6 Effective Styles of Leadership
Leadership can be conceptualized in a multitude of ways.
Leadership is a process, it involves both influence and common goals, all while occurring in groups.
The following definition is a general consensus on this complex concept:
"Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal."
The concept of power is related to leadership —it is the capacity or potential to be able to influence others.
There are seven bases of power leaders can use to influence:
- Referent - Based on followers’ identification and liking for the leader.
- Expert - Based on followers’ perceptions of the leader’s competence.
- Legitimate - Associated with having status or formal job authority.
- Reward - Derived from having the capacity to provide rewards to others.
- Coercive - Derived from having the capacity to penalize or punish others.
- Information - Derived from possessing knowledge that others want or need.
- Connection - Derived from the ability to connect people with resources.
The types of power dynamics identified with leadership are dependent on the specific style used by a leader.
Leadership comes in different forms, known as leadership styles. These styles are different methods used to provide direction, implement plans, and motivate others.
There are pros and cons to each style of leadership, with some styles thriving in certain environments over others.
The following are six leadership styles that explain the various ways to lead others:
A leadership style that uses communication skills, persuasiveness, and charm to influence others.
- Pros: Connectiveness with employees, commitment to the organization, emphasis on teamwork and collaboration.
Employees are valued for their input.
- Cons: An illusion of invincibility, and seen as a disingenuous approach.
The leader may focus on personal goals rather than align with the organizations.
- Power dynamics: Referent
Elon Musk would widely be categorized as a charismatic leader. His personality is very prevalent in the public eye and he draws a lot of attention from being driven to accomplish lofty yet fascinating goals. That’s often what draws people to work at his companies. Often it is evident that his own personal interests are weighed higher than the interests of his organization or his stakeholders.
A leadership style where one individual has total decision-making power and absolute control over subordinates.
- Pros: Effective under pressure to make decisions, clear chain of command, and consistent results.
- Cons: High risk of employee rebellion, reduced creativity, innovation, and high turnover rates.
- Power dynamics: Reward, coercive, legitimate, informative.
It’s easy to point to a leader like Mussolini and identify them as an authoritarian/autocratic leader, but it isn’t always the worst of leaders that become authoritarian. Authoritarian leadership can be effective when the leader is knowledgeable and capable of making broad-spectrum decisions across the organization. Bill Gates is also widely considered to be an authoritarian leader and steered Microsoft towards great success.
A leadership style that focuses on the growth and well-being of people and communities.
- Pros: Higher employee commitment, trust, and loyalty. This encourages the growth of others, decisions made to benefit all, increased collaboration and teamwork.
- Cons: Takes a longer time to make decisions, the role of the leader is lessened, and there's a risk of retraining leaders.
- Power dynamics: Referent, connectiveness.
Frequently people point to Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Theresa as exemplifying the characteristics of servant leadership, but this style is more prevalent in modern workplaces.
Fred Smith, the founder, and CEO of FedEx is often talked about for his servant leadership strategies.
His People–Service–Profit philosophy is what his leadership and company values are based on, and a likely culprit of the organization’s success. Smith was quoted as saying,
“When people are placed first they will provide the highest possible service, and profits will follow”.
An individual who focuses on the exchanges that occur between leaders and their followers to get the job done.
- Pros: Increased employee motivation and productivity, choice of rewards systems, easy to follow for leaders and followers, and creates achievable goals.
- Cons: Minimized innovation and creativity, create more followers than leaders, short-term oriented, misalignment between motivation and organizational goals.
- Power dynamics: Reward and coercive.
Successful transactional leaders are those who can create an ecosystem of incentives that resonate broadly across the organization. If that sounds impossible, you’re pretty much right. Each individual has different incentive needs so each individual can throw the ‘ecosystem’ out of balance. Most transactional approaches are effective in the short term but lack consistent influence outside of the initial agreement.
An individual who inspires their followers with a vision and encourages and empowers them to achieve it.
- Pros: Lower turnover rates, high employee morale, motivation and inspiration to gain support, and high value on relationships.
- Cons: Deviation from organizational protocols and regulations, consistent motivation and feedback may be required, tasks must have employee agreement to get pushed through.
- Power dynamics: Referent, reward, and charismatic.
Most often, when you think of an inspiring and successful leader in the modern workplace, they are a transformational leader. A consistent characteristic of transformational leaders is that they aim to encourage others to work as a unit and inspire them to work towards a collective goal rather than an individual one.
Abraham Lincoln tried to get soldiers to put the Union’s goals over their safety, Walt Disney worked with a team of animators to accomplish a collective vision, Martin Luther King Jr. inspired millions to challenge traditional frameworks and initiate change. Most importantly, transformational leaders need to inspire.
An individual who focuses on transparency and ethical leader behavior that encourages open sharing of information needed to make decisions, while accepting followers’ inputs.
- Pros: Cultivate self-awareness, greater productivity, and a more positive work environment, with higher levels of trust.
- Cons: Questioning of the leader’s moral compass, misaligned values with leaders to the organization, and could hinder quick decision-making.
- Power dynamics: Expert, and referent.
What you’ll notice about an authentic leader, is that they are the same person regardless of the context. Many leaders vary their approach depending on the setting, audience, and goal, but with authentic leaders, what you see is what you get; but what does that look like?
When the travel industry took a huge hit in 2020, Arne Sorenson, then-CEO of Marriott, cut his own salary to $0 as well as reducing executive salaries by 50% as a gesture of solidarity, since the pandemic brought their industry to a screeching halt.
Similarly, during the pandemic, Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand remained as transparent as she could with her citizens. She would host live streams where she could interact with citizens and address their concerns. Her efforts to be approachable and transparent helped garner the support necessary to stifle the virus’s spread at a crucial time.
There is no “most” effective leadership style.
Leaders don’t need to commit to a singular style but rather form their style as an amalgamation of all of the best characteristics they can manifest from each style. You may have noticed that many great leaders fit into a majority of these styles.
Major characteristics of authentic leaders are self-awareness, transparency, integrity, and that they challenge themselves. All arguably desirable qualities. The same is true for servant leaders who are: Empathetic, selfless, encouraging, and good listeners.
To be the most effective leader, aim to bring as many positive attributes from the various styles as you can.
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