The six different leadership styles

OPENSEED Digital Consultancy

Whether they know it or not every business manager has a leadership style that they develop and grow over time. This style might be learned, it might be inherent and it may also evolve as a leader responds to growth and change within an enterprise.

According to Harvard Business Review, there’s a good chance a leader will fall into one of six distinct categories and they may even adopt a few that they draw on under different circumstances.

Here’s an insight into the six different styles of leadership, and the traits and benefits of each.

The Harvard Study

Back in the early noughties, Daniel Coleman of HBR released a study entitled Leadership That Gets Results.

Based on research conducted with around 4000 executives over three years, he found the most effective leaders chose from six distinct leadership styles.

Ultimately, he noted this leadership could account for 30 per cent of a company’s bottom-line profitability, and many leaders also often blended leadership styles to achieve the best results.

“The best leaders don’t know just one style of leadership — they’re skilled at several, and have the flexibility to switch between styles as the circumstances dictate,” he revealed.

The research also at looked at how these leadership strategies affected and reflected the key cultural components of each organisation, with the study determining these elements as:

  • Flexibility – employees’ ability to innovate without excessive rules and regulations
  • Responsibility – how responsible employees feel towards the organisation
  • Standards – the level of standards expected in the organisation
  • Rewards – the accuracy of performance feedback and its link to rewards
  • Clarity – how clear employees are about the mission, vision and core value
  • Commitment – employees’ commitment to a common purpose

The art of leadership

“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” – Leadership author and speaker John Maxwell

A company may have the greatest vision, the most experienced staff and the best technology and strategy at their fingertips, but it is the leader who can make or break the implementation of each and all of the above.

In fact, leadership is considered one of the most important factors in setting the cultural tone for any small or large organisation.

A leader and the methods they employ have direct bearing on how employees feel about their organisation, the job satisfaction they enjoy, and their ability to meet their goals.

As Forbes notes: “Leadership affects the confidence of the staff and whether they see mistakes as opportunities for learning or failures that damage the self-worth of the employee.

“It also, cultivates the foundation of culture to empower employees to achieve the company mission and realize how vital each of their contributions is to furthering those goals”.

So which leadership strategies are available, and what suits an organisation best?

The authoritative leader – Come with me

Considered the most effective leader of all, the authoritative leader offers a combination of support, confidence and vision.

This leader is denoted by the catchphrase “Come with me”, inviting people to share a company’s vision, understand the goal and quickly achieve results.

They are a leader for the future, understanding their staff may need to take calculated risks in order to learn, grow and offer ideas beyond those of their competition.

With the big picture as the focus, the authoritative leader commands the respect of staff, while the strategy works particularly well when businesses are looking to embrace a new vision or achieve different results.

Although this leadership style has few downsides, the person implanting it must be sufficiently knowledgeable and charismatic. They must be able to propel people towards a greater idea, while fostering the strengths of their own team members.

They must also tread the fine line between knowledgeable and overbearing.

Positives: This leader offers clear motivation, positive feedback and often achieves the greatest results within an organisation.

Negatives: Should the authoritative tone tend towards overbearing, they can lose the support and morale of their team.

The democratic leader – What do you think?

The democratic leader achieves through consensus, seeking the opinion of their team and involving them in the vision of a business.

With the catchphrase “What do you think?”, they believe in having their team invested emotionally in an organisation.

This strategy is renowned for building morale, motivating groups and achieving results as a cohesive unit. It is considered most effective when used to endorse a plan or when driving a team to embrace a new vision.

However, under severe time constraints, this leadership style can become impractical.

Positives: Creates a feeling of value in employees and allows them to own the vision and future direction of a company.

Negatives: Hard to employ when time is of the essence or when staff are not in a position to offer an educated opinion of value.

The coaching leader – Try this

With the mantra “Try this”, the coaching leader helps build the skills of their team using their experience  to achieve success.

The coaching leader is considered available to their staff, supportive and focussed on the future. They look to build a team’s skillset and experience as part of investment in their company’s future.

The coaching leader is also likely an excellent delegator, identifying the skills and weaknesses in each team member and working to create a cohesive unit.

This is a leader with the future at the forefront of their mind, however their strategy takes time to implement, and requires receptiveness and self-motivation of each team member in order to make progress.

Positives: this leadership style can achieve great performance in a team as a whole, by understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each employee and using them to great effect.

Negatives: If the leader lacks proficiency or team members are unwilling to learn, a coaching leadership style will have limited impact.

The affiliative leader – People come first

The affiliative leader is one who praises and nurtures their team into performance, with the belief “People come first”.

Their ethos involves creating harmony and an emotional bond with staff in order to better motivate employees.

Considered one of the best leadership approaches, the affiliative leader has a focus on the overall team morale, nurturing each member as part of a cohesive unit.

On the downside an overly friendly and nurturing leader can create a culture where poor performance is tolerated, or where constructive criticism isn’t effectively employed.

Although highly effective, the affiliative leadership style often works best when employed alongside other leadership traits.

Positives: Builds good communication, loyalty and a nurturing team environment

Negatives: Is not enough on its own and may result in acceptance of poor behaviour and a lack of constructive criticism.

The pacesetting leader – Follow me

The pacesetting leader sets high standards they expect their team to follow. With the catchphrase follow me, this can be a leadership method that should be used with caution.

Often the pacesetting leader’s standards are hard for their team to read or attain, which can ultimately result in staff becoming overwhelmed, losing morale or simply giving up.

On the positive side, a pacesetting leader can quickly achieve results. At their best they may be considered firm but fair and leaders who offer expertise through example.

Positives: Clear direction, vision, motivation and feedback, with the ability to implement change.

Negatives: Can establish an environment where standards are hard to meet and staff become overwhelmed.

The coercive leader – Do what I tell you

This type of leader demands compliance with the belief their team members should “Do what I tell you”.

While considered a useful style in a crisis or when attempting to turn around the behaviour of an employee as a last resort, the coercive leader may struggle to create a team environment, instead believing subjects will simply obey.

In fact, the coercive leader is one considered to have the most potential negative impact on an organisation’s culture.

Positives: Can be a useful leadership strategy in a crisis.

Negatives: Can devalue employees and lower team morale.

The leadership reality

The reality is a leader may employ more than one strategy and some styles work better than others within specific contexts.

In fact, the HBR study found most truly effective leaders draw on four distinct leadership styles in order to meet the needs, demands and various scenarios of their business and staff.

They also noted most modern leaders shift between the authoritative, democratic, affiliative and coaching styles as they look to upskill their teams, ensure they feel valued, increase communication and propel them towards a common goal.

Those who can successfully master this seamless shift, have the best chance of business success, responding to each situation and staff member as required in order to creative a positive business culture.

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