What’s your leadership style? … it’s ultimately about being yourself, finding what works authentically for you, whilst embracing different characteristics in different situations

March 30, 2020

We all tend to have a preferred or “natural style” of leadership.

Leading in a way that feels right and natural to you, is both easier for you, and more consistent and authentic for others. Whatever your style, people will engage with and trust you more, if they know that you are genuine.

At times though you may need to adapt your style, or embrace aspects of other styles for a specific purpose. Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, for example, found that he was too laid back for his teams when they were looking for direction and focus. He worked on making the most of his own style, with aspects which met this need from his teams.

There are many theoretical models of leadership to take ideas from, and it can get very confusing.

Kurt Lewin classified leadership styles into autocratic, participative and laissez-faire. Tannenbaum and Schmidt saw leadership as a continuum of styles, ranging from autocratic to freed, but saying that the best style at any time depended upon a variety of factors, such as the leader’s personality and the situation they faced.  Daniel Goleman, who coined the phrase “emotional intelligence”  developed a framework of six different styles built on a leaders ability to emotionally engage with people in different ways – visionary, coaching, democratic, pacesetting, affiliative and commanding.

Here is a useful decision tree exploring the different approaches:

To summarise:

Leading in an inspiring style … when you want to encourage people to work with you in creating a better future, providing energy and direction to move forwards:

  • Transformational … “Imagine if “… opportunity to grow, change, self and organisation
  • Visionary … “Come with me” … a new direction, empathetic, builds confidence
  • Pacesetting … “We can do this” … driven to achieve, is energising but also exhausting

Leading in an nurturing style … when you want to support people to be their best, although not necessarily about thinking about being creative or moving forwards:

  • Servant“Here for you” … secures resources and support, so people can act as see fit
  • Coaching“Try this” … empathy, supports individual needs, but less directive
  • Affiliative“People come first” … empathy, reassures and builds team, but can lack focus

Leading in a more less engaged style … when you want  to let people get on with their work, trusting that they have capabilities and desire to do the task:

  • Laissez-faire“Do what you think” … entrusting people to deliver, giving them space
  • Transactional“You know what to do” … clear tasks, and intervene if not delivered
  • Bureaucratic“Follow the process” … clearly defined steps, good when technical or legal

Leading in a commanding style … when you want to be in charge and make the decisions, often when you believe people don’t have the capabilities to decide:

  • Consultative“Tell me what you think” … you listen to people and then decide yourself
  • Persuasive“This is what, and why” … you decide then seek to persuade them it is correct
  • Autocratic“Do what I tell you” … you are commanding, demotivating but can work in crisis

Knowing when and how to adapt your leadership style to different situations can have a huge impact on how your team will respond.  For example if you are trying to build capabilities within your team you may find that the coaching leadership style works best.  If you have urgent deadlines, then pacesetting. If you need to be highly structured and compliant, the bureaucratic. If you want people to work together to create a better future for all, then transformational.

Ultimately you will need combinations of different styles for different people on different occasions. How you combine these approaches, in a way that works authentically for you, will determine your personal style.