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Leadership styles

Looking to gain a better understanding of the various leadership styles? You've come to the right place!

The term leadership style refers to the method or approach adopted by a leader to motivate, influence and guide team members in an organisation towards achieving set goals. There are many different leadership styles developed through studies and practical applications over time. Each style has its own set of benefits and challenges, and certain styles may work better in different situations or with different types of teams.

Here we dive into each of the universally recognised leadership styles.

Leadership styles

Autocratic leadership

Autocratic leadership, also known as authoritarian leadership, involves a single leader making all decisions with little to no input from the group. The leader exercises total control and full authority, determining policies and procedures, deciding on goal achievement, and directing all activities without any meaningful participation by the subordinates. This leadership style is typically less popular with the team members as it allows minimal opportunities for staff to make suggestions or decisions.

This style is used when leaders tell their employees what they want done and how they want it accomplished, without getting the advice of their followers. They make decisions based on their own ideas and judgements and rarely accept advice from followers.

Autocratic leadership can be beneficial in situations where decisions need to be made quickly, when there's no need for team agreement for a successful outcome, or when team agreement isn't possible due to a lack of expertise or time. 

However, autocratic leadership can often result in lack of creativity, resentment among team members, high levels of staff turnover, and dependency on the leader. Hence, this leadership style is not always appropriate and is considered less favorable compared to more participative forms of leadership. 

Laissez-faire leadership

Laissez-faire leadership, also known as delegative leadership, is a type of leadership style in which leaders are hands-off and allow group members to make decisions. The French phrase laissez-faire means let them do, and leaders who adopt this style allow their subordinates to do as they wish.

This leadership style can be effective in situations where group members are highly skilled, motivated and capable of working on their own. They already have the knowledge and research required to complete the task effectively. Moreover, the laissez-faire leadership style can also be effective when the leader fully trusts their team or the team members are subject matter experts. 

However, it can lead to poor production levels or lack of control and direction if team members do not have the knowledge or commitment to complete tasks independently. The laissez-faire style is generally not successful when the members require a great deal of supervision or support, or lack the motivation or ability to work independently.

It's also worth noting that this type of leadership style may lead to a more creative and motivated work environment as employees feel their skills and knowledge are respected and valued.

Transformational leadership 

Transformational leadership is a type of leadership style that inspires and motivates employees to exceed beyond their roles. It encourages positive changes and personal development within the team. This leadership style focuses on team building, motivation, and collaboration with employees at different levels of an organisation to achieve change for the better.

The theory of transformational leadership was introduced by leadership expert James V. Downton and later developed by Bernard M. Bass. According to Bass, transformational leadership can be defined based on the impact that it has on followers. Transformational leaders, in essence, transform their followers into becoming leaders themselves. They motivate their followers to improve themselves and, as a result, positively impact the organisation’s performance.

Transformational leaders typically have high ethical and moral standards, creating an encouraging and positive environment for their teams. They seek to instil a sense of belonging, thereby inspiring employees to give their best.

There are four key elements of transformational leadership: 

1. Individualised Consideration - Treating each employee as an individual and providing support and encouragement.

2. Intellectual Stimulation - Encouraging creativity and critical thinking within the team.

3. Inspirational Motivation - Providing a clear vision that inspires and motivates the team.

4. Idealised Influence (Charisma) - Setting an example for employees and gaining respect and trust.

In summary, transformational leadership aims to raise each individual's performance and drive them to exceed their personal best, while also increasing morale and performance of the group as a whole. It is about initiating and managing change in the organisation, providing a vision for that change and executing it effectively.

Democratic leadership

Democratic leadership, also known as participative leadership, is a type of leadership style in which members of the group take a more participative role in the decision-making process. This type of leadership can apply to any organisation, from private businesses to schools to government.

In this leadership style, the leader retains the final say in the decision-making process, but he/she involves team members in the process of determining the course of action. This can result in higher job satisfaction and productivity since team members feel their opinions are heard and valued.

Characteristics of democratic leadership include active member participation, continuous feedback, encouragement of creativity and shared decision-making. Democratic leaders tend to be highly effective at fostering a sense of team spirit and collaboration.

Democratic leadership is particularly effective when used by leaders who possess the charisma to encourage collaboration and to ensure the diverse perspectives are being acknowledged and considered in the decision-making process. However, this style can also lead to longer decision-making time and may not be efficient when quick decisions need to be made.

Pros of democratic leadership include improved member satisfaction, creativity enhancement, greater teamwork, and a positive work environment. Cons could include longer time for decision-making and lack of efficiency in emergencies.

Successful democratic leaders include people who are knowledgeable, and creative, and who respect and value the team members’ opinions and inputs. They can mediate disputes, facilitate meetings effectively, communicate clearly and set goals for the team. This leadership style is seen as a very effective approach to running an organisation as it can cultivate a high level of morale among the team members and often results in high-quality solutions.

Transactional leadership 

Transactional leadership, also known as managerial leadership, is a style of leadership where leaders promote compliance through both rewards and punishments. Unlike transformational leaders who inspire their followers to change their expectations, perceptions, and motivations to work towards common goals, transactional leaders only start taking steps once the standards are not being met.

This style of leadership is based on the concept of transaction – i.e., the leader provides benefits like bonuses or promotions in return for loyalty or excellent work. Inversely, if expectations or goals are not met, leaders employ reprimand or disciplinary measures.

Transactional leadership involves clear instructions and specific tasks assigned to staff, while decision-making authority is typically centralised with the leader. It’s an effective leadership style in a number of scenarios – for example, in crisis situations or where projects need to be completed in a specific way, and on time.

Despite being efficient in some situations, transactional leadership can stifle creativity and not provide personal growth opportunities for the team members as it discourages out-of-the-box thinking. Thus, it is recommended to balance transactional leadership with other leadership styles to boost the overall development of the organisation.

Servant leadership

Servant Leadership is a leadership philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to serve their followers. This term was first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970.

In this leadership style, the leader shares power, puts the needs of the employees first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. Instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people. The focus of servant leadership is not on the result, but on the means.

Servant leaders concentrate on performance planning, day-to-day coaching, and helping employees achieve. They engage with their team, provide resources and tools to get the job done, and are ready to help when needed.

Servant leadership inverts the norm, which puts the customer service associates at the top of the organisational pyramid and the C-suite leaders at the bottom. The basic tenets of servant leadership are listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualisation, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community. 

It's an approach that values diverse opinions, involves others in decision-making, and is strongly focused on ethics, community development, and self-care. Effective servant leaders create a positive culture of trust and fairness, and are genuinely committed to the well-being of their team members.

Charismatic leadership 

Charismatic leadership is a leadership style that utilises the charm and persuasiveness of the leader to influence and inspire followers. This style of leadership often involves a dynamic and engaging personal connection with followers, who are inspired and motivated to work toward the leader's vision and goals. The charismatic leader is typically very eloquent, has a strong conviction about his or her beliefs, and possesses an ability to convey a clear sense of the future.

Characteristics of a charismatic leader often include self-confidence, a high level of energy and enthusiasm, a compelling vision, strong conviction, and superior communication skills. Such leaders also demonstrate risk-taking behaviors and unconventional strategies, and are capable of reframing difficulties and challenges as opportunities. They tend to motivate their followers to exceed expectations and perform at their highest potential.

The positive aspects of charismatic leadership can result in increased team motivation, morale, and performance. However, it can also be a double-edged sword. Overdependence on the leader and their decisions can occur. If not managed well, this can create a culture of hero worship or dictatorship, causing potential harm to the organisation. Thus, while charisma can be a powerful tool, it must be used wisely and ethically.

It is worth noting that while charisma can be inherent in some leaders, others may cultivate it over time. Techniques for enhancing charismatic leadership can include developing a compelling vision, demonstrating confidence, expressing empathy, and mastering communication skills. 

Situational leadership

Situational Leadership is a management style developed by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey. The model asserts that a leader's effectiveness is directly tied to their ability to adapt their style to the competence and commitment level of their employees, who could be at different levels of maturity on any given task. This strategy involves diagnosing the needs of the person or group and then applying the right leadership style to meet their developmental needs.

The model outlines four distinct leadership styles:

1. Directing: When a leader takes a high-directive and low-supportive approach, giving specific instructions and closely supervising the task.

2. Coaching: Here, the leader uses both directive and supportive behavior, by making the final decisions but also fostering two-way communication and supporting progress.

3. Supporting: In this style, the leader focuses more on the relationship and less on the task, using listening, praising, asking for input and giving feedback to help boost morale and develop competence.

4. Delegating: Here, the leader has minimal involvement, trusting their subordinates to take responsibility for deciding how the task is done.

This leadership model does not promote a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, it advocates adapting the leadership style based on the demands of the situation and the skills and abilities of the employees.

Coaching leadership 

The coaching leadership style is a method of management focused on training and development. It involves a great deal of communication, feedback, and encouragement from the leader, with an emphasis on employee development over time, rather than immediate results.

Coaching leaders serve as mentors to their employees. They encourage learning, growth, and focus on personal development to meet individual goals, along with organisational objectives. They adopt an approach of unlocking an individual's potential to maximise their performance and improve their skills.

Key Characteristics:

1. Continuous learning: They encourage employees to continuously learn and upgrade their skills.

2. Forward-thinking: They are concerned about the development of their team for the future success of the company.

3. Emphasises on two-way communication: They are approachable and maintain open lines of communication.

4. Positive reinforcement: They acknowledge and reward hard work, promoting a positive working environment.

5. Constructive feedback: They give direct, yet constructive criticism to help individuals improve.

6. Develops personal relationships: They are invested in their employees, focusing on long-term personal development rather than immediate professional gains.

Benefits of this leadership style include high levels of employee satisfaction and engagement, improved performance, fostering of innovative ideas, increased teamwork, and the building of strong relationships.

Potential downsides can include longer timelines to achieve immediate goals and potential dependency on the leader for decision-making. Furthermore, this style may not be effective if the leader lacks the expertise to coach or if team members are resistant to feedback.

In conclusion, coaching leadership can be very effective for companies focused on long-term success, talent development, and promoting a positive company culture.

Visionary leadership

Visionary leadership is a leadership style that incorporates big-picture thinking and strategic planning to achieve organisational goals. This type of leadership is about inspiring employees to create a better future by envisioning and promoting ideas and behaviours that are aimed at a future goal. 

Visionary leaders are strategic thinkers who are driven by a clear idea of where they want their teams or organisations to be in the future. They are good at persuading others to share and commit to their vision, fostering a sense of community and shared objectives.

These leaders are typically charismatic, emotionally intelligent, and highly adaptable. They motivate their team to strive for their vision, even when it requires going against the status quo or dealing with uncertainty.

However, they also face some challenges, such as managing the details, dealing with resistance, or staying realistic while pursuing lofty goals.

Overall, visionary leadership can significantly influence an organisation's innovation, morale, and performance. In today’s fast-paced and complex business environment, having a clear, shared vision can serve as a roadmap for the entire organisation and a catalyst for transformation and success.