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Leadership Style

Managers often get feedback on their leadership style through formal training.  But that training usually only identifies the styles their currently exhibiting.  They might learn the strengths and weaknesses of each, but that's only scratching the surface when it comes to leading others.

Leadership Styles at Work

The focus of this training really should be on the situational use of leadership styles, and the flexing of those styles to varying circumstances at work.  For example, what is the most effective style to use when placed in a certain situation?  This is one of the guiding principles behind various theoretical models.

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This last point is an important one.  Research has demonstrated the leader's ability to adopt his or her style to the situation at hand is important to their organization's success.  The best leaders are skilled at several styles, and instinctively understand when to use them at work.

Choosing a Style

In the following sections the six different leadership styles that were identified by Daniel Goleman in connection with his theory of emotional intelligence are explained.  Goleman's model was chosen because it's both simple and all-encompassing.

In his writings, Goleman described a total of six different styles.  Much of this information already appears in the article:  Situational Leadership.  Anyone interested in the effective application of different leadership styles, will want to look at that article too because it also speaks to the theory put forth by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey.

The examples appearing below contain a brief description of the leader's characteristics, as well as an example of when the styles are most effective.

Coaching Leaders

In the coaching style the leader focuses on helping others in their personal development, and in their job-related activities.  The coaching leader aids others to get up-to-speed by working closely with them, making sure they have the knowledge and tools they need to be successful.  This style works best when the employee already understands their weaknesses, and is receptive to improvement suggestions or ideas.

Pacesetting Leaders

When employees are self-motivated and highly skilled, the pacesetting style is extremely effective.  The pacesetting leader sets very high performance standards for themselves and the group.  They exemplify the behaviors they are seeking from other members of the group.  This style needs to be used sparingly since workers can often "burn out" due to the demanding pace.

Democratic Leaders

The democratic style gives members of the work group a vote, or a say, in nearly every decision the team makes.  When used effectively, the democratic leader builds flexibility and responsibility.  They can help identify new ways to do things with fresh ideas.  Be careful with this style, however, because the level of involvement required by this approach, as well as the decision-making process, can be very time consuming.

Affiliative Leaders

The affiliative style is most effective in situations where morale is low or teambuilding is needed.  This leader is easily recognized by their theme of "employee first."  Employees can expect much praise from this style; unfortunately, poor performance may also go without correction.

Authoritative Leaders

If a business seems to be drifting aimlessly, the authoritative style can be very effective in this type of situation.  The authoritative leader is an expert in dealing with the problems or challenges at hand, and can clearly identify goals that will lead to success.  They also allow employees to figure out the best way to achieve those goals.

Coercive Leaders

The coercive style should be used with caution because it's based on the concept of "command and control," which usually causes a decrease in motivation among those interacting with this type of manager.  The coercive leader is most effective in situations where the company or group requires a complete turnaround.  It is also effective during disasters, or dealing with underperforming employees; usually as a last resort.

Mastering Multiple Leadership Styles

The formula for a leader's success is really quite simple:  The more leadership styles that someone is able to master, the better the leader they will become.  Certainly the ability to switch between styles, as situations warrant, will result in superior results and workplace climate.

In fact, Goleman's research revealed that individuals who were able to master four or more leadership styles - especially the democratic, authoritative, affiliative and coaching styles - often achieved superior performance from their followers as well as a healthy climate in which to work.

It's not easy to master multiple leadership styles.  In order to master a new way of leading others, a manager may need to unlearn old habits.  This is especially important for individuals that fall back on the pacesetting and coercive styles, which have a negative affect on the work environment.

Learning a new leadership style therefore takes practice and perseverance.  The more often the new style or behavior is repeated, the stronger the link between the situation at hand and the desired reaction.  Individuals can work with a coach, a mentor, or keep their own notes on how they reacted under certain conditions.  Learning a new skill requires time, patience, feedback, and even rewards to stay motivated.


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