I remember getting my very first leadership opportunity. I was thrilled because this is what I’d been working towards for many years and boy oh boy did I suck! I thought I understood all I needed to know because, after all, I’d read all the books and gave an awesome interview so why was I floundering so badly? I couldn’t understand why my team wasn’t jumping on board and hanging onto my every word. It was at this point that I was firmly pressed up against reality and I quickly realised that I didn’t have the skills that I thought I had. My boss, who seemed quite successful in building a team, told me that the team had to want to follow me and that no title was going to give me that. That’s where his advice ended, not because he was short on giving advice, but because he didn’t understand what made him a good leader and he, through no fault of his own, lacked the skills to grow leaders under him. It was like being thrown into a pool to learn to swim but no one was there to teach me. Looking back it was largely this experience that led me on the journey to discover what makes great leaders. I was no longer satisfied with the theory alone, I wanted to the tools to grow a team and to be able to lead them to be high performers.
As you’ve often heard me say in the past, the first step is awareness of yourself and, in this instance, awareness of your default leadership style. We all have a default and with every style there are positives and negatives in how they are used and there are also specific times when each style should be ‘consciously’ drawn upon. More on this later but for now, let’s look at the different core leadership styles.
Debate is common about which leadership style is most effective. The answer, of course, …it all depends. ~ Thomas Kohntopp
Visionary Leadership Style
The Visionary Leader moves people towards a shared dream/vision. This style is particularly effective when a business is adrift—it comes naturally to transformational leaders, those who seek to radically change an organisation. Of all the leadership styles, this style appears to be the most strongly positive. Examples of Visionary Leaders include Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and Barrack Obama. The key personality traits of these leaders are empathy, self-confidence, and honesty/integrity and they act as a change agent and are big on transparency.
A note of caution: This style can fail when the leader is working with a team of experts or peers who are more experienced than he/she and may be viewed as someone with a grand vision or someone who is misaligned with the existing agenda. It can cause cynicism which can lead to poor performance. The leader can come across as overbearing and can undermine the spirit of the team.
Coaching Leadership Style
The Coaching Leader connects what a person wants with the organisation’s goals. This is a highly positive leadership style. The focus is less so on the “bottom-line” but tends to promote loyalty and a strong culture which, in an indirect way, leads to “bottom-line” results. The personality traits of this style of leader are emotional self-awareness, empathy, rapport building, and listening. When done well, coaching improves the team member’s capabilities, self-confidence, autonomy, and performance. This style is the most lacking in leaders. Having a deep conversation with a team member goes beyond the immediate short-term concerns and instead explores a person’s life, including dreams, life goals, and career hopes…this takes time and effort.
A note of caution: When executed poorly the coaching approach can look more like micromanaging or excessive control of the team member. This can impact on the team member’s self-confidence and be detrimental to performance.
Affiliative Leadership Style
The Affiliative Leader creates harmony by connecting people to each other. This leadership style has a positive impact on the environment. It heightens team harmony, increases morale, improves communication and repairs broken trust in an organisation. This leadership style tends to value people and their feelings—putting less emphasis on accomplishing tasks and goals, and more on team member’s emotional needs. They strive to keep people happy, to create harmony and to build team resonance. But, it should not be used alone. When coupled with the Visionary Leadership Style it can be a highly potent combination. This style is best used to heal rifts in a team, motivate during stressful times, or strengthen connections.
A note of caution: When using this style alone poor performance can go uncorrected and lead to a culture of mediocrity.
Democratic Leadership Style
The Democratic Leader values people’s input and gets commitment through participation. It has a positive impact on the environment and keeps morale high by spending time one-on-one and in meetings listening to the concerns of team members. The democratic approach works best when the leader is uncertain about what direction to take and needs ideas from able employees. Even if there is a strong vision, this style works well to surface ideas about how to implement that vision or to generate fresh ideas for executing it. Please Note: In order for this to be effective, team members have to be well-informed and competent. This approach should not be used in times of crisis and when urgent events demand on-the-spot decisions.
A note of caution: Over reliance on this style can be exasperating leading to endless meetings to gain consensus, delayed decision making, confusion and lack of direction leading to delays and escalating conflicts.
The next couple of leadership styles, although they have their place, need to be used sparingly and because of the incorrect use of these, they are deemed highly negative…I’m speaking from experience here!
Pace Setting Leadership Style
The Pace Setting Leader meets challenging and exiting goals. Because this style is frequently poorly executed, it has a highly negative impact on the environment. When used excessively or in the wrong setting, team members can feel pushed too hard, morale drops and the result is discord. This style works well with a team of highly competent , motivated individuals who need little direction and it makes sense during the entrepreneurial/growth phase of a company. It can also be effective for short deadlines but continued high pressure can lead to increased anxiety and a drop in performance.
This approach is synonymous with the leader needing to dive into the detail, reluctant to delegate and taking over from others who are not performing (rather trusting they could improve with guidance). The continued high pressure can constrict innovative thinking.
The underlying foundational characteristics of this style include the drive to achieve, a high initiative to seize opportunities, striving to increase their own performance and those of their team. Leaders who default to this style are motivated, not by external rewards, but by a strong need to meet their own high standards of excellence. Use with caution!
Commanding Leadership Style
The Commanding Leadership Style soothes fears by giving clear direction in an emergency. This is the least effective style in most situations. This style contaminates the teams mood and impacts performance, feedback tends to focus on what people did wrong. It is useful, however, in a crisis, to kick-start a turnaround, or with problem employees (when all else fails). The Commanding Leadership Style undermines the ability to give people the sense that their job fits into a grand, shared mission. This leads to people feeling less committed (even alienated) from their jobs and thinking, “Why does any of this matter?”
It comes from the old military command and control hierarchies used in the twentieth century…interestingly enough, this style is now even cross-pollinated with other styles in the modern military. Again, use with caution!
As you can see, each style has it’s uses and can be effective when applied at the right times. Each style also has it’s drawbacks and it’s useful to be aware of these too. Earlier I mentioned that ‘each style should be consciously drawn on’ and by this I mean that in order to be an effective leader you have to rely more on a range of leadership styles and apply them intelligently rather than just having your default style. If I was to ask a project manager why they included a section on Risk Management in their project management plan I expect them to be able to tell me. In the same manner, if I was to ask you why you choose to behave one way under certain conditions and another under other conditions I would expect you to be able to articulate the leadership style you are consciously applying and why. Don’t leave your leadership development to chance. Consciously take control of it and become the best leader you can be!
I wish I knew about the importance of flexing my leadership style back then, it would’ve made a world of a difference.
If you’d like to know more about the range of skills a leader must have, or if you’d like to explore how coaching can help you lead your team more effectively, or even if you’re just generally curious about what professional coaching can offer you, please contact us at any time for a free consultation.