Last Word: Defining Leadership Styles, Part 1

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Have you ever wondered why some leaders are more successful than others?  How can some leaders maximize their organization’s performance better than others?  Why are some leaders more trusted or have better relationships with their staff?  The answers may lie in their leadership style.

A leadership style refers to a leader’s methods and behaviors when directing, motivating, and managing others.  Knowing your style is important as it will determine how you affect those around you and how effective you will be.  It is important to note, though, that there is not one perfect style.  Most good leaders have a fundamental style or approach but know how to change it, and what to change it to, depending upon the situation they are in. 

There are 10 different leadership styles.  Each is defined by characteristic behaviors.  The 10 styles or types are Autocratic, Laissez-Faire, Democratic, Strategic or Visionary, Transformational, Transactional, Coaching, Bureaucratic, Servant, and Pacesetter.  This month we’ll focus on the first five.  

An Autocratic leader is one who makes decisions without any input from anyone else.  Employees are expected to follow the decision regardless of what it is, what the deliverables are or what the timeline is.  Autocratic leadership can be useful in organizations with strict operating guidelines or in a heavily regulated or compliance-focused field.  It may also prove useful with employees with little or no experience but it may also lead to a stifling of creativity.  Autocratic leaders are self-confident, self-motivated, follow the rules and value highly structured environments.  

The opposite of autocratic is Laissez-Faire leadership, where the leader focuses on delegating many tasks to team members while providing little or no supervision.  It can be effective in organizations where there is a very knowledgeable workforce that requires very little oversight, but it can lead to productivity losses if employees need motivation, boundaries set, or aren’t clear on the expectations.  Laissez-faire leaders effectively delegate, promote an autonomous workplace, and foster leadership qualities in their team while providing the resources and tools their staff needs to handle the delegated tasks.  One characteristic of the laissez-faire leader is they often work on ‘special’ projects as their team is focusing on the immediate tasks. 

Democratic leadership sees the leader making the final decision but the decision follows input from all of the employees.  It is effective as it allows everyone, including lower-level employees, to have input into what the organization does. It supports employee development, engagement, and promotes workplace satisfaction.  Democratic leadership drives discussion and participation, making it an excellent style for organizations focused on creativity and innovation.  Democratic leaders are flexible, value the group’s input and are good at mediating and negotiating.

Strategic/Visionary leaders have the ability to focus simultaneously on current operations and long-term growth opportunities.  This style allows the leader to support multiple types of employees while both driving progress and ushering change.  Leaders of this type tend to inspire employees while earning trust for championing new ideas.  Strategic/visionary leaders establish a strong organizational bond.  They strive to foster confidence among both direct reports and colleagues.  This type of leadership is especially valuable in small, fast-growing companies or those undergoing a restructuring.  

A Transformational leader is always focused on improving the company’s direction and focus and is constantly pushing employees outside of their comfort zone.  Employee coaching is critical for a transformational leader as the focus is continually challenging employees to maximize their abilities.  It is very effective in growth-minded organizations as it motivates employees by giving them opportunities to reach their potential.  The transformational style is similar to the coaching style in that it focuses on clear communication, goal-setting and employee motivation.  The difference, though, is that the transformational leader is driven by a commitment to the organizational objectives.  As transformational leaders spend much of their time on overarching goals, the style works best with teams that can handle many delegated tasks with limited supervision.  

Just assessing these five, we can see where there are clear differences and similarities.  To see what fits best for you, try out different approaches based on the situation you find yourself in and pay close attention to the outcomes.  We’ll take a look at the other five next month.

Bob Cody, executive director of Leadership Cape Cod, brings over 25 years of leadership experience in corporate, academic and nonprofit organizations. He is Chief Executive Partner of Innoreate, a business consulting firm, and was a member of the Cape Leadership Institute class of 2012. He serves as a member of the Board of Directors of CLI, Open Cape, Cape Cod Technology Council and the Greater Hyannis Chamber of Commerce, where he is the incoming Board Chair.