have a dissenting opinion, hearing which would help promote a healthy and balanced discussion. This is often more of an art than science and requires you using your emotional intelligence, empathy and communication.
Coaching Leadership Style
The main objective of this style is to develop your employees. When using this style you inquire about what they learned and what they could improve or do differently. You help them develop their long-term goals, identify strengths and weaknesses, provide feedback and motivate them to improve. You look at mistakes as learning opportunities, talk to employees in a form of open questions and listen to them inventively.
This style is appropriate when your team is well established, consists of experienced and motivated employees who understand the company’s goals. The approach works in the environments that require employee innovation and risk taking and when you have deep knowledge of your employees’ work areas. Beware that this style is powerful, yet somewhat inefficient and risky when employees perceive it as micromanaging.