Choosing the Right Approach for the Situation
There are as many approaches to leadership as there are leaders. The styles include authoritarian, democratic, laissez-faire, servant, transactional, transformational, inspirational, entrepreneurial, utilitarian, directive, administrative, collegial and agile leadership. Building awareness of frameworks and your natural leadership style will help you to develop your approach to being a more effective leader.
Insights with Behavioral Competencies
Defining leadership styles by identifying the unique combination of the behavioral traits provides valuable insight. A behavioral competency consists of three to six of the 85 behavioral traits measured with SuccessFinder. Our Leadership Ladder uses the behavioral competencies of leaders at all levels from the first-time supervisor to the C-Suite executives.
Many people focus on the behaviors of great leaders from Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill, to Martin Luther King and Steve Jobs. There are as many ways to lead people as there are leaders. Our approach is pragmatic. We focus on leaders from top to bottom in your organization. We develop your organization’s leaders by having them lead, not by talking about it.
In the past several decades, management experts have undergone a revolution in how they define leadership and what their attitudes are toward leadership. Organizations have moved away from a preference for a very classical directive or even autocratic approach. Surviving in a changing marketplace requires creative and a participative approach to transform organizations. The experts determined that not everything old was wrong and not everything new was good. Instead, that we need different styles for different situations and the leader needs to know when to exhibit an approach.
It is prudent that we know our dominant leadership style. We revert to our dominate style when stressed unless we develop effective strategies to use a style dictated by the situation. The style that may be effective in some scenarios could be ineffective in another; so, it behooves us all to remain adaptable.
We have developed useful frameworks that describe the primary ways that people lead. When you understand these frameworks, you can build your approach to leadership, and become a more effective leader as a result.
In this article, I highlight some of the conventional approaches to leadership that you can use. We will also examine at some specific styles of leadership. I will explore the advantages and disadvantages of each.
You will be a more effective leader when you develop your approach. It will be a blend of the styles I describe in the article. Depending on your preferences, your people's needs, and the situation you are in.
Study of Leadership
The study of leadership is almost as old as humanity. Only in the past couple of centuries has the review of leadership styles, traits, and behaviors been studied, documented, and theorized.
Lewin's Leadership Styles (1939)
Kurt Lewin identified three different styles of leadership, including Authoritarian, Democratic and Laissez-Faire.
- An autocratic leader makes decisions without consulting their team members, even if their input would be useful. This can be appropriate when you need to make decisions quickly. When there is no need for team input, and when team agreement is not necessary for a successful outcome. This style can be demoralizing. It can lead to high levels of absenteeism and staff turnover.
- A laissez-faire leader gives their team members freedom in how they do their work, and how they set their deadlines. They provide support with resources and advice if needed, but otherwise, they do not get involved. This autonomy can lead to high job satisfaction. It can be damaging if team members do not manage their time well, or if they do not have the knowledge, skills, or self-motivation to do their work effectively. Laissez-faire leadership also occurs when a manager does not have control over their work and their people.
- A democratic leader makes the final decisions. However, they include team members in the decision-making process. They encourage creativity, and people are often highly engaged in projects and decisions. As a result, team members tend to have high job satisfaction and high productivity. This is not always an effective style to use, though, when you need to make a quick decision.
His results indicated that the democratic style is more effective and superior to the other two styles. Today this style is the foundation of “Transforming” or “Transformational” and even “Constructive” styles. Lewin's framework is popular and useful because it encourages managers to be less autocratic than they might instinctively be.
The Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid (1964)
It highlights the most appropriate style to use, based on your concern for your people and your concern for production and tasks. With a people-oriented style, you focus on organizing, supporting, and developing your team members. This participatory style encourages good teamwork and creative collaboration.
With task-oriented leadership, you focus on getting the job done. You define the work and the roles required, put structures in place, and plan, organize, and track work. According to this model, the best style to use is one that has both a high concern for people and a top concern for the task. Blake and Mouton argue that you should aim for both, rather than trying to offset one against the other.
Path-Goal Theory (1971)
You identify the best leadership approach to use, based on your people's needs, the task that they are doing, and the environment that they're working in. For example, when you assign a highly-capable team member to a complex task, you will need a different leadership approach from appointing a person with a low ability to an ambiguous task. The former will want a participative approach, while the latter needs to be told what to do.
Flamholtz and Randle's Leadership Style Matrix (2007)
This matrix shows you the best style to use, based on how capable people are of working autonomously, and how creative or "programmable" the task is. The matrix has four quadrants. Each quadrant identifies two possible styles that will be effective for a given situation, ranging from "autocratic/benevolent autocratic" to "consensus/laissez-faire."
Situational Leadership Model (1972)
Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard introduced the model as "Life Cycle Theory of Leadership." In the mid-1970s, they renamed it the "Situational Leadership Model." In the 1980s, the authors each developed a model using the situational leadership theory.
The fundamental underpinning of the Situational Leadership Model is that there is no single "best" style of leadership. Effective leadership is task-relevant. Leaders adapt their style to the Performance Readiness (ability and willingness) of the individual or group they are attempting to lead or influence. The leadership style also depends on the task, job or function at hand.
The Model rests on two fundamental concepts; leadership style and the individual or group's Performance Readiness level. Early in my career, I found the Situational Leadership model to be very useful. It inspired my ongoing study of leadership. However, despite its intuitive appeal, several studies do not support the prescriptions offered by situational leadership theory.
Goleman's Leadership Styles (2002)
This theory highlights the strengths and weaknesses of six common styles – Visionary, Coaching, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting, and Commanding. It also shows how each style can affect the emotions of your team members. Recently, significant emphasis has been placed on examining the differences between Transactional and Transformational Leadership ideas.
Transactional Leadership (1972)
This style starts with the idea that team members agree to obey their leader when they accept a job. The "transaction" usually involves the organization paying team members in return for their effort and compliance on a short-term task. The leader has a right to "punish" team members if their work doesn't meet an appropriate standard.
Transactional leadership is present in many business leadership situations, and it does offer some benefits. For example, it clarifies everyone's roles and responsibilities. Moreover, because transactional leadership judges team members on performance, people who are ambitious or who are motivated by external rewards – including compensation – often thrive. The downside of this style is that, on its own, it can be chilling and amoral, and it can lead to high staff turnover. It also has severe limitations for knowledge-based or creative work. As a result, team members can often do little to improve their job satisfaction.
Transformational Leadership (1978)
The leadership frameworks discussed so far are all useful in different situations. However, in business, "transformational leadership" is often the most effective style to use. Transformational leaders have integrity and high emotional intelligence. They motivate people with a shared vision of the future, and they communicate well. They are also self-aware, authentic, empathetic, and humble.
A transformational leader inspires their team members because they expect the best from everyone. They hold themselves accountable for their actions. They set clear goals, and they have good conflict resolution skills.
Theory Y and Theory X
Douglas McGregor's Theory Y and Theory X can also be compared with these two leadership styles. Theory X — Transactional Leadership where managers need to rule by fear and consequences. In this style and theory, negative behavior is punished, and employees are motivated by incentives. Theory Y —Transformational Leadership, because the theory and style support the idea that managers work to encourage their workers. Leaders assume the best of their employees. They believe them to be trusting, respectful, and self-motivated. The leaders help to supply the followers with a tool they need to excel. They have superior resolution skills. This leads to high productivity and engagement.
Transactional vs. transformational leadership
|Transactional — Theory X||Transformational — Theory Y|
|Leadership is responsive||Leadership is proactive|
|Works within the organizational culture||Works to change the organizational culture by implementing new ideas|
|Employees achieve objectives through rewards and punishments set by leader||Employees achieve objectives through higher ideals and moral values|
|Motivates followers by appealing to their own self-interest||Motivates followers by encouraging them to put group interests first|
|Management-by-exception: maintain the status quo; stress correct actions to improve performance.||Individualized consideration: Each behavior is directed to each individual to express consideration and support. Intellectual stimulation: Promote creative and innovative ideas to solve problems.|
A bureaucratic leader follows the rules and ensures that their people follow procedures. This is appropriate for work involving serious safety risks, such as working with machinery, with toxic substances, at dangerous heights, or with large sums of money. Bureaucratic leadership is also useful for managing employees who perform routine tasks.
This style is much less effective in teams and organizations that rely on flexibility, creativity, or innovation.
A charismatic leader resembles transformational leaders: both types of leaders inspire and motivate their team members. The difference lies in their intent. A transformational leader wants to transform their teams and organizations, while leaders who rely on charisma often focus on themselves and their ambitions. They may not want to change anything.
Charismatic leaders might believe that they can do no wrong, even when others warn them about the path that they are on. This feeling of invincibility can damage a team or an organization.
Servant Leadership (500 BC)
Servant leadership is ancient philosophy. Some passages relate to servant leadership in the Tao Te Ching, attributed to Lao-Tzu. A "servant leader" is someone, regardless of level, who leads by meeting the needs of the team. The term sometimes describes a person without formal recognition as a leader. These people often lead by example. They have high integrity and lead with generosity. Their approach can create a positive corporate culture. It can lead to high morale among team members.
Supporters of the servant leadership model suggest that it is an excellent way to move ahead in a world where values are increasingly important. A servant leader achieves power because of their values, ideals, and ethics.
However, a servant leader can find themselves "left behind" by other leaders, particularly in competitive situations. This style also takes time to apply correctly. It is ill-suited to situations where you must make quick decisions or meet tight deadlines.
Undifferentiated Leadership Styles
Research on leadership style suggests most leaders and managers do not have a single dominant style. The styles fall within the same range — usually from the low to medium range. There is little differentiation of score difference between the styles reported.
This result is the most difficult to either interpret, apply or understand from a leadership type perspective. Generally, individuals with no clear leadership style approach “leadership” and “managerial” roles with mixed feelings. Consequently, they have difficulty knowing or choosing how to behave when required performing this function.
It often predicts the degree of stress or inner conflict a person experiences when placed in a managerial role, where one’s work experience and value in the workplace has been of a technical, scientific or professional capacity, with minimum leadership experience.
A person with an undifferentiated style to shows hesitancy when expected to lead others or when it is necessary to deal with a wide range of significant business circumstance. They generally have had minimum leadership responsibilities beyond their function, i.e., managing “things,” procedures, processes or ideas rather than people.
In other situations, an undifferentiated profile is found in individuals with no firm, clear self-identity. There is no well differentiated “Self” or “Ego” that they identify with. Their behavior is dependent on the circumstances they find themselves in. Often the self-image is associated with lower self-assessment issues. When they find themselves having to manage a wide variety of different individuals, all who are making demands on him or her, they become confused about how they should act or who they should be because they do not know who they are. The result is a leadership style that others are reporting to them or leading them to describe as “demonstrating too many inconsistencies.” They tell one employee one thing and turn around and tell another employee something completely different.
Individuals with this pattern of leadership styles must understand their challenge. With work they can turn it into an advantage. They need to spend more time reading and studying all the different leadership styles. They need to evolve their unique leadership style rather than defining themselves in one style or the other. Likewise, by exploring and “consciously choosing” which style they would like to experiment with, master or learn until it comes to “feel natural.”
Often this individual was encouraged to by outside influence to take on a leadership position. This person must question his or her motive for pursuing a managerial role.
Multiple Leadership Styles
The Multiple Leadership Style is where two or more styles are falling within the high range. Only a small portion of people have a multiple leadership pattern. These leaders have a vast repertoire of styles and are capable of adapting and demonstrating the leadership style believed to be the more effective given the scenario or the specific employee or situation being managed. There is practically no research on this pattern of leadership. It is believed that possessing more than one dominant leadership style is very beneficial. These individuals often adapt very quickly to situational leadership.
Leadership is not a "one size fits all" thing
Often, you must adapt your approach to fit the situation. So, it is useful to develop a thorough understanding of other leadership frameworks and styles. The more approaches you are familiar with, the more flexible you can be.
Understand the frameworks that you can use to be a more effective leader. Know what it takes to be a transformational or agile leader. Learn about more general styles and the advantages and disadvantages of each one. Remember, not all these styles of leadership will have a positive effect on your team members, either in the short or long term. Your actions as a leader will affect your team.
Key Findings of the Research
Leadership styles research suggests that most styles of leadership are more personality based at their core. They are not directed toward performance as an effective leader.
Managers tend to “lead” the way they do because it is their fundamental interpersonal nature. There is no correlation between one’s style of leadership and one’s leadership performance.
If you want to ensure true leadership, then one must start with the premise that “leadership” can be taught. It is best not to assume some are born to lead. However, some personalities are better predisposed to show leadership qualities when exposure to challenging situations requiring them to influence others. The knowledge of consequences of behavior as it relates to getting others to follow one’s lead under adverse scenarios is essential for a leader to understand.
If you leave it to the average manager, they will rely on their personality type versus leadership type to “manage others.” This leaves us in a quandary. The best research in high performing leaders reveals that the leadership styles outlined below would, generally apply.
SuccessFinder’s Leadership Frameworks
We have considered all the above leadership styles, distilled the behavioral competencies that are demonstrated in high performers, and present seven leadership styles:
- Agile Style
- Inspirational Style
- Entrepreneurial Style
- Utilitarian Style
- Directive Style
- Administrative Style
- Collegial Style
|Administrative Style||This leader follows normative rules and establishes regulation guidelines for operating. They are often distinguished as “coordinating” Vs “leading” or “managing”. Administrative Leadership style equates enforcing the rules as effective “leadership”. You will often find this leadership role in a situation where the work environment is dangerous and specific sets of procedures are necessary to ensure safety. Their emphasis or belief is that a good leader must first establishes good controls, rules, regulations, systems, policies and procedures.|
|Agile Style||This leader values the need to adapt to constantly changing conditions, with the ability to embrace new effective behaviors based on new requirements and the challenges of a chaotic, even volatile market place driving a magnitude of change, with the potential to confound by it daunting complexity and uncertainty.|
|Collegial Style||This leader had a “hands-off¨ approach. It is one in which the manager provides little or no direction and gives employees as much freedom as possible. All authority or power is given to the employees and they must determine goals, make decisions, and resolve problems on their own.|
|Directive Style||This leader retains control, influence and decision-making authority. The directive leader does not feel the need to consult employees, and employees are expected to obey orders and to receive “constructive criticism” without discussion or reciprocal feedback. The commanding leader tries to establish a motivation environment by creating a structured set of rewards and punishments.|
|Entrepreneurial Style||This leader is a primary force behind successful change. They are the “pace-setting” leaders whose direct reports have the most difficulty getting a handle on or predicting their needs because they go their own way, guided from within by some base of impulse, inspiration, revelation, reason or value unique to them alone. In leadership scenarios, where others may come to a common understanding, they often do not come to the same conclusion. It is usually admiration, loyalty and devotion among followers that provides an Entrepreneurial leader with credibility to lead.|
|Inspirational Style||This leader engages with others in such a way that leaders and followers constructively raise one another to higher levels of motivation, effective relationships, quality orientation and overall workplace productivity.|
|Utilitarian Style||This leader drives the workplace to maximize the greatest number of task accomplished from the greatest number of employees. The Utilitarian leader believes strongly in the concept that work produced should be the main or only criteria of one’s salary level. Utilitarian leadership is grounded in practicality, where decision-making centers around the issue of quality of effort or results, political correctness (or astuteness) and profitability criteria.|
We can measure how individuals stack up against these styles. The insights inform your development plan.
We need learning leaders who can stay flexible, grow from mistakes, and handle a diverse range of challenges.”
Through the early 2000s, transformational leadership was often viewed as the best predominate leadership style. Today, agile leadership is the preferred dominate style, with the leader being able to apply other styles as needed. An agile leader is inclusive, democratic, and exhibit a greater openness to ideas and innovations. With a passion for learning, a focus on developing people, and a keen ability to define and communicate.
An agile leader can sense an organization’s needs for significant change and respond to opportunities or obstacles through planning, swift execution without losing momentum or alignment. The core of the agile leadership style’s intent is not just surviving amid chaos but quickly adapting and creating a new future through demonstrating imaginative and insightful leadership when the status quo is challenged.
Besides leading decisively, an agile leader demonstrates the following behavioral competencies:
- Sustains profitability — Seeking profitability and personal wealth with a keen sense of risk to achieve financial success.
- Seeks Innovation — Thinking expansively and demonstrating profound imaginative insight to identify wise but innovative solutions.
- Embraces Change — Being responsive and open-minded in unpredictable times with a willingness to adapt to rapid change.
- Thrives in Chaos — Enthusiastically thriving under seemingly a chaotic demand and overlapping priorities and displaying a preference for multi-tasking.
- Focus on Results — Making personal sacrifices and expending extraordinary dedication and work ethic for one’s career.
- Drives Achievement — Desiring to achieve exceptional results under competitive scenarios for high ambition’s sake.
No one style of leadership fits all situations, so it is useful to understand different leadership frameworks and styles. You can then adapt your approach to fit your situation. We are incredibly passionate about Behavioral DNA and the impact this scientific insight can have on you as a leader. Using SuccessFinder, you can discover your behavioral strengths and challenges.
Insights About Your Behavioral DNA Can Advance Your Career
We are incredibly passionate about Behavioral DNA and the impact this scientific insight can have on you. Using SuccessFinder, you can discover your behavioral strengths and challenges.
High-performers in the same role share a common subset of behaviors. Our talent analytics compares your talent stack — behavioral traits and competencies — with high performers. We show you how to leverage your unique talents to achieve career satisfaction and success.
Focus on your strengths and manage your challenges. You complete the assessment online, we then provide you report and personal feedback via video call. We offer the service worldwide. We’d love to hear from you!