What sort of Leader are You?
An Introduction to Leadership Styles

Leadership styles refers to the broad approach adopted by a leader. All leaders (at least all those leaders who already have followers) have one. If you are already a leader, that includes you. You just might not know what it is yet. But your followers do!

Style is often based on a leader’s own beliefs, personality, experiences, working environment and their assessment of the situation at the time.

Some leaders work within one style. Others are more flexible and can adapt their style to meet the needs of different situations.

So, what determines a leader's preferred leadership style?

Decision making

A very powerful part of your style of leadership is your need to make decisions. All leaders (including you and me) approach decision making based upon their own beliefs about their responsibility for decisions, as well as their followers' capacity to make decisions.

A number of researchers have developed leadership style models based around decision making (eg, Lewin, Tannenbaum & Schmidt, Hersey & Blanchard ). Each of these models look at a range of styles - from ones in which the leader makes all the decisions (and imposes them on the followers - what we would call an autocratic leadership style) to ones in which the followers are allowed to make decisions on their own (what we would call a facilitative leadership style).

A key element in each of these models is the assessment of which style is most appropriate at a given point, and whether the followers are able and willing to make decisions themselves. If the leader miscalculates, the followers are not likely to respond the way the leader would hope!

Imagine - you are a capable and experienced person, motivated and wishing to get on (does that sound familiar?). But your leader keeps all decisions to themselves, barks orders and doesn't respond to requests for help. If it sounds implausible, let me assure you - that is exactly what many people experience from leaders who have not learned to be a leader!

Another element here is that the more flexible you are as a leader - and the more able you are to judge the needs of the situation - the more likely you are to adopt a style that will work.

Personality

Personality can be interpreted as the typical ways in which a person behaves. Personality develops as we mature and is normally fairly consistent (or stable) by the time we reach adulthood.

As a result we can predict how someone might well behave in different situations, although of course the person concerned always has choice and free will.

Some personality factors do influence our leadership style. For example:

  • Outgoing and sociable leaders are more likely to connect with people and communicate with them.
  • Tense leaders are more likely to be anxious about issues and communicate their worries to their followers.
  • Leaders with a high need to be in control are more likely to keep decisions to themselves and to dictate them to others.

Leaders who are self-aware, who understand how their personality impacts upon others, are better placed to make good choices and adjust their style when needed. Various personality assessment questionnaires can be used to help leaders learn about the effect they have on others. That along with being willing to listen to feedback!

Working environment

The working environment can have a big impact on the leadership style you might adopt. The two main influences here are:

  • the demands of the organisation, its market, systems and processes
  • the culture of the organisation.

Organisations that deal with safety critical products or services, that carry high risk, require fast responses or are coming under attack or criticism are more likely to foster aggressive styles of leadership. Those organisations that encourage continuous improvement and innovation, or which are keen to develop customers, staff and suppliers, are more likely to foster participative styles of leadership.

Organisational culture refers to "the way things are done around here". It is the colective version of individual personality and determines how the organisation's leadership communicate and make decisions. An organisation's culture tends to reinforce compatible styles of leadership in its junior leaders.

In conclusion ...

So, leadership style is all about the approach you adopt as a leader. There are a number of styles available to you and a number of factors that might influence the style you will adopt. Whether you exercise flexibility and choice is down to you. A wise leader will do so!

What is your natural style of leadership and what style, or styles, do you want to develop?

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