What are Leadership Styles?

At The Leadership Coaches, we spend time working with individuals, teams and organisations to help them understand more about leadership styles and how they can impact individual and team performance.


As leadership styles, particularly amongst senior or highly influential leaders, can shape whole cultures and the operating environments that people work in, we believe that as leaders navigate and emerge from the challenges of COVID-19 it is more important than ever that leaders understand, become aware of, and harness their leadership style to lead their people successfully.


The expectations of followers on their leaders are growing. Now followers expect their leaders to direct and motivate but also consider what is happening for them outside of their work environment.


In this blog, we ask the question “what are leadership styles?” and provide a number of examples for you to review.


How Have Leadership Styles Theory Evolved?


In the 1930s Kurt Lewin introduced leadership styles into management theory. He broke them down into three distinct styles:

  • Autocratic

  • Democratic

  • Laissez-Faire

He described autocratic leaders as those who did not consult their people, preparing to lead with authority and instruction. Whilst this style has its merits it can also be demoralising when followers have no say over how they do their work or the opportunity to influence it

Democratic Leaders adopt a more inclusive style, encouraging creativity and contribution- usually ending up with them making the final decision.


Lastly, he identified a laissez-faire style. The leader here gives freedom and responsibility to followers, whilst being in the background to encourage and support if required.

Compared to the world of commerce and industry as we know it now, Lewin’s work was set against a backdrop of people being employed in sectors dominated by mass production and a general culture of leaders leading and followers taking instruction. Perhaps he anticipated how this was going to shift or needed to shift if talent and ingenuity were to be harnessed at all levels.


Much changed over subsequent decades including the impact of WW2 but the key changes were in how much people wanted to be included and how organisations recognised the needs of followers.


In 2002 Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee wrote Primal Leadership. Goleman was already famous for his work on EQ vs IQ and perhaps this book was a turning point for leaders. They could not lead purely by instruction, but followers expected to be inspired and engaged. This work articulated five leadership styles:

  • Visionary

  • Coaching

  • Affiliative

The first two of these seeking to promote harmony and positive outcomes, whilst affiliative was about putting people first. Identifying and resolving Team tensions and Building Trust.

  • Pacesetting

  • Commanding

These were much more direct in nature.


In summary, leadership styles theory and activity has moved with the nature of the work we do and the expectations of the people we lead.


Of course, we are not saying that leaders should not lead. In fact, it’s important for leaders to step up and be decisive in times of crisis or ambiguity. We need and expect leaders to do that. But having a range of styles to tap into makes leaders more effective, impactful, and respected by their followers.


What Impact Does Having a Range of Leadership Styles Have on Leadership Performance and Ultimately Team Outputs?


By having a range of styles and approaches Leaders can connect with their followers' needs in terms of support, experience, motivation, and engagement. Rather than just issuing instructions or telling their people what to do they can access creativity, diversity of thinking and ultimately engagement of their people.


People will feel more valued, inspired and “safe” to experiment, challenge and stretch themselves. Leaders can also ensure that people are safe, operate within boundaries and meet the requirements of key stakeholders.


Blanchard and Hersey considered what type of leadership style might be most appropriate/effective when they published “Situational Leadership”.


This matched appropriate leadership styles to the experience of individuals and teams. They proposed that no single leadership style is better than another. Their suggested approach relies on:


  • Being adaptive and flexible

  • Considering the needs of individuals and teams

  • Ensuring that their outputs meet the needs of their work environment

In the model seen here we have two axes:

  • Task Readiness

  • Psychological Readiness

The first of these, task readiness, is about assessing the skills, knowledge and ability to deliver to your people. As well as formal records of qualifications and experience it also relies on the Leader making a judgement call. Do they believe their people are ready to be trusted?


The second, psychological readiness, is more about the individual and their levels of Motivation, Drive, Energy and Confidence. Do they believe they are ready to step up and take more responsibility? Are they willing to be held accountable?


By adopting Situational Leadership Leaders will be on the road to developing a high performing team where:

  • People take responsibility and are willing to be held accountable

  • People are encouraged to leverage their Strengths for the good of the team

  • People operate in an environment of psychological safety, encouraged to develop and learn and supported when they fail

  • Leaders create space for themselves through delegation and freeing up time to focus on their priorities

So, as a Leader we have 3 questions for You:

  1. Have you formally assessed your own style and how it impacts on your team?

  2. What are you doing to develop a range of styles so that you can harness diversity and create a culture of inclusion in your team?

  3. Are you operating in a culture that has a leadership style which does not encourage you to Be at Your Best?

We hope that this blog has provided you with the information you need to answer the question “what are leadership styles?”.


Contact Us Today


At The Leadership Coaches we have an expert team, experienced in working with Leaders like you to assess and develop your strengths and then enable you to develop a leadership style which creates your leadership legacy- a high performing team of motivated individuals who invest in their careers and create the next cohort of amazing leaders.


References:


https://hbr.org/2001/12/primal-leadership-the-hidden-driver-of-great-performance


Primal Leadership-Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence Goleman, D, Boyatzis, R.E, McKee, A ( 2013)


https://www.businessballs.com/leadership-models/situational-leadership-model-hersey-and-blanchard/


https://www.businessballs.com/leadership-models/leadership-styles-3-style-model-kurt-lewin/

https://hbr.org/2017/08/high-performing-teams-need-psychological-safety-heres-how-to-create-it


The Fearless Organization, Edmondson, AC (2019)


https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236927/employee-engagement-drives-growth.aspx#:~:text=Increased%20engagement%20leads%20to%20higher%20earnings%20per%20share&text=Companies%20with%20an%20average%20of%202.6%20engaged%20employees%20for%20every,during%20that%20same%20time%20period.



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