The making of a leader

Published on: 30 Sep 2016

If you aspire to become an exceptional leader, the skill lies in your ability to use the appropriate leadership style to suit the situation and get the most from your people.
Leaders who create a high performance and positive climate at work develop their self-awareness and consider the impact of their approach. While learning proved methods and tools that work, they diligently apply that learning every day. One such leadership idea is the ‘six styles of leadership’ – initially defined as result of the research of firms Hay and McBer, and then further explored by Daniel Goleman in the book Primal Leadership.
Consider the six styles of leadership and ask yourself the following questions. Which style do you default to? Which style do you need to work on that would make the greatest difference to you, your team, your organisation and your customers? What is your style on a good day/bad day – what effect does that have on your teams?

1 The directive style (coercive)

This leader gives orders. He or she tells people what to do, and expects it to be done. While this style may be useful in an emergency situation – for example, in the evacuation of a building – if it is used too often employees can feel undervalued and are unlikely to show initiative. By allowing your team to identify the difference between what is a real emergency and what is urgent, you can apply other leadership approaches to build a performance team that takes responsibility and has the capability to respond as required.

2 The visionary style

This leader inspires the team with a vision of the future they are aiming for, setting the purpose and objectives, and giving the team the responsibility of finding solutions to make it happen. A great approach for motivating teams to use their skills and experience to work together towards a common goal – but be sure that you articulate your vision clearly and don’t prescribe solutions, otherwise you will slip into the ‘directive style’. When your team offers you its ideas, the ‘coaching style’ can be useful in helping them to assess the viability of their solutions and what they need to do to make it happen.

3 The coaching style

This leader focuses on developing a team, encouraging people to find the answers for themselves and identifying their strengths and areas where they can improve. However, as with all the styles, there are some circumstances where coaching wouldn’t be appropriate. For example, if you need to offer technical expertise on a health and safety matter or are dealing with someone who is particularly resistant to change. It is important to seek their agreement for you to ask coaching questions – and to be effective the leader must learn basic coaching skills.

4 The affiliative style

This leader has good relationships with his or her team – and often considers them friends or even a ‘work family’. They’re loyal and supportive, which creates trust, but they praise only the positive. Without feedback on what can be improved, the team eventually becomes sceptical, accepts mediocrity and poor performance becomes difficult to address (or ignored). Used with the ‘visionary style’, which sets out expectations, it can be a powerful approach – especially when your team members are working long hours together.

5The participative style (democratic)

This leader ensures that all voices are heard – even the quieter ones. A democratic leader explains the situation, asks for opinions from his team and will facilitate the process to come to a solution. Used when it counts, this will gain important insights from your team. However, diplomacy skills are essential for this style, as you may not get a team consensus, and if it is overused you risk spending too much time in meetings.

6 The pace-setting style

This leader sets the example of how it should be done (in his or her eyes) – and often has very high standards. It may seem like a positive approach to take, but its effects can be damaging. People feel they are not trusted and tend to be overwhelmed by the leader’s demand for excellence – thus becoming fearful and focused on pleasing the leader, losing sight of the team purpose and customers. So what are the most effective leadership styles? Each has a time and place – but the visionary and coaching approaches are shown to have the greatest positive impact on the climate of an organisation, and subsequently the bottom line results. Develop your leadership skills, your self awareness and ability to adapt and use different approaches and you will be en route to being an exceptional leader.