The Five Most Common Leadership Styles
Knowing your leadership style is important far before you’re promoted to management. Whether you’re an individual contributor, tech lead, mentor, or supervisor, a clear sense of how you operate best will make you much more effective. It also allows you to adapt your style to the circumstances. Read on to discover the five most common types of leadership.
Telling is the simplest form of leadership. You tell someone else what to do and how to do it. If they follow your instructions correctly and complete the task, you reward them (note: it doesn’t have to be anything concrete, like a gift card or a bonus vacation day; in most cases, the reward is positive feedback).
If the person doesn’t do what you’ve asked, you punish them (again, usually negative feedback).
This style eliminates a lot of the uncertainty that may come with other styles. But, unsurprisingly, it makes it impossible for your team to act autonomously—which most people will really chafe at. Telling leadership is best suited for entry-level employees whom you’re not actively trying to help develop (think seasonal retail roles).
This style of leadership is almost the exact opposite. It’s far more democratic, meaning that the group members take a highly active role in decision-making. The leader encourages everyone to voice their thoughts freely and give frequent feedback.
For example, if the team needs to commit to the features they’re building for a new app, the lead will get everyone together to discuss the various options and their pros and cons. After every member has had the opportunity to speak, the team votes.
On the plus side, this style makes people feel engaged, heard, and impactful. However, it can also introduce added complexity and stress—sometimes you just need a decision made.
A laissez-faire leader hands over nearly all decision-making to his subordinates. He supplies tools and resources—and typically some high-level directions—but the rest is up to the team to decide.
In rare circumstances, this setup can work really well. Warren Buffett, for example, is a famously hands-off employer; after he buys a private company, he’ll leave the leadership team alone so they can run it as if the acquisition never happened at all.
The key to effective laissez-faire leadership? You need an extremely high-achieving team that wants to run independently. You should also provide everything they’ll need to get the job done; e.g., budget, access to other stakeholders, your endorsement, etc.
A visionary leader acts as the driving inspiration and motivation for her team. Similarly to a laissez-faire leader, a visionary leader tells her reports where they need to go and why, but not necessarily how they’ll get there.
This style can be enormously liberating. People feel empowered to try new things and take the risks. It’s especially important for an organization going through a strategic change.
However, if your vision is at odds with the overall company direction, the results usually aren’t good. Even if you are perfectly in sync with those above you, it might be hard to consistently make progress without someone managing all the details.
All in all, visionary leadership is a good compromise between the laissez-faire and telling approaches.
A coaching leader focuses on developing his team members. He cares about their success in their current roles—but he’s nearly as invested in their career progression. In other words, he’s not just asking, “How can I help you right now?”, he’s also asking, “How can I set you up for your next job, and the one after that?”
The coaching style usually involves a lot of back-and-forth about the skills each team member wants to develop and experiences they want to have. The manager uses that information to suggest new projects and learning opportunities tailored to each person’s professional goals.
This framework works best when the team members want to grow (not everyone does!) and the manager can provide upward or lateral movement. Which leadership style sounds most like you? Which one do you want to adopt? Let us know in the comments.
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