When You Should Have the Right Leadership Style

Taking a team from ordinary to extraordinary means understanding and embracing the difference between management and leadership. I love this quote by Peter Drucker, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Managers and leaders are two completely different roles, although we often use the terms interchangeably. I won’t necessarily go into the differences between the two, I’ll save that for another article.

When you’re dealing with ongoing challenges and changes, and you’re in uncharted territory with no means of knowing what comes next, no one can be expected to have all the answers or rule the team with an iron fist based solely on the title on their business card. It just doesn’t work for day-to-day operations. Sometimes a project is a long series of obstacles and opportunities coming at you at high speed, and you need every ounce of your collective hearts and minds and skill sets to get through it.

Over the years I’ve developed this observation, that the best leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders. When we share leadership, we’re all a lot more smarter, more nimble and more capable in the long run, especially when that long run is fraught with unknown and unforeseen challenges. As a result we need to have a different leadership style depending on the situation.

When You Should Have the Right Leadership Style:

Pacesetting Leader

This type 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. If used extensively, this style can overwhelm team members and squelch innovation.

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 “We are Going to Do This.” The authoritative style works best when the team needs a new vision because circumstances have changed, or when explicit guidance is required. Authoritative leaders inspire an entrepreneurial spirit and vibrant enthusiasm for the mission. It is not the best fit when the leader is working with a team of experts who know more than him or her.

Affiliative Leader

Works to create emotional bonds that bring a feeling of bonding and 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 when the team needs 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.

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, or if the leader lacks proficiency.

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, such as in a company turnaround or a takeover attempt, or during an actual emergency like a tornado or a fire. 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.

Democratic Leader

This 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 if he or she is uncertain and needs fresh ideas from qualified teammates.

Final Thought

One size fits all leadership isn’t what’s needed to succeed in today’s market place

If you take two cups of authoritative leadership, one cup of democratic, coaching, and affiliative leadership, and a dash of pacesetting and coercive leadership “to taste,” and you lead based on need in a way that elevates and inspires your team, you’ve got an excellent recipe for long-term leadership success with every team in your life.

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