Adopting the most effective leadership style is key to success

The most effective leadership style a leader adopts whether consciously or unconsciously will in part determine the success or otherwise of the team or group.  The style adopted will also influence how collegiate the group forms and grows.

The definition of an effective leadership style

According to Wikipedia leadership style is

“A leader’s method of providing direction, implementing plans and motivating people”.

Depending on several factors it is the behaviour and practices of the leader which enable them to lead in a given situation.  The key here is how leaders apply their essential qualities and skills in any given situation to get the desired results.

Different situations call for different styles

It follows that different situations may call for changes in leadership style and therefore, particularly in a growing business, the leader and leadership team may over time change as the needs of the business grow and develops.  A leader who may be successful in start-up up may not be able to take the business into international development for example.

In a changing landscape, leaders must switch styles to meet the needs of the group.

Factors which determine the effective leadership style

Effective leaders take into account several factors when considering the most effective leadership style.  These include:

Team maturity

It’s not shocking to learn that different teams need different types of leadership, depending on how mature they are. For example, new teams often need a lot more guidance and training. Their growth happens in two main parts. First, they have to learn about their job, their roles, and how they can contribute to the team. Then, they have to learn how to work together effectively as a team. This process usually depends on how well they can build strong relationships within the team.

Creating a healthy team environment is very important. In the early days, teams often lean a lot on their leader. But as teams grow and become more mature, they learn to be less dependent on their leader and more on each other. Eventually, they reach a point where they work well together and rely equally on each other and the leader.

Forming, Storming and Norming

In terms of team development theory, Tuckman’s concept of Forming, Storming, and Norming provides insightful guidance. This theory outlines the behavioural progression of a team throughout its growth cycle. Tuckman posits that all teams inevitably traverse through these stages during their development. His theory asserts that a team’s growth journey commences with its formation and concludes when the team moves onto a new challenge. As a result, the leader must adapt their leadership style to suit the team’s needs at its current stage. In this journey, it’s not uncommon to witness changes in leadership, with different leaders bringing their unique strengths and styles to the table.

The nature of relationships

Predominantly the nature of the business will determine the culture.  So for example, the team on a terminal cancer ward in healthcare will have very different values and priorities than a high stake financial stockbroker in the city.  This means that the different skills and personalities required for such diverse outcomes mean that the relationships between leaders and employees may look and feel very different.  This is not about the distinctions between leader and employer, but rather around personality type.  Undoubtedly then the nature of the relationships within different occupations will help to determine the required leadership style.

The nature of the task

The nature of the task will determine the leadership style. Some tasks will require psychomotor skills, and some kinesthetic skills and for others, cognitive abilities will be important.  In other words, the task may be a product, service or knowledge.   Each of these tasks will require some common leadership attributes, while also requiring some differences. The scope and level of autonomy for decision-making may be different for example.


Outcomes may be immediate and urgent and at other times the nature of the outcome means it could take decades.  In this world of immediate results, short terminism has become the norm.  However, if the leader is championing a cause then the outcomes may mean a big cultural shift that can take some time.  The leadership style in these circumstances may involve high levels of engagement, collaboration, consultation and communication.  At other times, the leader may need to adopt an autocratic style because of the urgency of the situation.

The personality of the leader

 Most leaders initially adopt a natural leadership style depending on their personality.  However, leaders can learn and adopt new leadership styles. There are many personality trends and tests out there such as Myers Briggs Type Indicator of DISC, for example.  Thus there are many components which determine a leader’s natural leadership style.  Archetypes or personas are a great way to describe the aspects of a leadership style and Jerry Robinson’s model uses 5 different personas to describe leadership style.  These are:

    • The Cavalier – this leader is about pleasure-seeking and having fun. Can build great relationships and rapport although may result in weak performance.
    • The Martyr – Has a punishing work ethic and will appeal to the guilt in others to extract effort.  This can eventually lead to burnout and disengagement within the team
    • The Abdicator sidesteps responsibility and avoids tackling or solving problems.  This leads to frustrations in the group and ends in low performance.
    • The Controller – micro-manages and uses command and control.  Initiative and innovation from team members are low.
    • The Activator –  facilitates team working through tasks. Encouraging team and individual growth.  Teaches and consults.

What are the most common leadership styles?

1. The 3-style model of leadership from Kurt Lewin

Way back in 1939, psychologist Kurt Lewin created the “Three Styles of Leadership” model.  These three styles describe some of the most common leadership styles, while in modern times these can seem almost stereotypical.  The description of the styles is to this day extremely useful to raise the self-awareness of leaders. and begin the discussion about leadership styles.  Lewin’s work included:

Authoritarian/Autocratic leadership

Command and control is the main feature of this style.  The leader sets out the direction of travel and the goals and decisions for the rest of the team. There is little or no consultation or brainstorming to allow the team to have their say.   In most leadership/team interactions, this style of leadership is counter-productive.  Certainly not getting the best out of the wider team, and indeed leaving out rich information which can create more successful outcomes.   However, depending on the situation or relevant factors set out above (usually with short deadlines looming) this style of leadership can be appropriate to adopt when speedy decisions and action have to be made and delivered.

Participative/Democratic leadership

This style is used when leaders consult with the team and invite input, but usually, the decision-making remains with the leader.  This style can be effective in some situations where there may not be time to debate and take on everyone’s views on decisions which need to be made.  When there are conflicting interests and priorities, this is a useful style to adopt.   This style is more consultative and creates opportunities for employees to innovate and participate in decisions.

Delegative/Lassez-Faire leadership

In this instance, the leader delegates some or all of the responsibility to the team.  They can decide on the outcomes and how they will achieve them. The leader’s role is that of facilitator or support.  For most mature teams this style of leadership works best and makes the best use of individual strengths.  However, teams who not mature or who have always experienced command and control leadership can experience a lack of decision-making.  This style may not suit a poor-performing or relatively new team.

2. Situational leadership

Dr Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard created this theory.  The model describes how leadership styles must adapt depending on different situations.  There is an acknowledgement that managers and leaders will need to adjust their styles to fit any given situation. This is imperative to get the absolute best from their team.  The two main components within this leadership style are how mature the team is on task and what the task entails.  Four leadership styles are included in the theory.

a. Directing

Reserved for when the team are new and not familiar with the task.  In this situation, the leader will usually adopt a directive style until the team know their way around what is required.  This style mirrors the authoritarian/autocratic style of leadership.

b. Coaching

At this stage of maturity, the leader is ready to begin transferring skills and knowledge to the team.  Coaching is a way of helping the team or individual find their way.  During this level of maturity,  the leader is still directive mainly but beginning to hand over to the team.

c. Delegating

The style of the leader makes a shift at this stage and begins to transfer trust to the team and individuals to take the initiative to get on with the task.  The leader maintains overall control but relies on relationships with the team rather than task expertise to progress.

d. Supporting

Finally, the team are capable of delivering on the task.  They are autonomous and the leader will delegate the outcomes and decision-making to allow the team to be self-functioning.    The leader will be there to facilitate the resources and environment to allow the team’s skills and abilities to make real achievements.

The leader must be able to assess the capability of the team to be able to gauge when to change styles.

3. Principle Centred leadership

Stephen R Covey introduced the notion of principle-centred leadership.  This is an effective leadership style and is about developing a leadership style from the inside out.  It is about integrity and “being” the leader that is required.  There are many aspects to this leadership style, but briefly, it is based on four key principles:

a. Security

This is about self-esteem and self-respect.  How secure is the leader inside?  Do they have a good sense of control over their emotions?  Do they have personal resilience and inner strength?  For any aspiring leader, developing this principle is key to weathering considerable challenges.  A sense of inner security will expand to their team and the task at hand.

b. Guidance

A strong inner guidance system anchors a principle-centred leader.  Congruency, which is the result of people who act on what they believe and say what they mean is usually the evidence of strong, diverse and unity-conscious inner guidance.  Win/win decisions and honouring all demonstrate aligned inner guidance with their higher self.

c. Wisdom

An ability to use discernment when making decisions is essential to living up to this principle.  Letting people be who they are and constructing healthy boundaries which honour each other rather than cause division.  Being able to take into account a higher perspective and bringing that to decision making.  The ability to put oneself into another’s shoes without condemnation.  Inner wisdom comes from a strong inner guidance system.

d. Power

This is about being able to move forward and act in the most difficult of situations.  Power in this context is about using personal power rather than trying to exact power over another.  This principle speaks of inner strength and resilience.  It’s about moving things forward with integrity and influence in an honourable way.

4. Charismatic/Value-Based Leadership

Charismatic leadership, a concept brought to light by Max Weber, revolves around the idea that people choose to follow leaders whose authority they deem to be good, fair, or just. Thus, from the employee’s perspective, the leader’s values align with their ethical compass. The term ‘charismatic’ comes from the Greek word ‘Charis’, which signifies kindness and grace, traits often associated with such leaders.

Charismatic leadership embodies three key aspects. First, it delves into the psychological aspect, reflecting the leader’s inner self and how it resonates with the team. Secondly, it focuses on the leader’s social influence and their ability to wield it across various stakeholders. Lastly, it emphasizes the relationship between the leader and their team.

5. Servant Leadership

Robert K Greenleaf coined the term ‘Servant Leadership’ in 1970 after reading Hesse’s “Journey to the East. This leadership style underscores that a leader’s primary purpose is to serve others. The characteristics of a servant leader may vary based on individual scenarios.

The most pertinent attributes include attentive listening, aiding others’ growth, and fostering community and consensus. Emotional intelligence and cognitive abilities are key to servant leadership. The balancing act between supporting others and driving results can be challenging, but essential for meeting customer needs effectively and timely.

6. Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership is like an old-school ‘boss tells, workers do’ approach. It aligns with the concept of managers who do and leaders who lead.  It uses rewards and punishments to get jobs done. Everyone in the team must follow a set hierarchy or order, with different levels getting different perks. It works on the belief that team members need to be managed and measured from the outside because they can’t do it themselves.

This style can motivate and reward teams, but it needs non-stop effort. Team members may feel held back if they don’t get rewards. Those who learn and grow in this system may want to move to environments that allow more creativity and independence. Typical jobs like supervision, checking work, and moving up the ranks often become more important under this leadership style. It’s also important to mention that this style can lead to long periods where nothing changes, which could stop new and creative ideas from happening.

7. Transformational Leadership

Contrary to transactional leadership, transformational leadership advocates a proactive approach. It embraces novel ideas, innovation, and unconventional thinking. This approach becomes effective when change is necessary. Key traits of transformational leadership include having a clear vision, inspiring others, and being proactive and forward-thinking.

8. Team-Oriented Leadership

In a team-oriented leadership style, everyone on the team is seen as equally important, no matter if they are a leader or a team member. Every role, even though they all have different responsibilities, is viewed as equally valuable. Leaders who use this style share power and make it their priority to make the team stronger. They are open to information, invite feedback from the team, and make decisions based on group discussions. Things like team safety, good feedback, and allowing team members to make their own decisions are all really important. Team members know how they help achieve the team’s goals and are trusted to manage their own work.

There are lots of different ways to be a good leader, but the ones I’ve mentioned are some of the most well-known and used.

Top tips to help you develop your unique leadership style

As your leadership skills and experience grow, you will need to reflect on your style.  Where necessary you may need to switch and develop your specific leadership style.  In the preceding part of this article, some of the factors which need to be taken into account are set out to help you determine which leadership style to choose.   However, there are several steps and tips you can use to make sure you are adopting the most effective leadership style in any given situation.

1. The ability to self reflect

Self-reflection is key. Unless you recognise your preferred natural style and can hold this up to the mirror then you are unlikely to develop the self-awareness you need to build dexterity into your leadership style.  Self-reflection in this scenario is about recognising your emotions. It’s also about observing your thinking and behaviours. By doing so discover the style you use when in autopilot mode.

       2. Ask for feedback from your team

You can use a tool like 360 feedback and invite honest responses from your team and your stakeholders.  While asking about your effectiveness as a leader in different scenarios usually is the focus of this kind of tool, it is key that you ask about style.  You could give the team some of the more common effective leadership style descriptors and ask them what fits you best.

       3.  Get out of your comfort zone

You will be good friends with your preferred style of leadership.  There will be some big payoffs and rewards for yourself no matter what style is your natural one.  It can be uncomfortable to consider different styles, but just like any new habit, a new effective leadership style will take practice, resilience and determination until it becomes second nature.

4.  Observe other leaders with different styles

Actively get out to different teams and organisations which develop different products or services you provide.  Observe the different ways leaders lead their teams in different situations.  Find out what the payoffs are for different styles and work out if a change of style may work in your team or certain situations your team finds themselves in.

        5. Try different Ways

You may find yourself in different situations perhaps leading a project or indeed being involved in activities outside of work.  In these situations try different ways and find out what works and what doesn’t.

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