Leadership Styles

Over time, the number of leadership styles has grown. You will find a summary of the most common styles in the table below. Often, a leader will have a preferred leadership style that fits his or her personality and experience. To be effective in a variety of different contexts, however, leaders may need to learn and enhance their ability to apply different styles.

  Modus Operandi  When the style works best Beware of

“Do what I tell you.”

Demands immediate compliance In a crisis, to kickstart turnaround or with problem employees Presenting a demanding stance, eroding team members’ sense of responsibility/ownership, affecting motivation, and causing passivity among staff

“Come with me.” 

Mobilizes people toward a vision When changes require a new vision or when clear direction is needed Using this style if you are working with a team of experts/peers who are more knowledgeable than you, as you can appear overbearing or may not be seen as appreciating the contributions of others
Affiliative  (Servant)

“People come first.” 

Creates harmony and builds emotional bonds To heal rifts in a team or motivate people during stressful circumstances Allowing poor performance to go uncorrected, shying away from offering advice, or failing to provide employees with clear directives

“Try it, learn, improve it.” 

Exhibits great openness to ideas and innovations; is inclusive and democratic To pivot or try out new strategies when existing strategies don’t work in complex and rapidly changing conditions Keeping old habits, forming overly specialized teams that have trouble adapting quickly, moving at an unsustainable pace, and becoming lax in technical rigor

“What do you think?” 

Forges consensus through participation To build buy-in or consensus or to solicit input from valuable employees Using when team members are not informed enough to give sound advice, employing in times of crisis, and convening endless meetings, which can make you appear weak and the group “leaderless”

“How do we solve this problem together?”

Seeks collaborative decision-making and solutions for specific problems and actions Among peers or in teams tasked with specific assignments or dealing with a problem Cultivating complacency by transferring individual responsibility to the group/team as a way of avoiding conflict. Also does not work well when a quick decision is needed, as this style thrives in consensus-building

“Do as I do, now.” 

Sets high standards for performance To get quick results from a highly motivated and competent team Becoming a micromanager, exhibiting a lack of trust, seeing subordinates as incompetent, and taking on more to compensate

“Rewards for results.”

Focuses on performance To set clear performance objectives and establish performance-based incentives with mentoring or training support to enable success Being overly focused on short-term goals, and demotivating others by stifling creativity

“You each contribute.”

Is challenging and communicative To focus on personal connection to achieve organizational goals and improve morale and retention Failing to celebrate team or company wins and losing sight of details when focusing on the big picture

“Turn vision into reality.”

Focuses on progress and is inspirational To inspire others and usher in periods of change Missing important details and other opportunities by focusing on the big picture

“Try this.” 

Develops people for the future To help an employee improve performance or develop long-term strengths Using this approach when employees resist learning or change or when the leader lacks the expertise to help the employee
Laissez-faire or hands-off

“You do it.”

Is autocratic and delegatory To delegate tasks to others and provide little to no supervision when others are highly skilled and self-motivated Needing to support people who do not yet have the necessary expertise to perform their roles

“Do your duty.”

Is hierarchical and duty-focused To ensure that regulations and standards are maintained efficiently by people with clear roles and duties Stifling creativity and being unable to adapt quickly enough to changes that affect their work

As you review the leadership styles presented above, reflect on your leadership style by answering the following questions:

  1. What is your primary leadership style?  In what situations do you find it serves you well?
  2. What is your least preferred leadership style? In what situations would that style be helpful or effective?
  3. Which styles would best respond to your current leadership situation? Why?
  4. What leadership styles do you see most commonly used in your organization? What is the impact?

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