Approximately 4.8 billion books on leadership are written each year. Universities devote entire schools to teaching it, and powerful companies have failed because they didn’t have enough of the correct type of leadership. There is much debate about whether leaders are born or made. The answer is yes. Leaders are born AND made. I have seen three-year-olds organize a playground and their classmates around their desires. It is safe to assume that some children are born with these skills at a young age.
Do natural leaders have an advantage over those who develop their leadership skills? It depends. A natural leader starts ahead of others but developing leadership skills depends on each person’s motivation. Leadership can be rewarding, but people want to become leaders for different reasons. There are people who become leaders because they like telling others what to do. Other people become leaders because they don’t want anyone telling them what to do.
There is a style of leadership for every team and every situation. Most people have a leadership style that they find comes naturally to them. Having the ability to adapt leadership styles makes you a more versatile leader. Everyone has experienced lousy leadership. Even a good leader can find themselves in situations that don’t match their leadership style. It is usually easy to identify whether a leader is good or bad, but circumstances can make a good leader ineffective.
Daniel Goleman, author of the book Primal Leadership, defines six leadership styles. They are coaching, affiliative, visionary, democratic, pacesetting, and commanding. The style of leadership in a company has a strong influence on culture. Leadership style influences every corporation, small business, and family. I have seen the effectiveness of various leadership styles change over time.
The coaching style of leadership is my favorite. It doesn’t work in every situation (no style does), but I like it because the leader focus is on developing people. With an eye on what the future will require, the coaching leader makes it their business to grow their people, so they are prepared for the future. The coaching leadership style is effective for improving performance and developing long-term strengths. This style works best when continuous, long-term improvement is the goal. The coaching leader listens more than they talk. They use phrases such as “Try this” or “What have we learned?” The coaching leader’s ability to develop trust impacts the organization positively.
The affiliative style of leader creates harmony and builds emotional bonds. These leaders say things like, “Our people come first.” They build the organization on collaboration, team leadership, and communication. Conflicts between team members and stressful circumstances call for this leadership style. Affiliative leaders are excellent at healing rifts between people and actively encourage openness and transparency. This leader’s competence with emotional intelligence uses empathy-building, relationships, and communication. This type of leadership has a positive impact on the organization.
The visionary leadership style mobilizes people toward a vision. They invite others to “Come with me.” They cast their vision and tell people where they are going and why they are going there. They make others want to join the quest. This style works best when change needs a clear direction or a new vision. The visionary leader demonstrates self-confidence and empathy. They catalyze change. Visionary leaders take the time to discover what motivates people and the offer the tools and support people need to succeed. Visionary leaders have a strong, positive impact on their companies. Leaders must address issues of inexperience or high conflict before their team can connect with the vision.
Democratic leadership style establishes consensus through cooperation. This style works best when the situation requires significant change from the entire team. Democratic leaders are excellent listeners and bring harmony and unanimity to a group. This leadership style is effective when cooperation is critical for success. They often ask, “What do you think?” They are excellent at creating a cooperative environment and communicating. They give feedback, create buy-in, and are skilled at team leadership. Democracy and consensus building take time, and when quick action is needed, the Democratic leader may have to pivot to a different style.
The pacesetting leadership style sets high standards for performance. It is valuable when quick results are needed. They are excellent at developing competent teams that are highly motivated. The pacesetting leader effectively rallies a team for a purpose, but over time, they may be seen as cold, and numbers focused. They have difficulty connecting with people personally, and their drive often burns people out. They tell staff, “Do as I do, now.” They have initiative, are conscientious, and have the drive to achieve. When stress is high, they can push too hard, and when they do, breakdowns occur.
Last is the commanding style of leadership. Also called autocratic, this leader demands immediate compliance. In the past, when people used the term leadership, it was this style to which they were referring. These leaders are effective in a crisis or during a company turnaround but may be less effective when problems are minor. Their initiative, self-control, and drive to achieve can alienate the team. Leaders who use a commanding style are often stubborn. They are poor communicators, rarely listening to others. The overall impact of this type of leader is negative. They do not share their vision. To drive results, this leader may turn to micromanagement. Many leaders of this style thrive in a crisis and leave people wondering if at times they are creating these crises. The commanding leader’s effectiveness improves when their self-awareness and social awareness increase.
Each of these leadership styles is appropriate in certain situations. I don’t particularly appreciate being micromanaged, but if the building is on fire, I’d rather have someone telling everyone what to do than a leader who wants to take a vote. Knowing what leadership style is required at a given time is the key to leadership success. The greatest leaders can switch between two leadership styles. When strong direction is called for, they can direct and when empowering people is called for but can also step back and lend their knowledge and expertise while others get the work done.
Currently, many companies are growing at a rapid rate. This means that they are finding themselves needing more leaders than the market has to offer. Identifying emerging leaders and developing them is a critical task companies must master if they are to survive and thrive in the future.
Cami Miller is a business coach and partners with leaders on all levels to develop strategies for success. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or text 225-432-0454