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You don’t have to search too hard to find some frightening statistics about leadership.
Only 18% of organizations say their leaders are “very effective” at meeting business goals. 65% of employees say they’d take a new boss over a pay raise. 85% of executives aren’t confident in their leadership pipelines.
Yikes. Whether you’re leading a company, a team, or a project, you know that leadership is a big job—and being effective requires self-awareness, hard work, and strategy.
Much of that comes back to knowing your leadership style. Your leadership style is your default approach for managing, directing, and influencing others. For example, maybe you tend to rely heavily on rules and processes. Or perhaps you prioritize relationships above all else. Those natural tendencies and methods make up your leadership style.
You’ve likely experienced a number of different types of leaders in your life. From the boss who couldn’t resist micromanaging to the CEO who was always pitching in to help with the dirty work, you realize that no two leaders are exactly the same.
Let’s take a brief look at some of the most common leadership styles. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it will help give you a sense of some of the different approaches that are out there.
An autocratic leader makes all of the decisions. They decide what work should be done, how it should be done, and when it should be done. They then pass those directions down to their subordinates.
Relevant F4S motivation: sole responsibility, power, assertiveness
In contrast, a democratic leader invites contributions and participation from others. They value collaboration and believe they shouldn’t be the only one making decisions that impact the entire team.
Relevant F4S motivation: shared responsibility
Bureaucratic leadership is very prescribed, as these types of leaders have defined rules, systems, and procedures for how they’ll lead. They prefer to do things by the book as opposed to thinking on their feet or charting new territories.
Relevant F4S motivation: procedures, sameness, compliance
Think of your typical transaction. There’s an exchange that happens, right? That’s the basis of transactional leadership. This type of leader inspires and influences through different rewards and punishments.
Relevant F4S motivation: systems, consistency
Transformational leaders are all about change and progress. They don’t just want to stick with the status quo—they want to improve the entirety of the organization. They’re highly innovative and encourage their teams to chime in with big ideas too.
Relevant F4S motivation: future, difference, alternatives
The French term “laissez-faire” roughly translates to “let it be,” and that’s the perfect way to describe this leadership style. Laissez-faire leaders are the polar opposites of micromanagers (and autocratic leaders) and trust their teams completely to fulfill the responsibilities of their roles without constant oversight.
Relevant F4S motivation: tolerance
Charismatic leaders use their—you guessed it—charisma to influence and inspire others. They’re skilled communicators and are highly persuasive, and they’re able to rally people around goals using their highly-engaging personalities.
Relevant F4S motivation: affective communication
Servant leaders place all of their emphasis on serving others. The needs of their teams come above anything else, and they’re always looking for ways that they can pitch in and help. They aren’t concerned with their own status, and would rather invest in their subordinates and team members.
Relevant F4S motivation: people, affiliation
Pacesetting leaders are achievement-oriented and set ambitious goals and standards for their teams. The leader sets the pace, so to speak, and then expects their team to meet those expectations with as little oversight as possible.
Relevant F4S motivation: achievement, goal orientation
Leadership can be fluid, which is where situational leadership comes in. This approach gives leaders the flexibility to adjust their approach based on the specific situation they’re in. We’ll talk a little more about shifting your leadership style below.
Relevant F4S motivation: tolerance, alternatives
Knowing your leadership style can make you a more effective leader. After all, when you understand your natural tendencies, you can leverage your strengths, mitigate your weaknesses, and improve your approach.
Maybe you instantly saw yourself in one of the above approaches. Or perhaps you still aren’t quite sure where you fit. Here are a few tips you can use to zone in on your leadership style.
Your leadership style is directly correlated to your personal values and motivations (which is why we included some relevant F4S motivations with each style).
Take the F4S assessment to understand what motivates you at work. Your results will help you rule out some of these styles and focus on the ones that suit your motivations.
For example, if you’re highly motivated toward procedures and sameness, that could be an indicator that you lean more toward bureaucratic leadership.
It’s human nature for us to have a warped perception of how we go about our work. One study found that 95% of people believe they’re self-aware, but only 12 to 15% actually are.
That’s why it’s so important to ask for feedback from others—including your colleagues, direct reports, and other leaders. Ask them things like:
Make sure you’re providing a psychologically safe environment where people feel comfortable providing honest and candid answers. Sometimes collecting responses anonymously is the best way to get truthful feedback.
Many philosophers have asserted that admiration drives us to emulate someone. So, if you appreciate a quality in someone, you’ll be motivated to demonstrate that quality yourself.
And, while other studies say it’s not quite that straightforward, there is evidence that we try to promote the values that we admire in other people.
Think about some of the leaders you’ve really appreciated. How would you describe their leadership styles? Chances are, you might be incorporating some of their approaches into your own method—whether you realize it or not.
Sometimes what we’re not good at is even more revealing than what we are good at. Reflect back on some times when you’ve felt really challenged or frustrated. This isn’t meant to be a discouraging exercise, but an opportunity for you to find out more about yourself.
Maybe you felt completely overwhelmed when your company made a major change to their strategy. That means you can probably rule out transformational leadership. Perhaps you feel stressed whenever you’re required to delegate. That means laissez-faire leadership probably isn’t your default approach.
By thinking through situations when you didn’t feel as comfortable, you can start to eliminate some potential styles from the list and focus on some that are a more natural fit for you.
Here’s the short answer: absolutely. Your leadership style isn’t set in stone and, as situational leadership proves, it can shift depending on the unique circumstances you're in.
For example, if you’re overseeing a trusted group of employees who have been on your team for years, you might feel more comfortable with a hands-off approach. But, if you’re onboarding a group of new hires who are totally unfamiliar with your processes, you might default to more of an autocratic style.
Aside from situations, your leadership style might also evolve as time passes. As you become more secure in a leadership role and learn more about what works and what doesn’t, you’re bound to make some tweaks and improvements. That’s not only natural, it’s smart.
Leadership is a daunting responsibility, and as statistics show, not everybody does it well.
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to be part of those statistics. Understanding your leadership style can help you be more effective. When you know where you fit, you can play to your strengths, address your weaknesses, and make adjustments as needed.
Use this as your guide to pinpoint your own leadership style, and you’ll manage teams, projects, and strategies with confidence.
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