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What Does Your Leadership Style Say About You?

ByDerek Matthews, Ph.D.,
business.com writer
| Last Modified
Apr 15, 2015
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In a leadership theory discussion I had with a colleague he stated, “Under stress people tend to operate in a very predictable way.” We all have a go-to leadership style we naturally gravitate to, especially under stress. While this is part of human nature, under stress our greatest leadership style strengths can decrease effectiveness.

For instance, let’s say your personality and go-to-leadership style is characterized as vocal, authoritative, and opinionated. These characteristics are critical in a setting requiring quick turn around and crisis resolution.

However, in a situation that requires vision, inspiration, and motivation, this leadership approach could result in team-wide burnout.

This article presents a big question regarding leadership styles: If individuals tend to utilize a predictable leadership style under pressure, then how can leaders adopt a more flexible leadership style to increase their effectiveness?

Related Article: 14 Best Tools to Measure Employee Performance

To answer this question, let’s turn to research. 

In 2000, Harvard Business Review cited a study from consulting firm Hay/Mcber, which identified characteristics of effective leadership. Their research identified six fundamental leadership styles, which sprout from one’s emotional intelligence core, leading to effective leadership.

The study found that effective leaders do not necessary stick with their natural ‘go-to' leadership style in all situations. Instead effective leaders flex between the 6 leadership styles based on their situations and circumstances. 

The Six Leadership Styles Include:

  • Coercive Leadership - crisis mode leadership.
  • Authoritative Leadership - helping others buy into a vision. 
  • Affiliative Leadership - creates harmony amongst a team. 
  • Democratic Leadership - consensus building form of leadership. 
  • Pace Setting Leadership - sets a performance standard. 
  • Coaching Leadership - focuses on developing others. 

Now, let's go a little further in depth with each leadership style by covering utility, strengths, and weaknesses.

Coercive Leadership

When to Use: When change or quick turnaround is needed.
Strengths: Demonstrates command presence and offers quick conflict resolution
Weaknesses: Leader may be viewed as bossy, demanding, or unnecessarily controlling. May erode team motivation. Style restrains input from others. Viewed as top-down management.

Authoritative Leadership

When to Use: In times of change that require sharing a vision or demonstrating expertise.
Strengths: Shows confidence, direction, and performance expectations.
Weaknesses: This approach does not work well in settings where peers are more experienced.

Affiliative Leadership

When to Use: In times where team building and cohesiveness is in need.
Strengths: Builds relationships, empathy, and harmony amongst those you lead. Helps to motivate the masses. People centric approach.
Weaknesses: May appear slow paced in a fast paced situation or environment.

Democratic Leadership

When to Use: In times where a leader needs to gain feedback from their team this approach is vital. A democratic style offers team members a chance for ownership in the decision making process.
Strengths: Fosters idea generation. Helps to improve employee engagement. Develops team morale.
Weaknesses: If too many opinions are involved progress may stall.

Pace Setting Leadership

When to Use: This approach is appropriate for times when a leader needs to clarify expectations regarding performance, standards, and norms.
Strengths: Provides clear performance guidelines and expectations.
Weaknesses: Limits idea generation from others. Stifles creativity and flow of ideas. Can produce a “We’ve always done it this way” culture.

Coaching Leadership

When to Use: A coaching style is important when trying to build leadership capacity in others to help them learn, grown and achieve.
Strengths: Focuses on developing others and helping them discover personal insights through asking powerful questions.
Weaknesses: A naturally fast-paced leader may view coaching as slow, tedious, and time consuming.

How to Visualize Leadership Style Flexibility

An easy way to visualize flexing between the 6 leadership styles is to picture a thermostat. When you have company over to your home, you may ask them if they are too warm, hot, or cold. Then, as a courteous host, you will adjust the thermostat based on your guests’ response. Responding to a situation in a team setting is exactly the same. According to this research, effective leaders are constantly adjusting their leadership style thermostat based on emotional intelligence of their surroundings. Are you setting your style to a constant temperature or adjusting the leadership style thermostat based on the situation?

An easy way to visualize flexing between the 6 leadership styles is to picture a thermostat. When you have company over to your home, you may ask them if they are too warm, hot, or cold.

Related Article: Six Keys to Managing a Team That's Smarter Than You

Then, as a courteous host, you will adjust the thermostat based on your guests’ response. Responding to a situation in a team setting is exactly the same. According to this research, effective leaders are constantly adjusting their leadership style thermostat. Are you setting your style to a constant temperature or adjusting the leadership style thermostat based on the situation? 

In Conclusion

It is a common misconception to believe an individual's leadership style is fixed. We all have the capacity to tailor our leadership style response to the situation. Effective leaders are masters of adaptation. They understand that 'one size fits all' leadership puts a roadblock on influence. If you find yourself operating very predictably under stress, then maybe it is time to become more flexible. 

Now Let’s Flexercise Your Leader Style…

Next time you are under stress and have to act, ask yourself the following:

  1. What is the situation?
  2. Will my natural leadership style be effective?
  3. Which of the six leadership styles would be most effective in this situation?
  4. How can I flex towards the most effective leadership style?
Derek Matthews, Ph.D.
Derek Matthews, Ph.D.
See Derek Matthews, Ph.D.'s Profile
Derek Matthews believes that leadership is truly the art of helping individuals discover and master their character within the context of a greater story - their personal leadership growth story. Derek received his Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Digital Media from Carthage College in 2010. He received a Masters in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University in 2011. At the age of 25 Derek became the youngest leadership Ph.D. in the country by receiving his Ph.D. in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service from Cardinal Stritch University in 2014. Dr. Matthews’s dissertation focused on how millennials make meaning of life, leadership, and the college experience by creating personal narratives in their collegiate leadership growth journey. Derek is the Co-Director of Character Quest Leadership Development Company (CQ), which believes dynamic leadership is about becoming the greatest version of yourself. CQ offers team, leadership, and character learning experiences which focus on the art of coaching, leading high potential emerging leaders, engaging all levels of an organization, and outdoor custom leadership development. Derek is the co-founder of the Carthage College Leadership Certification & Coaching Program in Kenosha, WI. Additionally, Derek is the Craft Category Manager at Matthews Distributing Co., the local Miller/Coors distributor in Dubuque, IA. Derek and his wife Michelle currently live in Dubuque, IA, have two cats (Leonidas and Arya) and are expecting their first baby in August!
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