What is leadership? What kind of leader are you? If these questions are asked to five different people, reframing the question for varying circumstances, you’ll likely get different answers each time.
As any experienced HR executive knows, leadership comes in many flavors. Effective leaders know when and how to change their leadership style to match the situation.
At first, adopting a new leadership style can be challenging. But a careful study of the leadership styles and their application along with and an open, self-reflective mindset will set you up for success.
Ten Leadership Styles
An article published on Indeed describes ten common leadership styles:
Leading with a coaching style involves supporting and motivating others. Coach leaders understand the strengths and weaknesses of those they lead. They set clear expectations in a positive, stimulating environment.
Visionary leadership is inspirational, charismatic, and bold. Visionary leaders are optimistic and progress-driven, uniting their team around an issue or a cause.
A servant-leader focuses on his or her team. A people-first mindset ensures team members feel personally and professionally fulfilled. This style of leadership boosts morale among the ranks, motivating respect, collaboration, and engagement with the work at hand.
Autocratic leadership is the most common style used in the United States. Sometimes characterized as “authoritarian,” an autocratic leader makes decisions within a closed group. These decisions are considered non-negotiable by team members. An autocratic leader exudes confidence and maintains a highly structured work environment.
As the mirror image of an autocratic leader, the essence of laissez-faire leadership is ‘hands-off.’ Leading in this style focuses on delegation, typically to an experienced and well-trained team requiring minimal supervision.
Where laissez-faire is the opposite of autocratic, democratic is a combination of both. Sometimes called “participatory,” this brand of leadership elicits input and feedback. While team members feel they have a voice in the decision-making process, decisions are ultimately left to the leader and accepted by all. Democratic leadership often stimulates creativity and innovation.
Pushing teams to perform at high standards in a fast-paced environment are hallmarks of this leadership style. Pacesetting leaders keep their teams energized and motivated. However, it can also create stress and doesn’t leave much room for mentorship or feedback.
Transformational leadership is similar to coaching, with a twist. Open communication, clearly defined goals, and team motivation are important. However, instead of focusing on the well-being of individual team members, attention is always on the big picture. A transformational leader centers teamwork around reaching organizational objectives.
Similar to the pacesetter, a transactional leader promotes execution, incentivizing performance positively through reward (often monetary) and negatively through discipline. This leadership style diverges from the Pacesetter, however, by also focusing on training and mentorship. Transactional leaders are good at driving a team to hit goals. However, the transactional style isn’t a good fit for fostering creativity.
Adherence to written rules and procedures are characteristic of bureaucratic leadership. Similar to an autocratic style, there is an expectation of respect for a well-defined hierarchical organizational structure. Team members have set responsibilities and expectations they must follow within a rigid structure. The bureaucratic style isn’t suited for brainstorming or creativity but works well in tightly regulated situations like finance, healthcare, or government.
What Kind of Leader Are You?
With some common leadership styles defined, let’s get back to the question, what kind of leader are you? The answer, as we’ve suggested, is that it depends.
Our training, experience, and personality inform our natural tendencies toward one leadership style over another. Nonetheless, the best leaders understand that different circumstances require different approaches to leadership.
Writing in Forbes, leadership coach Jeff Boss argues that throughout life, a career, and varying circumstances, leaders must adapt their style to match the situation.
Boss offers a “DACA” framework for how to change your leadership style:
- Detect: “The first step to any sort of change is to identify the imperative to change,” writes Boss. For leaders, this means understanding that new circumstances prescribe unknowns. It is around these unknowns that necessitates change. “Calibrate the most effective way to deliver results,” Boss says. “Take the time to let every situation unravel to better understand the situational dynamics.”
- Adapt: Detection provides “the mental space that allows you to adjust based on new information or perspectives.” The key is maintaining a flexible mindset willing to set aside assumptions based on past “functional expertise,” says Boss. The task is to “improvise based on the intent of the situation and the best fit for its purpose.”
- Choose: You detect a need for change. You’ve opened your mind to gaps in your assumptions and the requirements of the new situation. Now it’s time to choose which leadership style is best suited for achieving the intended results. As before, this is a thoughtful process: What is the objective? Is my vision of that objective the same as other stakeholders? If not, why not? How does my leadership style impact those stakeholders? These are the question to ask when choosing your leadership style.
- Adopt: Boss brings to mind Nike’s popular slogan: just do it. Adopting a new leadership style is a learning process. Using the DACA process helps you “slow down your thought process,” says Boss. This allows the time and mental space to settle into new circumstances.
Leadership styles are like tools in a toolbox. Each one is excellent at accomplishing the task for which it is intended. But try to drive a nail with a screwdriver, and it is quickly evident that no one tool is right for every situation.
So it is with leadership styles. The essence of leadership is knowing which tool to use and when to use it. And once you’ve learned a implemented a new leadership style, you’ll have one more tool in your leadership toolbox.