Which Leadership Style is Right? And When?

One of the toughest things to do as a leader is to know which leadership style you should employ in different circumstances.  There are many of them, six that I will discuss today.

First, a note about the provenance of these styles.  I had seen an adapted article about these leadership styles and liked it and wrote the blog post “adapting” it to my own needs.  Then I looked for the original book, noted below and bought the book.  The reviews were glowing, which, of course, doesn’t mean anything, but I will update this post after I have finished the book.

To determine which leadership style you prefer, you can think in terms of phrases.

  • “Do as I do” exemplifies a style that works very well when you have a motivated team.  It gives an infusion of energy to the team and can bring quick results.  But it requires lots of involvement in the team activities and should be used sparingly.
  • “Come with me” can mobilize a team toward a common vision but uses alignment rather than instruction to reach goals.  It works best when a new direction is being implemented or if you have a competent team that doesn’t require guidance.
  • “People come first” should be invoked in times of stress, or when rebuilding is needed.  It is a delicate style and must be used with restraint, though, because you have to make sure your team continue to produce results – and that can seem contradictory.
  • “Try this” indicates a coaching style.  It helps develop people for the future by challenging them to think for themselves.  It isn’t useful if the team is resistant, though and should not be used if you aren’t comfortable with coaching.
  • “Do what I tell you” is the hallmark of a commanding, and some would say, coercive style.  It works most effectively when there is a crisis afoot or some roiling uncertainty and your team needs a firm hand and clear direction.  It should be avoided as a normal style because it stifles creativity and individual thought and development.
  • “What do you think?” builds consensus through participation.  You have to have time for this style because asking people for their opinions and thought is a messy business. If your team needs to buy in to an idea, it can be very useful, and if you need new  ideas, it is invaluable.  But be careful, this style is not useful if your team isn’t sufficiently informed for their advice to be useful, or if they are not confident enough to understand if their advice, either collectively or individually, is rejected.

You won’t use one or the other style all the time, but you should have these styles as tools in your toolbox.  Depending on your situation and your personality, you probably favor one or two, but you have to remain flexible as circumstances change.  I have used this set of styles when I have had trouble with an individual or when a team isn’t performing.

What style do you like the best and what experience have you had with these different styles?  Let’s hear from you.

Adapted from Robyn Benincasa’s HOW WINNING WORKS: 8 Essential Leadership Lessons from the Toughest Teams on Earth (Harlequin Nonfiction, June 2012)

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