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Leadership Styles: Selecting the Right Approach for Most Any Situation

  • Post category:Leadership
  • Reading time:9 mins read

There are countless approaches to leadership. Heck, there are about as many approaches to leadership as there are leaders. Some favor Lewin’s leadership framework from the 1930s and others lean towards more modern ideas such as transformational leadership. There are also numerous general styles of leadership, including, but not limited to transactional and servant leadership. Nonetheless, building your awareness of the various leadership styles and frameworks can help you develop your approach and help you become a more effective leader.

Again, there are literally countless leadership styles from which you can shape your personal understanding of leadership. Thankfully, business professionals and psychologists have developed a series of archetypes that outline the main ways that people lead.  Once you understand these general frameworks, you can then develop your own approach to leadership. This, in turn, helps you become a more effective and meaningful leader.

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the more common approaches to leadership. We’ll also dive into some specific leadership styles and explore both the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Useful Leadership Style Frameworks

Let’s kick things off with a high-level overview of some useful approaches to leadership. You’ll want to make sure to pay attention since each approach we discuss can help you become a more effective leader. It is worth noting that your personal style of leadership will likely be a blend of the following. However, every situation varies depending on your personal preferences, the needs of your team, and the current situation in which you find yourself.

Lewin’s Leadership Styles

Psychologist Kurt Lewin developed his leadership framework in the 1930s. His leadership framework serves as the foundation for most of the leadership approaches that developed in later years. The gist of his findings argued that there are three major leadership styles:

1.) Autocratic Leaders

Autocratic leaders make decisions without conferring with their team, even when their team’s input would be of great value. This style can be useful when you need to make quick decisions, when there’s no need for input from your team, or when the support of your team isn’t required for a successful outcome. This style can often be demoralizing. Furthermore, it can also lead to relatively high levels of absenteeism and employee turnover.

2.) Democratic Leaders

Democratic leaders make final decisions. However, they rely heavily on their team throughout the decision-making process. These leaders typically encourage creativity and their teams are often highly engaged in both projects and decisions. Thus, team members tend to have high job satisfaction and above normal productivity. While the benefits are quite evident, this style of leadership falls short when a leader needs to make a quick decision.

3.) Laissez-faire Leaders

Laissez-faire leaders give their team a lot of freedom in terms of how they complete their work and how they set their deadlines. These leaders provide support in the form of resources and advice when requested, but they tend to remain relatively hands-off. This degree of autonomy can lead to high job satisfaction, but it can also cause a lot of damage if a team doesn’t manage their time effectively, or if they lack the knowledge, skills, or self-motivation to do their job as expected. Laissez-faire leadership can also occur when managers don’t have control over their work and/or their people.

In short, Lewin’s framework is popular because it encourages managers to be less autocratic than they might instinctively be.

The Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid

First published in 1964, the Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid highlights the most appropriate style of leadership to use based on your concern for your people and your concern for overall production.

Leadership Styles Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid

With a people-oriented style, you focus on organizing, supporting, and developing your team. This participatory leadership style encourages teamwork, creativity, and collaboration.

On the other hand, you have a task-oriented leadership style, which focuses more on simply getting the job done. As the leader, you define the work and the required roles, put structures in place, and plan, organize, and monitor overall progress.

According to this approach, the ideal style is one that has both high concern for people and high concern for the task at hand. The Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid approach argues that you should aim for both instead of trying to offset one against the other. Naturally, this should be a primary concern for any effective leader.

Path-Goal Theory

The Path-Goal Theory, published in 1971, is useful when you need to consider what your team wants and needs.

For instance, highly-capable individuals, when assigned to a complex task, will need a different leadership style than a low-ability team assigned to a simple task.

When applying the Path-Goal Theory, you can quickly identify the best leadership approach based on the needs of your team. This approach also considers the task at hand and the current environment in which your team is working.

Flamholtz and Randle’s Leadership Style Matrix

The Flamholtz and Randle’s Leadership Style Matrix, first published in 2007, shows the best leadership style based on how capable your team is of working autonomously. It also takes into account the level of creativity required to complete the task. The matrix features four quadrants and each quadrant identifies two possible styles that will be effective for a given situation. Possible styles range from “autocratic/benevolent autocratic” to “consensus/laissez-faire.”

Transformational Leadership

The leadership frameworks we’ve discussed so far are all useful in different situations. However, transformational leadership is often the most effective style to employ in the business world. This leadership framework was first published in 1978 and was later refined in 1985.

Transformational leaders exhibit integrity and high emotional intelligence. These leaders also motivate their team with a  shared vision of the future and are known for their ability to communicate. They’re also typically self-aware, authentic, empathetic, and humble.

Leadership Styles Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders inspire their team members because they expect the best from everyone. Furthermore, they hold themselves accountable for their actions. They also set clear goals, and practice sound conflict-resolution skills. This style of leadership typically yields high productivity and engagement.

However, it’s critical to understand that leadership is not a “one size fits all” thing. Oftentimes, you need to adapt your approach to fit the situation. This is why it’s helpful to develop a well-rounded understanding of a variety of leadership frameworks and styles. After all, the more approaches you understand, the greater your flexibility.

Specific Leadership Styles

It should go without saying that knowing about the various frameworks and what it means to be a transformational leader will help you become a better leader. However, it’s also helpful to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of the general styles.

That being said, let’s take a look at a few styles of leadership that are of importance, but don’t quite fit under any of the frameworks we’ve discussed already.

Note: Remember, not all of these leadership styles will have a positive impact on your team, either in the short or long term.

Bureaucratic Leadership

Bureaucratic leaders follow rules as if they’re gospel. They also ensure that their team follows procedures with great precision. This is appropriate for work involving serious safety factors, or with large sums of money. Bureaucratic leadership is also important for managing employees who perform routine tasks. However, it is much less effective when teams and organizations rely on flexibility, creativity, and/or innovation.

Charismatic Leadership

Charismatic leadership resembles transformational leadership in that both types of leaders inspire and motivate their team members. However, the difference lies in the overall intent. Transformational leaders want to transform their teams and organizations. Charismatic leaders, on the other hand, typically focus on their own well-being and ambitions, with little regard for creating any sort of change.

Charismatic leaders may believe that they can do no wrong,  even when others provide ample warning. This sense of invincibility can cause serious damage to a team or an organization. We need not look any further than the 2008 financial crisis.

Servant Leadership

Leadership Styles Servant Leadership

A “servant leader” is an individual who, regardless of level, leads simply by meeting the needs of the team. The term typically describes a person without formal recognition as a leader. Servant leaders typically lead by example. They also exhibit high integrity and lead with generosity. This approach can create a positive company culture and it often leads to high morale among team members.

Advocates of the servant leadership model suggest that it’s a good way to move ahead in a world where values are increasingly important and where servant leaders can achieve power because of their values, ideals, and ethics.

However, others believe that people who practice servant leadership can find themselves left behind by other leaders. This is especially true in competitive situations.

This style also takes time to apply when done correctly. Furthermore, it’s ill-suited to situations where you have to make quick decisions or meet tight deadlines.

Transactional Leadership

This style of leadership opens with the idea that team members agree to obey their leader(s) when they accept a position. The “transaction” typically involves the firm paying employees in return for their effort and compliance on a short-term task. Furthermore, the leader has the right to “punish” employees if their work doesn’t meet an appropriate standard.

Transactional leadership is evident in many business leadership situations and it does offer some benefits. For instance, it does a great job of clarifying everyone’s roles and expectations. Since transactional leadership judges team members on performance, ambitious individuals who are motivated by external rewards typically thrive. The major downside is that it can be chilling and amoral. Furthermore, it can also lead to high turnover rates. Lastly, it also has serious limitations for knowledge-based or creative work. This, in turn, limits employees’ ability to improve their overall job satisfaction.

Closing Thoughts

In the business world, transformational leadership is often the most appealing form of leadership to employ.

However, no one style of leadership fits every situation, so it’s helpful to understand a variety of leadership styles and frameworks. Doing so allows you to adapt your approach to fit the situation at hand.

Andrew Roche

Andrew Roche is a Digital Consultant at Shift Digital. He is also pursuing an MBA in Marketing & Finance through the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University

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