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 effective leadership style

According to Wikipedia leadership style is

“A leaders method of providing direction, implementing plans and motivating people”.

Depending on a number of factors it is about the behaviour and practices of the leader which enables them to lead in a given situation.  The key here is how leadership applies their essential qualities and skills in any given situation in order 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 startup up may not be able to take the business into international development for example.

In a changing landscape, it is imperative that leaders switch styles to meet the needs of the group.

Factors which determine the effective leadership style

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

Team maturity

It’s no surprise that teams will undoubtedly require different leadership styles depending on the level of their maturity.  New teams will often require more supervision and training as well as direction.  The growth they experience has at least two aspects.  The first is around learning the task in hand, their role and how they contribute.  The second is how they integrate as a team.  The extent to which they can develop a healthy internal customer service ethos can depend on how well relationships grow.

A healthy culture is key and sometimes in the early days, the starting point is when a team is quite dependent on the leader.  As teams grow and mature their growth takes them from dependency through independence and eventually to a healthy interdependency.

Forming, norming and storming

Tuckman’s theory, Forming, Storming and Norming sets out a way in which a team behaves through the growth cycle Tuckman believed all teams grow through the following stages as they develop. This theory contends that new teams have to go through a typical cycle of growth which travels from the formation of the team to a time when the team goes onto something new.  This means that the leader will as a consequence adjust their leadership style to meet the needs of the team at whichever stage they are in at that time.   Sometimes,  it’s common for different leaders to leave and be appointed who will have different strengths and styles along the journey.

Forming, Storming, Norming - People Development Network

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 by virtue of 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, 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 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 leaders 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.  Can eventually lead to burn out and disengagement within the team
    • The Abdicator – sidesteps responsibility and avoids tackling or solving problems.  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, the 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 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 are able to 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, for teams who not mature or who have always experienced command and control leadership, they 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 in order to get the absolute best from their team.  The two main components within this leadership style are about 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 skill and knowledge to the team.  Coaching is a way of helping the team or individual find their own 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 teams 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 in 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

Max Weber brought the idea of charismatic leadership to the fore.  His work exploring the reasons why people follow leaders who have authority.  He found that people will follow a leader because they perceive the authority of the leader as good, right or just. Therefore in the eyes of the employee, the leader agrees with their values and sense of right and wrong.   The word charismatic derives from the Greek word Charis.  This word is tied up with kindness and grace.  Charismatic leaders are graceful and virtuous.

There are three broad components of Charismatic leadership.  The first is the psychological and involves the inner being of the leader and how that shows up to the team.  The second component is the social influence of the leader.   How they lever influence across a variety of stakeholders is key.   Finally, it is about the relationship between the leader and their team.

5. Servant leadership

Servant leadership was first coined by Robert K Greenleaf in 1970.  Greenleaf described the notion of the Servant as a Leader after reading “Journey to the East” by Hesse. Servant leadership is wrapped around the premise that the prime purpose of the leader is to serve others.   There are many characteristics attributed to servant leadership.  In reality, these characteristics can vary depending on individual situations.

 The most relevant characteristics include listening, helping others grow, building community and consensus.  Servant leadership requires a level of emotional intelligence and thinking skills.   Balancing the need to be there for others while leading and getting results is the path which isn’t always easy to navigate.  Those skills are essential to understand the customer, delivering exactly what is needed, at the right time.

6. Transactional leadership

Transactional leadership style is aligned to the old command and control type of leadership.  This style assumes a carrot and stick type of environment, where reward and punishment are the main levers to getting things done.   There is a hierarchy which must be obeyed and there are different privileges at different levels of the hierarchy.   Within transactional leadership, it’s assumed that team members are not self-actualised but have to be controlled and measured.

This style of leadership can motivate and reward individuals and teams although it takes constant effort.  Team members may feel stifled or ignored if they are not the subject of rewards.  People who develop are more than likely to move on to experience more innovative and autonomous regimes.   Traditional roles of supervision, review and promotion can be prevalent when this style is adopted.  When this style is used, then often the status quo is maintained for long periods of time.

7. Transformational leadership

In direct opposition to transactional leadership, transformational leadership adopts a proactive approach to leadership, rather than reactive.  This leadership style embraces new ideas,    innovation and thinking outside of the box.  This is the arena of change, new directions and innovative products and services.   This can be an effective leadership style when change is needed.

This style of leadership assumes several characteristics.  One of the most vital characteristics is that of having a vision.   A clear vision setting out where the team or organisation is going, which bypasses the current reality is key.  Being able to inspire others is usually an essential trait.  This means one’s higher self bringing out another’s higher self.  Being proactive and forward thinking are also key characteristics of transformational leadership.

8. Team-oriented leadership

A team orientated leadership style creates an environment where everyone within the team is seen as equally valuable.  This is a priority even while traditional roles of leader and team member are adopted. While there are different responsibilities within each role, each role is acknowledged as valuable and equally important.  Likewise, at a personal level, everyone is seen as equally valuable, and of equal status.

Leaders who adopt a team-orientation will share the power and their main focus will be to empower the team.  They will generously and transparently share information and welcome feedback and input from the wider team on any issue which affects them.  Most of the business within the team is dealt with via consensus and discussion. However, the team orientated leader may still have to take authoritative decisions if the situation warrants it.   Team safety is paramount to the smooth working of the team, as is a good quality feedback loop and devolved decision making.   The team works through contributing to shared outcomes and objectives. Everyone is clear about the part they play in achieving these.  Micro-management is not a feature and the team are trusted to manage themselves to achieve results.

There are of course many different versions of effective leadership style, although the above set out the most used and recognised.

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 in order to help you determine which leadership style to choose.   However, there are a number of 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 really key. Unless you recognise your own preferred natural style and have the ability to 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 discovering 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.  If you are feeling really brave you can ask them what style do they think would be most appropriate given your situation and task at hand.

       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 in certain situations your team finds themselves in.

        5. Try different approaches

You may find yourself in different situations perhaps leading a project or a sub-team or indeed being involved in leadership activities outside of work.  In these situations try different approaches and find out what works and what doesn’t.  Finally, you can begin the journey by testing out this leadership-style-quiz.htm”>MindGym leadership style quiz.

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