Wednesday, January 14, 2009

10 Leadership Styles

Do you always lead with a style that’s most comfortable for you, or can you adapt your natural style to meet the need of a given situation?

Here are two ways to classify leadership styles, and 10 different styles:

The Situational Leadership model uses a 4 box grid based on the amount of direction and support an employee needs. The four styles are:

Directing Leaders define the roles and tasks of the 'follower', and supervise them closely. Decisions are made by the leader and announced, so communication is largely one-way.

Coaching Leaders still define roles and tasks, but seeks ideas and suggestions from the follower. Decisions remain the leader's prerogative, but communication is much more two-way.

Supporting Leaders pass day-to-day decisions, such as task allocation and processes, to the follower. The leader facilitates and takes part in decisions, but control is with the follower.

Delegating Leaders are still involved in decisions and problem-solving, but control is with the follower. The follower decides when and how the leader will be involved.

Another approach categorizes styles according to emotional intelligence competencies, some of which work better than others in specific situations. These styles are:

Coercive: This “Do what I say” style demands immediate compliance. It is especially useful in turnaround situations, in a crisis, and with problem employees. However, using this style inhibits your organization’s flexibility and can dampen employee motivation.

This style mobilizes people toward a vision. Specifically, it provides an overarching goal, but gives others the freedom to choose their own way of reaching it. This approach is most effective when a business is at sea and needs direction, or during an economic or business downturn. This style is less successful when the leader is working with a team of experts who may have more experience—and may disagree with his approach.

This “people-first” style engenders the creation of emotional bonds and team harmony. It is best used when team coherence is important or in times of low employee morale. But this approach’s focus on praise may permit poor performance among employees to continue unchecked, and employees may lack a sense of overall direction. The downside of this style, however, is that it may result in indecision, and some people may be left feeling confused and leaderless.

Democratic: This style builds consensus through participation. It is most appropriate when organizational flexibility and a sense of individual responsibility is needed. The downside of this style, however, is that it may result in indecision, and some people may be left feeling confused and leaderless.

Pacesetting: This style expects excellence and self-direction. It works best for highly skilled and motivated people who work well on their own. Other people, however, may feel overwhelmed by a pacesetting leader’s demands for excellence. Their self-esteem, trust, and, ultimately, their morale may drop under the regime of this type of leader.

Coaching: This style focuses on personal development. Coaching leaders help people identify their strengths and weaknesses, and tie them to their career aspirations. While this style is highly successful with people who want to change or improve professionally, it is largely unsuccessful with those who are resistant to learning or changing their ways.

While some styles may be more comfortable for you to adopt than others, the more you stretch yourself to learn a range of styles, the more effective you will be as a leader.


Anonymous said...


This is a public service.

Effective leadership is all about owning a repertoire of styles, then being able to quickly diagnose a situation in order to start using the right one.

My experience has been that even those who totally understand the meaning of each style--and the importance of the application--still struggle with being able to do that which is outside of their normal comfort zone.

True confession: I tell them to take the pressure off and come as close as they can. Fact is, as long as they are in the ballpark, things will usually go pretty well.

Dan McCarthy said...

Steve -
Thanks, and wise advice as always.

Coyote said...

What you call a "repertoire of styles" is my calling for the manager to fit their management style to the individuals they manage, with empahsis on "individuals". One size does NOT fit all.

Ironically a topic of my Jan 14th Business Wisdom post, which either means we're both wrong (I don't think so) or share the right idea.

Dan McCarthy said...

Waugust/Bill -
What, both of us wrong!? I don't think so either. (:

Anonymous said...

In your opinion, is it possible for someone to have all the leadership styles that you have listed above?

I know it's hard but if it is possible, will you recommend someone to focus more on perfecting one of the styles or to branch out?

Thanks for the article.

Wayne Liew

Anonymous said...

Am I missing something? I only count 9 here. Four of the first category, five of the next. Where's the 10th?

Dan McCarthy said...

Wayne -
Tkae a look at Steve Roesler's comment above, I think he provides a good answer to your questions.
For SL, you really need to use all 4. For EI, I think it would be best for develop coaching, democratic, Authoritative, and Affiliative (there’s actually been some research on this - these get the best long-term sustainable results).

Dan McCarthy said...

anon -
You're right! Thanks for pointing it out. I left off Democratic.

Anonymous said...


Enjoyed the article and wanted to offer this edit: Seems the last part of the affiliative description belongs with the democratic style. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I agree the leadership concepts are valuable but they're only one side of the coin. We talk so much about leadership we forget about the onus on employees. Let's make sure we get "the right people on the bus" first. By doing so you can play to your dominant leadership style.

Anonymous said...

From all comments including the original post, it appears that discussion is far more about the HOW of leadership than the WHAT of leadership. The HOW is observed by the behaviors that effective leaders demonstrate. The WHAT is the essence, the purpose. What I suggest with my clients is the WHAT of effective (doing the right thing) is securing the desired results while demonstrating clearly articulated and positive core values.

Dan McCarthy said...

Anon#2 -
OMG, another mistake! I was messing with the html editor in blogger trying to get the darn thing formatted, and must have lost my mind.
Thanks, it's fixed now - I hope!

Max Goldberg said...

Dan: Great thoughts on leadership styles. I would add that no matter which style a leader chooses, and in whatever circumstance, he/she needs to remain true to the core story of the company. That, coupled with the ability to adapt one's style to the situation, will help a business ride out a storm and grow.

Max Goldberg

Dan McCarthy said...

Leanne, Max,
Thanks for stopping by and adding your comments.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for putting together this list and for your thoughts on the subject.

I often define leadership as "getting things done through and with people." I see both sides as critical - getting things done AND taking care of people.

I agree with you that the real key to great leadership lies in knowing how and when to apply each style based on both the situation and the person we happen to be interacting with so that we get results today and preserve relationships (if possible) to get more work done tomorrow.

Thanks for the post.