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Leadership Styles

There are six main styles of leadership. A leadership style isn’t something that a leader picks and then stays with; instead, a leader moves fluidly between the leadership styles depending on the situation at-hand.

The Styles

Coercive

Do it, or else.

A leader tells someone what to do, and there’s an expectation that it’s followed through on. Feedback is to correct an issue rather than praise someone for doing a good job.

This is effective in crisis situations, if a team is inexperienced with simple tasks and there’s limited time to complete a task, or there’s a need to put a stop to unwanted behaviour. In virtually every other situation, this will lead to a higher attrition. Team members will quit.

This style also can’t be used regularly. Overuse means that team members will get used to this communication style and it won’t be effective.

Authoritative

Here’s the big picture. Let me convince you why we should work towards this together.

In the authoritative leadership style, the leader is the expert. It’s important that a leader explains the big picture clearly and effectively. You need to communicate what the team needs to do, how the team should be doing the work to get to the end goal, and most critically why the team should be putting effort into this.

This doesn’t mean a leader forces someone to do something a particular way like in the coercise style — leaders can and should get feedback and recommendations from their team — but the leader retains the authority to make decisions.

This can be effective at motivating newer team members or if the direction of the team is changing.

Avoid using this leadership style when the team are the experts; there is not enough opportunity for them to provide the feedback and recommendations that they are capable of providing. Similarly, avoid the authoritative style when you want to promote a team who is capable of self-organizing and self-managing; because they are not given the chance to offer up recommendations, they will fail to develop that skill.

Affiliative

Take care of the person, and the results will follow.

The affiliative leadership style focuses on keeping your team and their environment happy and healthy. The thought process is that if a leader treats their team well, then the desired performance and output will follow.

It’s likely that your interactions with team members are more “mushy”; you are more likely to talk about home life, what is stressing them out, and how they’re feeling than specific performance considerations.

This particular style is effective when helping a team member through a difficult time in their lives, either personally or professionally, since you are letting them know that you are here for them as a person rather than as a boss. If you have a diverse team, you may find that their personalities are more likely to conflict, and the affiliative style can help get that team to work together.

Avoid the affiliative style when in crisis situations or if you have to make a performance correction. When team members are task-oriented or have no desire to be “friends” with their boss, then avoid this style as well.

Democratic

Two is better than one.

The democratic leadership style shares decisions and responsibility. Team members are involved in most decisions, with the goal to achieve concensus amongst all team members.

The democratic style is effective when you have a skilled, talented, knowledgeable team. It’s also useful when trying to source new ideas.

Similarly, if you don’t have confidence in the team’s abilities, the team lacks the required skillsets, or are “ill-informed”, then the democratic style is more likely going to lead to failures. Crisis situations are no place for democratic leadership; opt for the coercive or pacesetting styles instead.

Overuse of the democratic leadership style can lead team members to doubt the ability of the leader’s ability to do their job (i.e. lead).

Pacesetting

Here’s how you do it.

With pacesetting, you are leading by example. High quality output is expected, and is enforced by taking away responsibilities if someone does not perform at the expected level.

This leadership style excels when working with team members that are smart, highly motivated, and who want to follow best practices (provided that you’re demonstrating those best practices, of course). Obviously, this also requires that you as the leader are capable of demonstrating those best practices.

Pacesetting can also be used when you feel that team members need to see what the output of a high performer looks like so they know where they need to aim.

Avoid using pacesetting often. It can stifle the long-term development of your team members because they don’t get to learn on their own. It’s also damaging to team morale, since you effectively take away their agency.

Coaching

Let me help you grow.

With this leadership style, the leader:

  • Invests time in knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each team member
  • Works with each team member to help them achieve their personal development goals

This is a long-term investment in your team; short-term performance is likely impacted because they’ll need time to invest in their growth. That time means that other tasks may not get completed as fast as if they worked on them directly.

If a team member doesn’t know where they want to go, needs explicit direction, or has performance issues that need correction, this may not be effective. In that case, consider Pacesetting.

In crisis situations, coaching is too slow. Consider the Coercive style instead.