We are generally prone to get comfortable in using one leadership style for most situations. While it’s important to recognize which style we feel more comfortable with, that particular style may not serve us well all the time. What’s important to understand is that our style may not be effective at that given time, or for the situation we are facing.
When people ask me which leadership style is best, I tell them “It depends.” It depends on the situation and the people you are leading. It depends on the degree of control you feel you need to have over the people you’re leading. It depends on how much independence and freedom your team is prepared to handle. It depends on how much trust you have in the people you lead.
We typically have a way of leading that becomes our natural style, or one we prefer or gravitate to in a crisis. What’s important is to become familiar with different leadership styles and apply the one that works at a given time, in a given situation, for a specific team, or for specific persons.
Leadership, like leaders, comes in many different styles. A landmark 2000 Harvard Business Review study conducted by Daniel Goleman uncovered six specific leadership behaviors. It also determined their effect on the corporate culture and each style’s effect on bottom-line profitability.
In summary, below are the six leadership styles Coleman uncovered during the three-year study with over 3000 middle-level managers.
- The coercive leader demands immediate compliance. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Do what I tell you.” The coercive style is most effective in times of crisis. This style can also help control a problem teammate when everything else has failed. However, it should be avoided in almost every other case because it can alienate people and stifle flexibility and inventiveness. This style is the least effective.
- The authoritative leader mobilizes the team toward a common vision and focuses on end goals, leaving the means up to each individual. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Come with me.” The authoritative style works best when the team needs a new vision or explicit guidance is not required. This style is the most effective.
- The affiliative leader works to create emotional bonds that bring a feeling of belonging to the organization. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “People come first.” The affiliative style works best in times of stress, when teammates need to heal from a trauma, or need to rebuild trust. This style should not be used exclusively because a sole reliance on praise and nurturing can foster mediocre performance and a lack of direction.
- The democratic leader builds consensus through participation. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “What do you think?” The democratic style is most effective when the leader needs the team to buy into or have ownership of a decision, plan, or goal, or is uncertain and needs fresh ideas from qualified teammates. It is not the best choice in an emergency situation or when teammates are not informed enough to offer sufficient guidance to the leader.
- The coaching leader develops people for the future. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Try this.” The coaching style works best when the leader wants to help teammates build lasting personal strengths that make them more successful overall. It is least effective when teammates are defiant and unwilling to change or learn.
- The pacesetting leader expects and models excellence and self-direction. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Do as I do, now.” The pacesetting style works best when the team is already motivated and skilled, and the leader needs quick results. This style should be used sparingly.
While executives may use the six leadership styles, only four of the six consistently have a positive effect on positivity and the productivity of the team. These two measurements are similar to The Team Diagnostic™ competencies measured in our team-coaching program. How a team produces and how a team gets along are key to having high performing teams. Some teams produce well but don’t get along; others get along but don’t produce.
If you master four or more of these leadership approaches– especially the authoritative, democratic, affiliative, and coaching styles – you’ll have the best climate and business performance.
The most effective leaders match their style to fit the situation.