Prominent leaders can often cultivate a distinct style of leadership that they've become known for. But consistently using only one leadership style can prevent you from being the best leader for your business. The famous Chinese proverb says, "The wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water molds itself to the pitcher." This ability to adapt can be the mark of a wise leader who knows that one of the types of leadership styles doesn't fit all and has learned to use several styles of leadership.
The Goleman leadership styles come from Daniel Goleman, an author and psychologist who established six styles of leadership based on different types of emotional intelligence.
- Coercive or directive ("Do what I tell you")
- Authoritative or visionary ("Come with me")
- Affiliative or participative ("People come first)
- Democratic ("What do you think?")
- Pacesetting ("Do as I do, now") and
- Coaching ("Try this")
Which Style Is Best?
An effective leadership style can significantly impact a team's productivity. Good leaders are invested in their team's success and can make people feel that their work is valued. They can regularly encourage employees to develop their skills and knowledge. This employee encouragement can inspire people to get better results. Management consultant Peter F. Drucker once wrote, "Leadership is lifting a person's vision to high sights, the raising of a person's performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations."
Bad leadership can have the opposite effect, demotivating employees and making them less invested in their jobs.
The good news is that there's no right or wrong leadership style – just as golfers know to choose from a combination of clubs to play their best round of golf, a seasoned leader knows how to select the leadership style best suited for a specific situation and the people involved.
For example, a democratic leadership style can be practical when seeking input or trying to build consensus on an issue, while an affiliative style can be a good choice when it's necessary to intervene to mend rifts or to inspire people who are under stressful circumstances. And each style brings its own benefits.
However, among all the types of leadership styles, two styles can be problematic and need to be used cautiously. Let's look at these two more closely:
Pacesetting leadership is a style of leadership in which the leader sets the organization's pace, as the name implies. A key component of pacesetting leadership is that the leader leads by example.
A pacesetter leader is obsessed with getting things done better and faster. He sets the bar high for himself and others on the team. This type of leader prides himself on never asking others to do what he wouldn't do himself.
On the surface, we may admire this highly competent leader. After all, this can be someone whose drive for excellence and speed is formidable. But when we look behind the curtain, we see this style can have many adverse side effects. This style can encompass bad leadership examples such as:
- Always keeping an eye on the ball and having little time for niceties.
- Slow to praise and quick to criticize.
- Not trusting others to do as good a job as they would.
- Not devoting time to coaching people for improvement.
- Accustomed to rolling up their sleeves and taking over when things didn't move as quickly or efficiently as they expected.
Goleman's research shows that this style may hurt your business in the long run. "Many employees feel overwhelmed by the pacesetter's demands for excellence," Goleman notes, "and their morale drops." The fast-paced environment and ongoing demands can generate high stress levels and lead to interpersonal conflict.
Guidelines for accomplishing company goals may be clear in the leader's head, but he hasn't stated them clearly. This leader may take for granted that people know what to do and even thinks, "If I have to tell you, you're the wrong person for the job."
Coercive or Directive Style
One of the advantages associated with directive leadership is the clear guidance and instructions this leader provides. The organization's direction and purpose are clearly articulated from the outset, leaving no room for ambiguity regarding the team's objectives and the necessary actions to attain them.
But the coercive style can often be associated with toxic leaders and can be one of the least desirable styles of leadership in management:
- This style is the hallmark of top-down leaders who do not encourage open communication.
- They squelch most new ideas before they even have a chance to be explored.
- These leaders feel they know best. Before long, people stop coming to them with new ideas.
- Flexibility and initiative are eroded, and people are demotivated. Some even become resentful and stop trying.
As Goleman's research shows, people who work for this type of leader may feel that their sense of responsibility has evaporated. "Unable to act on their own initiative, they lose their sense of ownership and feel little accountability for their performance," Goleman reports. This can be a surefire way to stop your employees from giving you the best of what they have to offer. You may never know how much your business stands to lose when you adopt this style.
How to Avoid Bad Leadership Styles
Ineffective leadership strategies can harm team performance, productivity, and employee morale.
Effective styles of leadership, on the other hand, can result in a multitude of favorable outcomes. First and foremost, they can promote a sense of cohesion and cooperation among team members, resulting in heightened levels of productivity and effectiveness.
Good leaders can energize and inspire their teams, empowering them to unlock their maximum potential and achieve exceptional results.
Most importantly, focusing on how to be a good leader can help enable you to keep your best employees around.
So how can you prevent having a poor leadership style? There are three crucial parts:
- Understanding good and bad leadership to help you eliminate all negative leadership behaviors and adopt the practices of exceptional leaders, such as those outlined in The Leadership Challenge, for example.
- Asking your team, what is my leadership style? Getting feedback from your team and paying attention to their issues can help you identify areas where you might need to change your leadership style.
- Increasing your awareness of the leadership style you use most frequently so you can adjust as needed to be a more effective leader.
You can create a productive workplace that promotes growth and collaboration and improves team performance by continually learning and adapting.
Just as golfers know to choose from a combination of clubs to play their best round of golf, a seasoned leader knows how to select the leadership style best suited for a specific situation and the people involved.
Which Style Do You Use Most Often?
Self-awareness is the first step toward self-management. Consider taking a leadership styles assessment to get a clear picture of the six styles you use most often. (Examples of leadership style assessments include The LSI Leadership Style Inventory, The Leadership Style Test, The Leadership Practices Inventory, The Leadership Styles Workbook or The Mindtools Leadership Style Quiz, to name a few.)
A leadership style assessment can also show how your employees and colleagues see you – in other words, how you come across vs. how you intend to come across. Consider using the information to make any necessary adjustments.
If you recognize that your leadership style may be leaning toward the pacesetter or coercive models, these three tips can help guide you in a better direction:
1. Temper your approach.
Both the pacesetter and the directive styles have their place. For example, when you're dealing with a turnaround situation that requires swift and authoritative action or when you're dealing with a crisis, these two styles can help you take charge. However, every strength taken to the extreme can become a liability.
Consider tempering these approaches with the other leadership styles as needed. For instance, try to know when to dip into the affiliative style by offering a sympathetic ear when things don't go well for your employees. Try to let them know that you understand their world. Consider taking a personal interest in people's lives by asking about their families, remembering their spouses and children's names, and celebrating their birthdays. These can all be simple things that add a human touch to our relationships with others.
2. Eliminate fear.
One of the hallmarks of a coercive boss can be the use of implied or explicit threats to make employees acquiesce. Employees may feel threatened by their bosses. Threatening people may work to make them compliant, but in the long run, it can make companies less productive as everyone spends more time in self-protective activities than in helping the company achieve results. Threat can engender fear, and fear can hinder people's efforts.
- Allowing employees to express their concerns openly.
- Giving them opportunities to challenge the status quo.
- Making it safe for people to test new ideas without fear of retribution if they fail.
- Replacing blame with lessons learned – when something goes wrong, use it as a learning opportunity rather than going on a hunt for the culprit.
- Insisting that all your leaders be approachable by anyone in the company.
- Holding fewer meetings behind closed doors.
3. Be open to ideas from the group.
A boss who is not receptive to new ideas can be the biggest impediment to innovation in a company. Creative employee ideas can be killed by organizational bureaucracy. If you're a directive or pacesetter type of leader, confident that your approach is the best, you may be unwittingly squashing creative ideas that can help your company succeed.
The myth of the great man, the lone ranger or the lone hero is no longer viable in a shrinking world of technological complexity. Today, greatness and innovation are aided by many talented people's coordinated contributions. As Warren Bennis, an American scholar and organizational consultant, wrote in The Secrets of Great Groups, "None of us is as smart as all of us." So, nurture creativity in your company by being open to ideas from a wide range of people. The positive results of this approach might surprise you.
Make Your Leadership Style a Business Strategy
In today's competitive business landscape, leaders should consider viewing their leadership style as a strategic advantage. Strategic leadership can help leaders develop their businesses. By aligning their leadership approach with the overall business strategy, leaders can effectively help steer their organization toward success and cultivate a culture that encourages new ideas and facilitates growth. This requires leaders to not only understand their own strengths and weaknesses but also adapt their style to the needs of the team and the changing market dynamics.
That's why using one style can do more harm than good. It can also be essential to use the pacesetter or coercive style with caution or not at all.
- The pacesetter style can have adverse side effects, such as overwhelming employees with demands for excellence, leading to stress and interpersonal conflicts.
- The coercive or directive style can lead to a top-down approach, squelching new ideas before they have a chance to be explored, leading to demotivation and resentment.
If one of these styles is your signature leadership style, consider taking steps to avoid bad leadership behaviors. Try:
- Tempering your approach by offering empathy, understanding, and personal interest in employees' lives.
- Eliminating fear by allowing employees to express their concerns openly, challenge the status quo and test new ideas without fear of retribution. Try replacing blame with lessons learned, ensuring all managers are accessible to anyone in the company, and holding fewer closed-door meetings.
- Being open to ideas from the group, as a boss who is not receptive to new ideas can hinder innovation.
Understanding and adjusting your leadership style can help create a productive workplace that promotes growth and collaboration and ultimately improves team performance.
A version of this article was originally published on September 23, 2013.
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