Leadership is defined as the action of leading, guiding, or directing others, or being in a position to do so. So in essence, to lead means to influence other either through your actions or by virtue of your position. There are many ways leaders can have this influence, however, which means leaders can behave in very different ways. These differences translate into different types of leadership styles.
- Laissez-faire leadership is a hands-off approach that works well for independent self-starters who desire autonomy and can get results on their own; this approach is common with highly cohesive, high-performing teams or remote work
- Autocratic – this “command and control” style emphasizes rules and discipline; the boss makes decisions and hands them down; this is common in authoritarian cultures (e.g., the military, the church)
- Charismatic leaders influence others through the power of their personality; they inspire passion in others to follow them because of who they are; charismatic leaders have a magnetism and energy that makes people want to be aligned with them
- Democratic leaders value others’ in put and involve them in decisions (even while the decision may ultimately rest with them); this approach also enhances morale and facilitates organizational change because employees feel they have a voice
- Transactional leadership involves an exchange – the leader provides certain actions and rewards in exchange for employees meeting established goals or agreements; this is often contrasted with…
- Transformational leadership, in which leaders motivate people to perform using high levels of communication and visibility; leaders communicate high-level goals and the ways that employee actions support those goals, which fosters a sense of purpose and cohesiveness
- Servant leaders highly value being of service to others; they put the interests of the whole before their own; they often stay out of the limelight and give credit to others; these kinds of leaders often produce positive cultures and high morale because employees feel they are genuinely cared for
There’s no one right kind of leader, and there are pros and cons associated with each style. There are situations and cultures in which they are more or less suitable (e.g., imagine an autocratic leader at a creative design firm, a laissez-faire leader working at a call center, or a democratic leader of a military unit). But what does being a leader mean to you? What values do you live by, what kind of influence do you want to have, and how do you want to influence? How important is it to you to be right? To be in control? To be helpful? To be visible? To be powerful? We all have our own inner schema or archetypes for leaders – when you think of a leader, what examples come to mind? In all likelihood that is who you unconsciously emulate. The key to leader effectiveness is awareness – of your own values, personality, and style – and adaptability – being able to adjust your approach to match the situation and culture of the organization.
It’s also worth noting that the qualities and behaviors that cause people to emerge as leaders (e.g., confidence, charisma, ambition) can become derailers if not balanced with complementary behaviors that support leader effectiveness (e.g., empathy, listening). In fact, research shows that the mere fact of being in a position of power begins to erode empathy. If you find this hard to believe, consider Amy Cuddy’s research showing that merely adopting a “power pose” for two minutes can literally change your neurochemistry, change how you feel, and change how you are perceived by others. Further, if you look at the brief list above, many of the leadership styles that produce greater engagement among employees (democratic, transformational, servant) demands high levels of empathy and communication effectiveness. Leaders who want to build strong cultures, boost morale, and cultivate a sense of purpose and cohesiveness need to start with deep listening to and empathy for the people under them, even while this may become more difficult to keep front-of-mind across time.
Whether you’re a seasoned leader or just taking charge of your first team, it is worth checking in the kind of effect you’re having as a leader. Day to day, what style do you adopt? Is it working? Why or why not? Do you need to raise your level of empathy and deepen your level of listening?
“Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” –Michael Scott from The Office
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” –Peter Drucker
“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.” –Woodrow Wilson