Most of us probably have an example of a strong leader in mind — one we want to follow in life. At the same time, some prefer cautious and diplomatic leaders, while others like dominant and charismatic ones. Despite all the differences, true leaders have a key common feature, the ability to inspire others with their ideas and lead the way.
But have you ever wondered what makes these people so influential and what unique traits give them power over others? Let’s find out! We’ll explore the characteristics of different leadership styles, and share tips on how to find your own leadership style and develop efficient leadership skills.
What is a leadership style?
Leadership style is a behavioral pattern used by leaders for interacting with their team. In other words, it is about the methods of influence that help manage other people and motivate them. Leadership style determines how leaders build relationships with their team, as well as how this contributes to effective work and the benefit of an organization or community as a whole.
A leadership style is formed based on a person’s personality traits and life experiences. In other words, it is usually a completely natural process, in which a leader uses their strongest qualities to influence others and achieve common goals.
Why it is important to have a leadership style
First of all, a leadership style allows you to find out which skills are your strengths and which require additional attention and development. In addition, understanding your leadership style makes it possible to assess the impact you have on your subordinates, as well as strengthen your relationships with them.
Analyzing your leadership style can provide insights into ways to improve both your own performance and the effectiveness of an entire team. It is also a good way to find ideas to improve communication and cooperation within a team and increase the involvement of your employees.
At the same time, it is important to understand that each leader’s style is unique, just like the person themselves. This means you can combine several styles in your work. Moreover, a leadership role often requires using different approaches. For example, a democratic leader can behave authoritatively in unforeseen situations, and this will be the right decision. Using different leadership styles allows you to experiment and stay flexible, which is very important in managing people.
The most common leadership styles
There are many leadership styles and each of them has its own characteristics, pros, and cons. Yet, not one of them is better than the other. It all depends on the specific area and team. For example, in the military sector, there are many leaders with an authoritarian style that requires a clear execution of tasks, while in the creative field, a democratic or laissez-faire leadership style is more common. We’ll explore the most common styles to help you understand their specifics and find your own leadership style.
1. Authoritarian Leadership
With this style, the leader relies on their own power. An authoritarian leader is the sole decision-maker, requiring subordinates to follow their will and fulfill all tasks without discussion. A leader like this rarely takes the opinions of team members into account. Instead, they seek to control everything, restraining the freedom of action and initiative of employees. At the same time, the authoritarian style can significantly reduce the time needed for the decision-making process, making it an effective approach in times of crisis that require decisive and urgent actions.
Pros: clear task setting, faster decision-making, high performance
Cons: suppressing initiative of employees, excessive control, no flexibility
Examples: Elon Musk, Larry Ellison (Oracle)
2. Democratic Leadership
Democratic leadership is the direct opposite of the authoritarian style. A leader guided by democratic leadership principles gives their team a lot of freedom and decision-making authority, encourages initiative, and promotes social equality. Important decisions are usually made after a joint discussion where opinions are taken into account. In other words, the leader shares power with his or her subordinates. A democratic leader also strives to ensure that their subordinates can perform most tasks without their approval or assistance.
Pros: high team engagement, encourages innovation and creativity
Cons: more time spent on decision-making, more cost-intensive approach
Examples: Richard Branson, Tim Cook (Apple)
3. Laissez-Faire Leadership
A leader with a laissez-faire style demonstrates an even higher level of trust and fosters a culture of extensive delegation of authority to their team. Employees enjoy almost complete autonomy in their work and decision-making. The leader only gives general instructions and occasionally checks the quality of tasks. That is why this approach is also called non-intervention leadership. It promotes the freedom to innovate and be creative. At the same time, due to this style’s focus on autonomy, there is a risk that team members will not work as a whole team, but rather on their own, which does not help achieve common goals.
Pros: high level of employee autonomy, suitable for creators, promotes personal development
Cons: lack of clear workflow arrangement, reduced responsibility, risk of low performance
Examples: Warren Buffett, Paul Allen (Microsoft)
4. Transformational Leadership
With this style, the leader has a strong influence on their employees and motivates them to achieve extraordinary results. To do this, the leader identifies the strengths and weaknesses of their team members and sets tasks that will allow the team to demonstrate and develop their abilities in the best way. Transformational Leadership style consists of 4 components:
- idealized influence, When the leader is a role model;
- inspirational motivation, when a leader inspires followers with their vision and instills confidence in them;
- individual consideration means that the leader works with each employee individually to solve problems and improve self-realization;
- intellectual stimulation implies that the leader encourages creativity and innovation among their employees.
At the same time, the encouragement for continuous development and achievement inherent in the transformational style can increase the risk of burnout for employees.
Pros: team motivation, development of employees, personal approach
Cons: high involvement of the leader, the need for constant communication, the risk of burnout for employees
Examples: Jeff Bezos, Reed Hastings (Netflix)
5. Transactional Leadership
The transactional leadership style is based on a “rewards and punishments” system to achieve a desired level of employee performance. Transactional leaders are focused on following the organizational hierarchy. They have clear criteria for success and failure, and use them to evaluate team performance. If employees achieve goals set by the organization, they get rewarded; otherwise, they are held responsible. The transactional leadership style is often found in large companies where it is important to measure performance.
Pros: clear goals, high performance and efficiency, easily measurable progress
Cons: low team spirit, lack of creativity and motivation
Examples: Bill Gates, Howard Schultz (Starbucks)
6. Servant Leadership
In a servant leadership style, the leader’s role is to serve people. In other words, the main focus here is placed on the needs of the team. This is a fundamental difference compared to transactional style and traditional leadership, where the key focus is placed on the company’s success. The servant leader shares power, puts the interests of employees first, and helps them develop.
Pros: high level of motivation, positive organizational culture, continuous development
Cons: lack of flexibility, long decision-making process, not suitable for crisis situations
Examples: Fred Smith (FedEx), Susan Wojcicki (YouTube)
7. Bureaucratic Leadership
The main characteristic of the bureaucratic style is strict adherence to the rules. The role of such leaders is to ensure that team members follow these rules. However, unlike authoritarian leaders, bureaucratic leaders can listen to the opinions of their employees and take them into account when making decisions. This style of leadership is most often found in large companies with a long history and a well-established management system. They are characterized by a hierarchical authority system and the bureaucratization of work processes.
Pros: clear division of roles and tasks, predictability, suitable for routine work
Cons: resistance to innovation and bold decisions, lack of flexibility, not suitable for young and developing brands
Examples: Winston Churchill, Steve Easterbrook (McDonald’s)
Factors that influence leadership styles
1. Cultural Experiences
As the business world becomes more multicultural, it is important to understand how culture affects leadership style. This is because a leader’s role can vary greatly depending on the country. Cultural experiences largely determine the workflow, communication methods, and expectations of a team. Managing a team with members in different regions requires a much broader set of skills. Accordingly, effective intercultural leadership requires an understanding of cultural values and norms.
Western leadership model encourages individualism and personal achievement. Western leaders use competition as the main motivation method and reward their employees for success. The most common leadership styles in the American market are democratic, transformational, authoritarian, and servant leadership.
Leadership in Eastern culture is focused on teamwork and cooperation. The Asian model of work management values diligent performance and team spirit. And, in general, the role of a team is much higher than the role of an individual. That’s why authoritarian, bureaucratic, and transactional styles are more inherent to Eastern countries.
The Eastern tradition prioritizes respect for authority, while the Western world values a democratic approach and equality. And these are not all the differences. To successfully manage a multicultural team, the leader must understand them to customize their communication style.
2. Characteristics of followers
The personal traits and values of followers also have a strong influence on the leader. Moreover, followers also have their own followership styles. Professor Robert Kelly introduced a classification based on their behavior and personal characteristics. The main criteria are the ability to think critically and the level of engagement. Depending on how these criteria are expressed, five styles of followership are distinguished:
- Passive followers (“sheep”) — employees with low engagement who always wait for directions and tasks from the leader.
- Conformist followers are more active than “sheep,” but they do not use critical thinking and agree with the leader in everything. They are also called “yes-people”.
- Alienated followers, on the contrary, are often skeptical. They are highly independent critical thinkers that have their own ideas, but lack engagement and initiative.
- Effective followers can think independently and actively participate in work. They are goal-oriented people, high in engagement.
- Pragmatist followers can demonstrate the qualities of the other four followership styles depending on the situation. They choose the most profitable and least risky behavior pattern for themselves.
Kelley’s Followership Model emphasizes the importance of followers. In his opinion, the same qualities make both leaders and followers effective, including the ability to self-organize, rely on their competence, and be result-oriented.
3. Situational factors
We have already mentioned that leadership style can highly depend on the situation. Approaches that work well in some environments may not be appropriate in others. To achieve high performance, a leader must take all situational factors into account. The most common include:
- company size and structure;
- stage of business growth;
- company culture;
- psychological climate in the team;
- employment models;
- business area;
- company goals;
- interaction between the leader and followers.
By understanding these factors, a leader can adapt their style to meet the needs of their team and achieve the goals set.
How to choose an effective leadership style
Leadership style mainly depends on one’s personal traits and experience. At the same time, you can develop the qualities inherent to other styles to maintain flexibility in today’s changing market environment. Moreover, there is a separate approach to this called contextual leadership. A contextual leader constantly improves awareness and the anticipation skills needed to detect changes that may affect their organization (both positively and negatively). Here are several tips to help you define and develop your leadership style:
1. Develop an understanding of your leadership traits
Every leader has their own unique traits, strengths, and weaknesses. To stay effective, it is important to clearly understand who you are, and what you can and cannot do. Perhaps it is important for you to control all processes or, on the contrary, you want your employees to be as autonomous as possible and cope with their tasks without your involvement? And what about decisions: do you make them alone or do you take the opinions of all team members into account? Try to answer these questions honestly. If you find it difficult to evaluate yourself, you can always ask your manager or employees for feedback, for example, by organizing an anonymous survey.
2. Analyze the traits of your team members
Earlier, we mentioned that the characteristics of followers strongly influence leadership style. Different combinations of critical thinking and engagement levels in your employees require very different approaches. Some need clear guidelines and control, while others need freedom and a leader’s trust. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your team members, their experience, and their skills enables you to determine the right communication approaches. By realizing what kind of motivation each of your subordinates needs, you can find out what they expect from you as a leader.
3. Consider business specifics and possible challenges
Leadership style should be adapted to business specifics and business goals. Obviously, a bureaucratic style is not suitable for a young startup, while laissez-faire leadership is unlikely to take root in the result-oriented corporate world. It is also important to consider the overall market situation. The authoritarian-specific ability to make quick decisions and take full responsibility can be very useful in times of crisis, while in times of stability, you can rely more on the self-organization and initiative of your employees.
4. Try different styles
Hardly any leader can be attributed to one particular style. A good example is Bill Gates, who, depending on the situation, can exhibit the traits of a transactional, transformational, or even authoritarian leader. This is the embodiment of the above-mentioned contextual leadership, which is based on adaptability to the current market environment. Be inspired by the best and try to use different leadership styles in different situations. This is a great way to develop additional skills and reach a new level of efficiency.
5. Develop emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage one’s thoughts, emotions, behavior, and motivation, as well as the ability to influence the emotional state of others, read their needs, and help them develop. Emotional intelligence is an indicative criterion for assessing the effectiveness of a leadership style. Moreover, there is a popular belief today that IQ, technical, and communication skills do not matter if a leader lacks emotional intelligence. The best way to develop it is to practice mindfulness and self-awareness.
6. Use an authentic style
If you find it difficult to define your own leadership style, remember that the best approach is to be yourself. Authentic leadership implies that a leader’s actions are a logical extension of their personality. The main characteristics of such a leader include:
- honesty, genuineness, and strong ethical qualities;
- commitment to continuous self-improvement;
- focus on the mission and needs of the organization;
- focus on long-term results;
- developed emotional intelligence and empathy.
Authentic leadership is a perfect option for gaining the loyalty of employees and building strong relationships with them, which will lead to better performance.
To wrap up
It’s not easy to be a leader, especially nowadays, when new challenges are constantly emerging. To cope with them, it is important to understand your own leadership style with all its strengths and weaknesses, and to use approaches from other styles when the situation requires it. A focus on continuous growth; a better understanding of yourself, your employees, and your business; as well as improving skills such as emotional intelligence is a strategy that will allow you to develop as a leader, and lead your team to new achievements.
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