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Find Your Leadership Style
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Shift Your Leadership Style and Be More Effective

Everyone has a personal leadership style that works well. However, no one style will work at all times and with all people; you must know how to adopt elements of other styles when needed to achieve your objectives and lead your team effectively. Sometimes, a situation will require you to get into the trenches with your team and work along side them—something that autocratic leaders would find difficult. Other times, you need to take command and actively steer the team—a situation laissez-faire leaders would not enjoy. 

According to Leadership That Gets Results, a Harvard Business Review study of 3,000 managers by Daniel Goleman, a manager’s leadership style contributes 30% of the company’s bottom-line profitability. The key to successful leadership is the ability to use leadership styles in a way that lets you more effectively meet the challenges of change. Here is a quick summary of the more common styles. Note that some studies and academic disciplines use different terms to characterize these styles. 

Autocratic Leadership

This is a militaristic, command-and-control style. The autocratic leader gives orders for others to follow, usually without question. These leaders keep a strong hand on everything, are extremely confident, and are sure of the course they have set for their organizations. 

It can be hard to motivate your team if this is your style. Younger employees will find this style too confining since they tend to prefer leaders that give them freedom to deliver results without focusing on the process. On the other hand, this style is appropriate when change is sudden and chaotic, or if emergencies arise that require strong leadership. See the Resource Baby Boomers vs. Millennials at Work for more information.

Laissez-faire Leadership

This is the opposite of autocratic leadership. Laissez-faire leaders are hands-off. They allow employees to make decisions, deliver results in their own way, and rarely interact with the team. They expect team members to do their jobs without input; they may provide necessary training and resources or let employees seek out help for themselves.

This style works well with a team of experts or seasoned employees who need little guidance to do their jobs and deliver results and with employees who prefer freedom and flexibility. On the other hand, it is challenging for new employees who need someone to help them learn their jobs and understand their role on the team. It also can be a handicap in situations where decisions need to be made at a higher level of authority. Leaders with this style are often perceived as disinterested, which can affect morale, motivation, and their careers. 

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders focus on developing and uplifting their employees and inspiring them to achieve more for the organization and themselves. They have and communicate a vision and motivate people through their example. These leaders create trust because they act with integrity and authenticity. Unlike laissez-faire leaders, transformational leaders are visible and take an active part in the daily activities of their teams without micromanaging them. 

This style lends itself to the creation of highly motivated, positively productive teams that have personal loyalty to their leader. They create a nurturing environment and opportunities for advancement. Transformational leaders are often change agents, but as with the laissez-faire style, they may have a hard time assuming the more autocratic style when called for or when decisions need to be made quickly and firmly.

Participative Leadership

Participative leaders involve the team in decision-making and create an environment that cultivates ownership, collaboration, and accountability. When teams play an important role in the goal setting process, they are motivated to achieve the needed results. This atmosphere also encourages creativity and thinking outside the box, which leads to innovation and new ways of meeting objectives.

Many employees value this leadership style. It communicates that they are valued and are making a contribution to the success of their organizations. On the other hand, giving employees a voice in decisions and processes takes time. If it is not done correctly, it can result in wrong turns and less efficiency. If participative leaders lose control of the team, it can result in disorganization and lack of focus.  

Situational Leadership

Some experts recommend this style of leadership as being the most flexible. Situational leaders are capable of shifting their styles based on what’s happening in the business and with their teams. For example, if motivation is waning, the situational leader will adopt a more transformational or participative style to encourage greater team involvement. In times of urgency where quick decisions are need, they are able to use a more autocratic style.

Situational leadership can confuse team members, who see inconsistency in the leader’s behavior. Because employees may not know what to expect, they may come to distrust the leader, which can negatively affect morale and motivation.

Regardless of your style, knowing that other styles are available can be empowering and give you greater flexibility as a leader.