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Leadership styles

The books written on leadership could fill a library and no wonder: leadership is a complex concept and many a manager would like an answer to the question of how best to lead an organisation or team. But the reality is that there is no one-size-fits-all leadership style and what will work in one situation may be detrimental in another.

In Primal Leadership authors Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee distinguish six leadership styles. Managers who are aware of their leadership style will develop an insight into its qualities and pitfalls.

1 The visionary leader
Visionary leaders have a very clear idea of what the future will bring and what will take the organisation forward. This style is essential if an organisation needs to set a fresh course. A visionary leader can explain what ought to happen in an inspiring way and motivate staff to embrace the change. This type of leader is not primarily concerned with the ways to realise this vision. This can be a problem, especially when he is dealing with experienced professional staff with extensive practical knowledge.   

2 The coaching leader
Coaching leaders know how to translate the goals of the organisation into the personal development goals of the staff. This style is very appropriate when a degree of training is necessary to realise the long-term goals of the organisation. This type of leader has an eye for staff welfare. He has talks with them about their qualities, identifies areas of improvement and helps them realise their ambitions. The focus is very much on staff and competence development and this may sometimes be experienced as controlling. 

3 The affiliative leader
Affiliative leaders are focused on harmony within the team and are aware of staff members’ personal needs. This leadership style is effective as a way of building team spirit. An affiliative leader will try to stimulate friendly interaction between staff members and tends not to be confrontational in the face of disappointing performances. He is less focused on goals and results and will avoid conflict.

4 The democratic leader
Democratic leaders try create broad support within the organisation for managerial decisions and will makes sure staff is involved in the decision-making process. This style works particularly well where the expertise of the staff is necessary to implement a certain strategy or if a broad consensus is needed to take an organisation forward. The main problem with this style is that much time will go into endless meetings and that staff members rarely have to account, let alone brought to book, for their contributions.
5 The pacesetting leader
Pacesetting leaders want to excel and demand the same of their staff. This style can be effective in a team of competent  and ambitious professionals. The pacesetting leader’s behaviour is an example to the team and presupposes a similar approach to work from staff. Pacesetting leaders are not known for their patience and can be too focused on performance. 
6 The commanding leader
Commanding leaders are very clear to their staff about what they want them to do and expects complete compliance. This style is top down and there input from staff is minimal. This is a highly effective style in crisis situations or situations in which a slight deviations from protocol can have serious consequences (armed forces). A commanding leader tends to be very controlling and this can have a negative impact on staff performance. It may stunt the personal development of staff which will result in a lack of motivation and willingness to cooperate.

The all-rounder
It would be wonderful if a manager could use all six leadership styles and cope with every possible scenario. But such all-rounders don’t exist. Some managers have a preferred style and will occasionally opt for another. That is usually sufficient as long as managers are aware of the pitfalls associated with these styles.

In some cases incompatibility with an organisation or team may prevent a manager from using his leadership qualities to the full. If the leadership style demanded of him is too far removed from his preferred style it can cause tensions or stress. In such cases it is advisable to look for an organisation or team which is better suited to his personal style.

Aletta Wubben
Owner, coach & trainer of Aletta Wubben, Mens- en organisatieontwikkeling

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