Leadership Styles and the Different Types: How They Impact an Organization

man smiling

“We need more leadership!”

How many times have you heard that exclaimed in your organization?  Usually, it’s when:

  • The business lacks a vision or a clear strategy
  • Performance problems plague operations
  • Trust is low … and conflict is high
  • Employees are disengaged 

Yes, leadership is definitely needed when any (or all!) of these challenges emerge.  Yet, what exactly is leadership and how can it help?

Well, let’s start talking about leadership by first distinguishing it from management.

Leadership Styles Vs. Management Styles

Simply put, leadership isn’t management.  You manage things, you lead people.  A manager holds a place on an organizational chart and they’re responsible for processes, efficiencies, budgets, staffing, goals, and procedures.  

Managers are very important in organizations because their ability to organize and stay focused on key performance indicators delivers business results.  

But just because you’re a manager, doesn’t mean you’re a leader. 

Leaders are different.  You don’t need a title to lead.  You can be a leader and not be a manager.  True leadership is about doing two things well: influencing outcomes and inspiring others.  In fact, the best organizations have leaders at all levels – individuals willing to influence and inspire whether they’re only responsible for leading themselves or are responsible for a whole team.  

So, when businesses cry for more leadership, what they’re really stating is they want more employees to step up, influence the direction the organization is headed, and contribute to an environment where everyone feels empowered, engaged, and energized to perform to their potential.

Real leadership isn’t just the opportunity for a few, select key individuals.  It’s a responsibility for everyone in an organization.  Naturally, this begs the question, what does leadership look like?

Your Primary Leadership Style

How you influence and inspire is completely dependent on you and your natural leadership style.  Each and every one of us has unique strengths, tendencies, and preferences that are reflected in how we behave each and every day.

As an example, some of us influence and inspire through humor, while others feel more comfortable being reserved.  Some of us are more logic and fact-oriented, while others are more “people” people.  

There’s no right or wrong style.  There’s your style.  That’s the style you should focus on developing and growing comfortable with.

Here’s a useful exercise that will help you become more familiar with your authentic leadership style:

  • Sit down and write out a list of your strengths – those qualities that you know you do very well.
  • Next, write down a list of areas where you can improve.
  • Then, reflect upon how you feel when there’s conflict around you – what are your natural tendencies (do you engage, withdraw) and how does it make you feel?
  • Take time to reflect, too, on how you engage with others when you’re responsible for a task or project – are you hand’s on, hand’s off, collaborative, or directive?
  • Now, imagine if you were a trusted colleague.  What do you think they’d say about you?
  • Finally, consider recent performance reviews – what type of feedback have you received?

A great amount of self-awareness can be gained by pausing for a moment and reflecting on how well we know ourselves, and how much information we can gain from channeling a perspective of someone close to us.

The more self-aware we are, the better able we are to self-manage.  This is really important.  Just because we’re most comfortable one way – our way – doesn’t mean that it’s always the best way to lead in the situations we find ourselves in.

There will be times when our sense of humor isn’t necessary, like when we’re about to deliver feedback to a team member on a very serious subject.  Or there are times when our change-averse preferences aren’t going to add value to our business that’s going through a massive transformation.  

Self-awareness doesn’t mean that we have to be static.  It means that we know ourselves, we can read the environment that we’re in, and we have the opportunity to flex our style toward what the situation requires.  Consider your natural leadership style as your home base.  You can be agile with your style when the situation demands you to be, but you can always go back home.

Five Different Leadership Styles

As you become more self-aware, you’ll begin to see that while your leadership style is unique, it does share commonalities with other styles.  There are five different leadership styles, in fact, that have been identified to exist within organizations.  Below is a description of each:

  • Authoritarian – This is when a leader is very engaged in the direction of a team.  It’s often a lone wolf individual who drives action from the top down.  Think: “Command and Control.”  They’re often said to have a firm grip over their organization.  Over time, this isn’t an efficient – or empowering – style.  Yet, there are times when an authoritarian style is necessary, such as when the stakes are high and the one person calling the shots is the most knowledgeable in the situation.  Their knowledge and quick guidance can save time.  
  • Participative – This style invites the opinions of their team and encourages collaboration.  They desire individuals to feel involved in decisions and the direction of the organization.  The downside of this style is that it can run the risk of ruling by consensus; it’s also not time efficient.  Yet, when it comes to engaging a team, this style has value.
  • Delegative – This style is often referred to as “laissez-faire” – hands-off.  Individuals who espouse this style feel most comfortable passing decisions down to individuals and entrusting that they will take the initiative to get the job done.  This style works well when team members are competent; yet, when individual team members don’t possess the skills commensurate with their responsibilities, they run the risk of failing to meet objectives.  The benefits of a delegative style are that creativity, initiative, and innovation are fostered.  
  • Transactional – The transactional style operates on a give-and-take system with their team members.  An individual with this style passes along goals, projects, and assignments and expects them to be completed.  It’s a system that’s dependent on trust, but it’s less interpersonal than other styles.  It works well when systems and rules are in place to help guide employee engagement.
  • Transformational – The final style is more inspirational.  It guides with vision and empowerment.  It’s based on relationships – the deeper the relationship, the more the transformational style will tap into an individual’s discretionary effort – the effort any individual is willing to give if they feel connected to their leader, their organization, and their mission.  It relies upon an environment where it’s assumed individuals come to work to reach their fullest potential.

You’re naturally going to feel more comfortable in any of these five styles.  A strong leader, though, knows that different situations require different styles.  Their awareness of the style they’re most comfortable in, and their ability to be agile, contributes to their success in their environment.

Types of Leadership Styles in Organizations

As you consider your leadership style and your work environment, it’s natural to wonder what’s best for your organization?  

The simple answer is that it depends.  While your authentic leadership style has a place in your organization, it’s also important to know you can flex to meet the situation – not the organization.  

There will be times with your work when you need to be direct; there will be times when you’ll need to be hands-off off.  There will also be times when you need to develop your vision and seek to empower people.

The best way to understand how to lead through different situations is to commit yourself to building your leadership skills by understanding the different competencies that will allow you to flex.  These skills are vast, but include:

  • Building trust
  • Taking initiative
  • Being credible
  • Contributing to a collaborative environment
  • Being results-oriented
  • Learning how to coach and develop others

We spend so much time building up our job-related skills to be relevant in our career field.  When we commit our time to developing our leadership skills, we find ourselves in a new arena of growth – one where we’re effective at leading ourselves, leading others, and being focused on the success of the greater teams around us.  

Want to learn more about specific leadership skills?  Explore more of www.sparkslead.us to receive resources from the New York Times best-selling business book SPARK: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success.  

Angie Morgan is an executive coach who works with high-performing leaders to help them achieve next-level results.  After her service in the Marine Corps, she co-created the leadership development firm Lead Star and co-wrote the New York Times best-selling books SPARK and Leading from the Front.  Her third book, Bet on You: How Leaders Win with Risk, will be out in spring 2022.  

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