Leading with Style

Whether in business, politics or some other position of popular authority, there is a definite advantage to having an understanding of various leadership styles and when to use them by Julie-ann Odell .

With the global challenges that the world is facing, the task of leadership is far more complex and urgent than in previous generations. Leaders can be more proactive and influential by strategically using the strengths of various leadership styles that suit the particular challenges being faced and particular needs of the people involved. Instead of selecting one style, effective leaders are able to move among styles, selecting the one that is required in the moment.


Most leaders use a combination of leadership styles and these generally fall into one of the following categories:


Autocratic leadership

Leading as an autocrat can be likened to running a dictatorship with a sole decision-maker whose directives are obeyed unquestioningly. Power and authority are highly concentrated and autocratic leaders are typically concerned with task accomplishment rather than the happiness of those under their command. Often, the autocratic leader is seen to maintain considerable social “distance” from his or her constituency, and tends to motivate followers by fear of punishment rather than by anticipation of rewards.


Autocratic leadership is an asset when a company employs a large, inexperienced staff, or when work must be coordinated across disparate groups. The drawback to this style is commonly associated with high employee turnover and lower employee performance and morale. The least appropriate conditions for applying autocratic leadership occur when high levels of employee creativity are needed or when a democratic leadership model has been established previously.


Bureaucratic leadership

Bureaucratic leaders are all about following rules and regulations. They make sure they adhere to the rules themselves and their staff follows suit. This leadership style is most suited for working in a risky environment that deals with worker safety issues including working with heavy machinery, toxic chemicals, quality assurance and large financial dealings.


It may not be the best approach for developing a new product or re-defining a brand where an out-of-the-box approach and creative thinking is required.

Charismatic leadership

Charismatic leaders are the driving force behind their teams. They generate a lot of enthusiasm in the team by inspiring employees and helping them stay motivated. The one risk with this sort of approach is too much motivation without action. Charismatic leaders may succumb to overconfidence rather than analyzing the realistic ability of the team to take a project to completion.


Democratic leadership

Democratic leadership is characterized by the distribution of responsibility and the empowerment of others. Democratic leaders tend to be empathetic listeners who encourage open communication through all levels of the organization.

Companies with democratic leaders tend to foster a positive and motivating corporate culture, empowering employees to perform at their highest levels of capability. These companies emphasize reward over punishment, they value teamwork, and they encourage participative decision-making.


Democratic leadership is most appropriate when managing an experienced and professional team of employees. Industries that lend themselves to a democratic leadership style include those that leverage creativity and creative problem solving. Democratic leadership breaks down, however, when a group faces a set of complex decisions, and when organizational agility is required to adapt to rapidly changing market conditions.


Laissez-faire leadership

Sometimes called “hands-off,” laissez-faire leadership is the least structured method of leadership. Here, decision-making authority is the least concentrated, and employees have significant autonomy. In fact, the leader’s role in this leadership model becomes peripheral, as employees manage their work independently.


Work delegation is therefore spontaneous and uncoordinated. Laissez-faire leadership results in far less communication between employees and their leader(s), as well as less communication employee-to-employee. Laissez-faire leadership tends to bring out the best in small groups of highly trained and highly motivated employees. In some cases, however, laissez-faire leadership can also be the product of an unskilled management team. In this case, laissez-faire leadership can result in employee dissatisfaction, poor productivity and lack of motivation.


People-oriented leadership

The opposite approach to task-oriented leadership, a people-oriented leader is all about helping the team and individual employees by offering support and flexibility and meeting the needs of the team.


This style focuses on team building skills and positive relationships, increasing overall work satisfaction and helping retain top performers. Competent leaders know that combining both task-oriented and people-oriented styles of leadership can prove to be most effective.


Task-oriented leadership

Leaders who are highly task-oriented just want to get the job done. They put forth action plans and monitor their staff to make sure everyone is on track. Task-oriented leaders might set fixed lunchtimes, implement a punch card time system, and demonstrate a lack of trust in their team.


This could lead to low motivation among employees and a lack of job satisfaction with staff leaving for another firm. However, task-oriented leaders make efficient use of time, meet deadlines, and keep staff focused to complete a critical task at hand.


Servant leadership

A servant leader is one that has no official title and is not formally recognized as a leader but is a role assumed by a person at any level in the organization that leads the team simply because they seem to meet the needs of the team. This particular style is close to democratic leadership where the entire team is involved in the decision-making process.


A servant-leader style is based on gaining power through ideals and values, which may not work in a highly competitive situation where other, more assertive, styles are employed.


Transformational leadership

The transformational leadership style is one of the most popular leadership styles today and can be applied to a wide range of corporate opportunities. The transformational leader is one that has integrity, defines clear goals, encourages steps to clear communication, coherently expresses a vision and sets a good example. This style of leadership encourages, motivates, and supports employees to work together toward a common goal.


Transformational leaders combine the best practices of most other leadership styles and in practice are supported by transactional leaders who work as managers, making sure tasks are accomplished and the job gets done. Transformational leadership works best when applied to situations in which organizational change is required It also works well with new companies where management needs to inspire employee loyalty and induce high productivity while working toward long-term payoffs.


Transformational leadership is less effective when companies have had a succession of different leaders in a short time, when the corporate culture inspired through transformational leadership is significantly at odds with prevailing sentiments at the company.


Transactional leadership

Transactional leadership is based on the premise that employees are motivated by a system of punishment and reward. Employees are assigned specific, well-defined tasks and are expected to execute these tasks precisely as agreed. Transactional leadership is useful when company operations require that work be carried out exactly as prescribed. The transactional style of leadership is less suited for work environments that require creativity or dynamic adaption to changing market conditions.


Transactional leadership is a common form of leadership, applied mostly by middle managers rather than top-level executives. Most leaders who make use of the transactional leadership mode do so in combination with other leadership methods.


Leaders need to recognize their own skills and experience, and also that of their team and ask themselves some important questions along the lines of:

  • What do we want to achieve?

  • What style of leadership will best serve that purpose?

  • Does the task involve routine work or does it need creative thinking?

  • How is our organization structured?

  • What style of leadership will most empower the team?


The ability to take a team from “getting the job done” to “surpassing every goal and expectation with flying colors” requires an understanding that there are many ways to lead. It is extremely important that leaders do the best they possibly can, with the knowledge they have, to inspire the people that follow them and understand that not everyone gets motived and inspired in the same way and there is not one right way to lead that fits all situations.

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