What are your Leadership Styles?

This is not going to be the start of a step-by-step guide about how to become a Leader, but some thoughts about things I’ve seen that have made me stop and think.

What do real Leaders do differently to other people?  What is it that they know?  I believe the answer is simple: they understand the impact that they have on others around them and modify their own behaviour to have a positive impact.  They don’t use some standard, formulaic approach, they consider each situation and the people involved and start from there.

As far back as 1968, George Litwin and Robert Stringer published a book about “Motivation and organizational climate”.  Further work in this area, by numerous researchers has culminated in the development of an Inventory of Leadership Styles, comprising six different styles:

  • Coercive: placing an emphasis on immediate compliance from employees, good in a crisis, but dangerous elsewhere
  • Authoritative: creating and communicating a vision to employees and taking action when the work deviates from this vision
  • Democratic: asking for employees’ opinions to create a consensus view, but bear in mind that you can’t please everyone
  • Pace-setting: some might call this micro-managing, constantly monitoring and adjusting each employee’s work.  Not good for team-working and harmony
  • Coaching: helping employees to work it out for themselves, good for well-motivated people
  • Affiliative: making the employees feel good, but need to resort to other styles to manage under-performance and other issues

It is not enough to know about these styles.  Good leaders use a blend of these styles, selecting the most relevant style to the situation that they find themselves in.

Let me give you a scenario and see if you would do the same as me:

You walk into your workplace and it is a bit of a mess; maybe there’s been a big delivery of stationery and there’s boxes and packaging on the floor.  Shortly after arriving, a colleague burst into your office in a state of angry panic.  You have someone from the corporate headquarters visiting you, the Chief Executive or someone similarly senior, and the visit is today, in 15 minutes time, and your staff are working in the “worst looking office in the building“.


What do you do?  Panic setting in already? Should you run into the office and bark orders at the team (coercive style), in order to get it sorted in time?

You might expect me to tell you to stop and think of a way to calmly walk in to the office and gently persuade your staff to tidy up a bit.  WRONG!

My answer is, as always, “it depends”!

It might be that storming in there and ranting about the mess MIGHT be the right thing to do.  But you must stop and think about the impact this will have on them.  Are they likely to respond positively to this approach or are they going to be wound up by you passing on your anger at being dropped in it at the last minute, because that’s how it may feel to them!

How would you know whether this strongly directive approach would work?  If their jobs, their livelihoods depended on tidying up the office, then it might be ok; if you were trying to get them out of the office during a fire, you’d hardly be likely to take the softly, softly approach!!

In the absence of serious consequences, the calm considered approach would work for me.  Set the scene (authoritative), tell them what’s happened, tell them you’ve been dropped in it, give each of them a specific job to do to office organised (coercive) and lead by example (affiliative).  That blend of styles would probably get the job done with the least damage.  Once you’ve got through the crisis, it might be best to ask them to come up with a plan to avoid the situation in the future (democratic).

Now, what would you do?