Leading a team is a big responsibility, and how you do it significantly impacts everything from employee happiness to the company’s bottom line.
In this article, we will help you learn more about the most common leadership styles and help you find your own. Once you know what kind of leader you are, it’s easier to develop your skills and help your team reach greater heights.
What is leadership?
Being in charge of an organisation is about much more than simply handing out payslips or setting up goals, it’s also about leadership. The best leaders help teams and individuals be their very best, while also achieving the best for their company.
Leadership itself is also evolving, alongside changing working environments and priorities. A study from Deloitte found that 80% of respondents think that 21st-century leadership has unique and new requirements that are important or very important to the success of their organisation.
According to a Gallup survey, only 22% of US workers felt like their leaders had a clear direction for their organisation – a state of affairs that can be very disorientating for employees.
What is a leadership style?
That’s not to say there’s only one type of leader. On the contrary, there are many different leadership styles. These are often intrinsically linked to personality, background, and skills.
While there are many ways to strengthen and acquire the traits of a successful leader, there’s also a lot to be said for leaning into your own style. And as LinkedIn reports that 63% of Millennials feel their leadership skills were not being fully developed, there’s no better time to investigate your leadership traits and ways to enhance them.
Why is it important to know your own leadership style?
If you have the opportunity to play to your strengths, it’s always worth taking. If you’re able to identify your leadership style, you’ll be in a good place to hone your skills and become an even better leader.
If you’re not familiar with your own personal style and invest time trying to mould yourself into the kind of leader that doesn’t come naturally to you, there’s a chance you’ll come across as insincere.
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Different leadership styles worth knowing
Here are a few of the leadership styles people most often find themselves moving towards.
1. Agile leadership
Agile leaders are ones who know the value of switching from one focus to another. To evolve, companies must be able to grow and change – and an agile leadership style is perfect for spearheading healthy progress.
It has a focus on removing roadblocks and clearing the pathway to success, for both individual team members and the organisation as a whole. Agile leaders tend to have high levels of ingenuity and they are attentive to the needs of the people around them.
Generally, agile leaders are most successful in new or progressive organisations that are able to move with them. That said, even very traditional companies can benefit from the energy they bring.
2. Coaching style leadership
Coaches care about getting the best out of the people they’re leading. They are generally nurturing and always looking for ways for individuals to improve on their strengths. Leaders with a coaching style also tend to have an eye on team dynamics and will also put time into improving teamwork where possible.
One of the biggest benefits of coaching style leadership is the way it puts a focus on career development and helps employees (and teams) level up their skills. Coaching has a focus on recognising personal strengths, it can help employees feel more valued and motivated while also building diverse and inclusive teams. It is also great for building and maintaining a strong company culture.
Managers with a coaching style are generally in it for the long game, and the payoff can be huge. It’s really important to recognise that long term value of this coaching style, as results can take a while to really kick in.
3. Transactional leadership
Leaders with a transactional style use a well-defined structure to show employees what is expected from them. They use a series of rewards and punishments which can be a powerful way to motivate employees, especially ones who are struggling to engage.
Some employees find this leadership style comforting, as they can see the processes, procedures and routines clearly laid out. Transactional leaders also tend to be able to crystalise and efficiently share company goals and how every individual can contribute to those.
A rewards system suits some personalities perfectly, and those rewards can come in all sorts of packages, from financial to social. However, do watch out for those employees who aren’t motivated by rewards and instead need to feel more connected to their managers and teams, as they may struggle under this leadership style.
3. Democratic leadership
This inclusive leadership style puts the focus on listening to and acting on the options of the team. Employees are invited to be part of the decision-making process and have the opportunity to shape a company’s direction.
The benefits of this leadership style can be huge. It encourages high levels of engagement and allows employees to take a share in power and accountability. It can also help drive smart decisions, as leaders can truly tap into their teams’ skills and talents.
Democratic leaders have strong leadership communication skills, are good at sharing and know how to encourage interaction. They must also recognise potential team limitations and know which business-critical decisions need expertise rather than group consensus.
4. Adaptive leadership
With technology and markets in a constant state of evolution and flux, there’s a lot to be said for an adaptive leadership style. Adaptive leaders understand the importance of flexibility and self-betterment.
The adaptive leadership theory was developed by Harvard professors and authors Marty Linsky and Ronald Heifetz, who demonstrated the value of leaders who’re willing to evolve.
The key qualities of an adaptive leader include: the ability to look ahead and anticipate needs, skill in communicating the potential changes needed, a dedication to continuous learning and an ability to be accountable for their choices.
5. Laissez-faire Leadership
The name may sound off-putting, but laissez-faire leadership is a hands-off style with big benefits. The French term translates as “let them do”, and laissez-faire leaders focus on letting employees do what works well for them. This can encourage strong feelings of accountability and act as a strong incentive for the right people.
It’s also a leadership style that can help create a relaxed and open company culture and tends to work well with already confident and highly skilled teams.
The pitfalls of this leadership style are particularly obvious in less established teams or in startups, where a lack of processes and procedures can leave employees either doing too little or overworking themselves to the point of burnout. Some clear company policies can help with this. Laissez-faire leaders can also benefit from encouraging employees to sign up for learning or mentoring opportunities to help keep motivation high.
6. Situational Leadership
Highly flexible and able to recognise the changeable nature of running a successful company, situational leaders can change their leadership style to suit the situation. It’s a very proactive method and has some huge benefits, including the ability to adapt to suit individual team members.
Situational leaders tend to be empathetic and able to see which leadership style is needed and when. They can offer a nurturing relationship to those who need it, lay down ground rules if a company is veering off track, or take a step back if everyone is getting on well without interference.
For situational leaders to be truly successful, they need to have good levels of experience, the ability to determine precisely when each leadership style is required and have confidence in their decisions.
7. Resilient leadership
All leaders must possess a decent level of resilience but adopting a resilient leadership style can substantially enhance performance.
Being resilient isn’t the same as being immune to failure or simply struggling through difficult times. Instead, it’s an ability to retain high energy-levels while under pressure and to use challenging situations as an opportunity for change.
Leaders with high levels of resilience don’t just survive, they thrive – and they’re able to help their teams do the same. Much of this success is tied to a great attitude when it comes to problem solving and working collaboratively.
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How to find your leadership style
Not sure which style sounds most like you? Why not reflect on a few big decisions you made or challenges you’ve faced as a leader and write down how you handled them? Do the answers line up with any of the styles laid out here?
Think about what kind of person you are outside of the office too. For example, if you’re the person all your friends go to for advice, there’s a good chance you’re a natural coach.
Once you find your leadership style, don’t worry that you’ll never be able to change it or adapt. While your instincts and personality are huge drivers, working on various areas is possible. Your style will also evolve as you do, keeping up with your expanding expertise and skills. Coaching and mentorship can also help you develop new approaches and lean into a leadership style you’d never have seen for yourself.
For more tips, check out our webinar on creating a human-centric culture through different leadership styles.