the right style for the situation*
From Mahatma Gandhi to
Winston Churchill to Martin Luther King to Rudolph Giuliani, there are
as many leadership styles as there are leaders. Fortunately,
businesspeople and psychologists have developed useful and simple ways
to describe the main styles of leadership, and these can help aspiring
leaders understand which styles they should use.
So, whether you manage a
team at work, captain a sports team, or lead a major corporation, which
approach is best? Consciously, or subconsciously, you'll probably use
some of the leadership styles in this article at some point.
Understanding these styles and their impact can help you develop your
own, personal leadership style and help you become a more effective
With this in mind, there
are many different frameworks that have shaped our current understanding
of leadership, and many of these have their place, just as long as
they're used appropriately. This article looks at some of the most
common frameworks, and then looks at popular styles of leadership.
Researchers have developed
a number of leadership theories over the years. These can be categorized
into four main types:
1. Trait theories What type of person makes a good leader?
Trait theories argue that
leaders share a number of common personality traits and characteristics,
and that leadership emerges from these traits. Early trait theories
promoted the idea that leadership is an innate, instinctive quality that
you either have or don't have. Thankfully, we've moved on from this
approach, and we're learning more about what we can do as individuals to
develop leadership qualities within ourselves and others.
What's more, traits are
external behaviors that emerge from things going on within the leader's
mind and it's these internal beliefs and processes that are
important for effective leadership.
Trait theory does, however,
help us identify some qualities that are helpful when leading others
and, together, these emerge as a generalized leadership style. Examples
include empathy, assertiveness, good decision-making, and likability.
2. Behavioral theories What does a good leader do?
Behavioral theories focus
on how leaders behave. Do they dictate what needs to be done and expect
cooperation? Or do they involve the team in decisions to encourage
acceptance and support?
In the 1930s, Kurt Lewin
developed a leadership framework based on a leader's decision-making
behavior. Lewin argued that there are three types of leaders:
Autocratic leaders make
decisions without consulting their teams. This is considered
appropriate when decisions genuinely need to be taken quickly, when
there's no need for input, and when team agreement isn't necessary
for a successful outcome.
Democratic leaders allow the
team to provide input before making a decision, although the degree
of input can vary from leader to leader. This type of style is
important when team agreement matters, but it can be quite difficult
to manage when there are lots of different perspectives and ideas.
Laissez-faire leaders don't
interfere; they allow the team to make many of the decisions.
Typically this happens when the team is highly capable and
motivated, and it doesn't need close monitoring or supervision.
Similar to Lewin's model,
the Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid
helps you decide how best to lead, depending on your concern for people
versus your concern for production. The model describes five different
leadership styles: impoverished, country club, team leader, produce or
perish, or middle of the road. The descriptions of these will help you
understand your own leadership habits and adapt them to meet your team's
John Adair's Action-Centered Leadership model is another framework that's
consistent with behavioral theories of leadership. Using this model, the
"best" leadership style is determined by balancing task, team,
and individual responsibilities. Leaders who spend time managing each of
these elements will likely be more successful than those who focus
mostly on only one element.
Clearly, then, how leaders
behave impacts on their effectiveness. Researchers have realized,
though, that many of these leadership behaviors are appropriate at
different times. So, the best leaders are those who can use many
different behavioral styles and use the right style for each situation.
3. Contingency theories How does the situation influence good
The realization that there
isn't one correct type of leader led to theories that the best
leadership style is contingent on, or depends on, the situation. These
theories try to predict which leadership style is best in which
When a decision is needed
fast, which style is preferred? When the leader needs the full support
of the team, is there a better way to lead? Should a leader be more
people oriented or task oriented? These are all examples of questions
that contingency leadership theories try to address.
A popular contingency-based
framework is the Hersey-Blanchard
Situational Leadership Theory, which links leadership style with the
maturity of individual members of the leader's team.
4. Power and influence
theories What is the source of the leader's power?
These theories of
leadership take an entirely different approach. They're based on the
different ways in which leaders use power and influence to get things
done, and the leadership styles that emerge as a result. Perhaps the
most well known of these theories is French and Ravens Five Forms of
Power. This model distinguishes between using your position to exert
power and using your personal attributes to be powerful.
French and Raven identified
three types of positional power legitimate, reward, and coercive
and two sources of personal power expert and referent (your personal
appeal and charm). The model suggests that using personal power is the
better alternative and, because expert
power (the power that comes with being a real expert in the job) is
the most legitimate of these, that you should actively work on building
this. Similarly, leading by example is another highly effective way to establish and
sustain a positive influence with your team.
Another valid leadership
style that's supported by power and influence theories is Transactional
Leadership. This approach assumes that work is done only because it is
rewarded, and for no other reason, and it therefore focuses on designing
tasks and reward structures. While it may not be the most appealing
leadership strategy in terms of building relationships and developing a
long-term motivating work environment, it does work, and it's used in
most organizations on a daily basis to get things done.
Up-to-Date Understanding of Leadership
Within all of these
theories, frameworks, and approaches to leadership, there's an
underlying message that leaders need to have a variety of factors
working in their favor. Effective leadership is not simply based on a
set of attributes, behaviors, or influences. You must have a wide range
of abilities and approaches that you can draw upon.
Having said this, however,
there's one leadership style that is appropriate in very many corporate
situations that of Transformational
Leadership. A leader
using this style:
Sets clear goals.
Clearly communicates a vision.
Sets a good example.
Expects the best from the team.
Recognizes good work and people.
Provides stimulating work.
Helps people see beyond their self-interests
and focus more on team interests and needs.
In short, transformational
leaders are exceptionally motivating and they're trusted. When your team
trusts you, and is really "fired up" by the way you lead, you
can achieve great things!
Having said that
Transformational Leadership suits very many circumstances in business,
we need to remember that there may be situations where it's not the best
style. This is why it's worth knowing about the other styles shown below
so that you have a greater chance of finding the right combination for
the situation you find yourself in.
Leadership Styles A Glossary
The leadership theories and
styles discussed so far are based on research. However, many more terms
are used to describe approaches to leadership, even if these don't fit
within a particular theoretical system. It's worth understanding these!
1. Autocratic leadership
Autocratic leadership is an
extreme form of transactional leadership, where leaders have absolute
power over their workers or team. Staff and team members have little
opportunity to make suggestions, even if these would be in the team's or
the organization's best interest.
Most people tend to resent
being treated like this. Therefore, autocratic leadership usually leads
to high levels of absenteeism and staff turnover. For some routine and
unskilled jobs, the style can remain effective because the advantages of
control may outweigh the disadvantages.
2. Bureaucratic leadership
Bureaucratic leaders work
"by the book." They follow rules rigorously, and ensure that
their staff follows procedures precisely. This is a very appropriate
style for work involving serious safety risks (such as working with
machinery, with toxic substances, or at dangerous heights) or where
large sums of money are involved (such as handling cash).
3. Charismatic leadership
A charismatic leadership
style can seem similar to transformational leadership, because these
leaders inspire lots of enthusiasm in their teams and are very energetic
in driving others forward. However, charismatic leaders can tend to
believe more in themselves than in their teams, and this creates a risk
that a project, or even an entire organization, might collapse if the
leader leaves. In the eyes of the followers, success is directly
connected to the presence of the charismatic leader. As such,
charismatic leadership carries great responsibility, and it needs a
long-term commitment from the leader.
Democratic leadership or participative leadership
Although democratic leaders
make the final decisions, they invite other members of the team to
contribute to the decision-making process. This not only increases job
satisfaction by involving team members, but it also helps to develop
people's skills. Team members feel in control of their own destiny, so
they're motivated to work hard by more than just a financial reward.
Because participation takes
time, this approach can take more time, but often the end result is
better. The approach can be most suitable when working as a team is
essential, and when quality is more important than speed to market or
5. Laissez-faire leadership
This French phrase means
"leave it be," and it's used to describe leaders who leave
their team members to work on their own. It can be effective if the
leader monitors what's being achieved and communicates this back to the
team regularly. Most often, laissez-faire leadership is effective when
individual team members are very experienced and skilled self-starters.
Unfortunately, this type of leadership can also occur when managers
don't apply sufficient control.
leadership or relations-oriented leadership
This is the opposite of
task-oriented leadership. With people-oriented leadership, leaders are
totally focused on organizing, supporting, and developing the people in
their teams. It's a participative style, and it tends to encourage good
teamwork and creative collaboration.
In practice, most leaders
use both task-oriented and people-oriented styles of leadership.
7. Servant leadership
This term, created by
Robert Greenleaf in the 1970s, describes a leader who is often not
formally recognized as such. When someone, at any level within an
organization, leads simply by meeting the needs of the team, he or she
is described as a "servant leader."
In many ways, servant
leadership is a form of democratic leadership, because the whole team
tends to be involved in decision making.
Supporters of the servant
leadership model suggest that it's an important way to move ahead in a
world where values are increasingly important, and where servant leaders
achieve power on the basis of their values and ideals. Others believe
that in competitive leadership situations, people who practice servant
leadership can find themselves left behind by leaders using other
8. Task-Oriented leadership
leaders focus only on getting the job done, and they can be quite
autocratic. They actively define the work and the roles required, put
structures in place, plan, organize, and monitor. However, because
task-oriented leaders don't tend to think much about the well-being of
their teams, this approach can suffer many of the flaws of autocratic
leadership, with difficulties in motivating and retaining staff.
This style of leadership
starts with the idea that team members agree to obey their leader
totally when they accept a job. The "transaction" is usually
the organization paying the team members in return for their effort and
compliance. The leader has a right to "punish" team members if
their work doesn't meet the pre-determined standard.
Team members can do little
to improve their job satisfaction under transactional leadership. The
leader could give team members some control of their income/reward by
using incentives that encourage even higher standards or greater
productivity. Alternatively, a transactional leader could practice
"management by exception" rather than rewarding better
work, the leader could take corrective action if the required standards
are not met.
Transactional leadership is
really a type of management, not a true leadership style, because the
focus is on short-term tasks. It has serious limitations for
knowledge-based or creative work.
As we discussed earlier,
people with this leadership style are true leaders who inspire their
teams constantly with a shared vision of the future. While this leader's
enthusiasm is often passed onto the team, he or she can need to be
supported by "detail people." That's why, in many
organizations, both transactional and transformational leadership are
needed. The transactional leaders (or managers) ensure that routine work
is done reliably, while the transformational leaders look after
initiatives that add value.
While the transformational
leadership approach is often highly effective, there's no one
"right" way to lead or manage that fits all situations. To
choose the most effective approach for yourself, consider the following:
The skill levels and experience of your team.
The work involved (routine, or new and
The organizational environment (stable or
radically changing, conservative or adventurous).
You own preferred or natural style.
Good leaders often switch
instinctively between styles, according to the people they lead and the
work that needs to be done. Establish trust that's key to this
process and remember to balance the needs of the organization
against the needs of your team.
* Written by
with permission from Mind Tools Ltd, All Rights Reserved: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_84.htm