Everyone has a favourite leadership style, one that feels most comfortable or most natural for them, or one that they feel helps them get the best results.
I know I did.
I was a lead from the front, all-action, all-go no job too big, no problem too big, leader. I led by example, I set the tone for the team and the organization and that really helped me deliver some great results.
The problem was whilst it delivered some great results it wasn’t a style that worked with everyone, every time. I was a one-trick pony, someone who only had one tool in his leadership tool kit, and as they say, when you only have a hammer everything looks like a nail.
One of the books that really helped me to develop my leadership and take it to the next level Daniel Golemans’ Leadership That Gets Results which talks about the 6 different styles of leadership. This really helped me understand the pros and cons of my chosen style and helped me to refine how I used it. More importantly, it made me realize that the best style of leadership to use is completely dependent on the situation.
I know that there is a lot of dislike for the commanding style of leadership, but when there is a crisis it’s the absolute best style, someone needs to take hold of the reins and make quick decisions and provide immediate direction.
The challenge I see most with this style, is not the style itself, but how people use it and also when they use. To be honest it needs to be used sparingly and for me, I would say I use it less than 1% of the time overall. But when you use it you need to be firm and assertive, not aggressive. You can give clear direction, but you can also give it respectfully. You don’t need to bark commands, you can ask people, and given your position that makes it like a command. No need to waive our power or position in people’s faces.
The democratic style works well with experienced teams, it’s always good to ask for their thoughts their input, it helps to make them feel valued and respected. It’s not a style that means you put everything to the vote, but it does mean you’re inclusive and involve others. You can still make the decisions but it’s done from a range of options.
Coaching is a style that works great with less experienced teams, helping them develop their skills, nurturing them. This is another great way of building connection and trust in the leader, which is the cornerstone of all great leadership. Today I would say I spend about 20-25% of my time coaching, not just one to one sessions, but sharing with people the decision-making process, explaining why I did things and why I did them that way, sharing my leadership skills so that they too can lead better, or be better followers because they understand better the way things work.
Probably the most important style is the affiliate style, putting people first. This is definitely the one that resonates most with people and will help build strong relationships. This is always front of mind for me, how can I do what we are doing in the best way for the team, either from a development opportunity, a benefits opportunity, or ensuring that I have put them into a position where they can be successful. Thinking about work-life balance and making sure I don’t burn out the best resources. It’s not always possible to get it perfect, like now on one project I’m leading to ht the deadline we have had to work 10 weekends in a row, but I do try to compensate by making sure people get time off during the week, or that we don’t hold meetings at unreasonable hours – but again it’s not always possible because of the global nature of the team.
You can build great loyalty by showing people that you care. This was probably the biggest breakthrough in my leadership that allowed me to go on to lead teams of 1000 people, and it was all from mastering the affiliative style.
Visionary leadership is another style that is very situational, and it tends to happen more often than not at the start when setting the goals and looking to get buy-in. But it’s also about creating belief within the team which is an ongoing process. It’s a must-have skill but it can’t be your only skill because we have to deliver on those visions at some point. I would say I spend 5-10% of my overall time leading in this mode.
Lastly Pacesetting, I still resonate with this style, it’s in my nature to push things, to try and improve, to achieve new levels of performance. Setting the tone for the organization, being clear about what we need to do, and following up to make sure we’re on track. This is crucial for getting your engaged and empowered teams to that next level. But as I say it can’t be your only style.
To be a good leader you need to master each style and know when to use them. You will become a great leader when you can blend these styles and switch from one to the other seamlessly.