Leadership Styles

Understanding your Leadership style

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the way you like to lead?

First time leaders tend to adopt a style of leadership they have experienced from others or one they have read or heard about. If it works, we tend to stick with it. In a way it becomes “our style”.

However, there are many available options for us and good leaders tend to adapt their style to the situation and people involved.

Authoritarian, Autocratic Leadership

This approach is helpful when your team needs to follow a process “to the letter,” to manage a significant risk. It’s also effective when you need to be hands-on with people who miss deadlines, in departments where conflict is an issue, or in teams that rely on quick decisions being made.

But you need to be aware that relying on control and punishment to maintain standards will likely drive people away. Similarly, if you always demand that your team works at top speed, you can end up exhausting everyone.

Instead, you can show respect for team members by providing the rationale for your decisions. And they will more likely comply with your expectations if you take the trouble to explain Why the Rules Are There.

You can improve your ability to “lead from the front” by Planning for a Crisis, Thinking on Your Feet, and making good decisions under pressure. But be sure to balance these skills with an awareness of their potential negative impact on creativity, ideas gathering, motivation, and trust within the team.

Being too autocratic can also mean that you’ll find it hard to stand back from the detail and take a wider, more strategic view.

Democratic, Participative Leadership

With this approach, you set goals, guide team discussions, and make the final decision. But you also acknowledge that your people can have valuable insight into a problem or process, so you actively consult them. As a result, you’ll likely gain creative input and fresh ideas that you wouldn’t have come up with if you were working alone.

You might wonder how to manage differing opinions in the team, once you’ve invited participation in this way. Your goal is to build a culture in which people can have healthy debates with one another. So:

  • Set an example by being open and flexible yourself.
  • Make managing mutual acceptance a priority, to ensure everyone’s participation.
  • Learn some Conflict Resolution skills.
  • Read our article on Managing Emotion in Your Team.

Be aware that processes could become dangerously slow if you involve your team members in every decision. You’ll need to judge carefully whether you need to adopt a more autocratic approach, even if it’s only briefly.

The Delegating, “Laissez Faire” Leader

“Laissez faire” is a French phrase adopted into English that means, “Let (people) do (as they choose).” It describes a policy of leaving situations to run their own course, without interfering.

By adopting this style of leadership, you empower your team to make decisions and to organize its own processes, with little or no guidance. The danger of this approach is that situations can collapse into chaos if your people have low motivation or poor skills. It can work, however, if they are experienced, knowledgeable, confident, creative, and driven, or if deadlines are flexible and processes are simple.

Be in no doubt, though, that as the leader you will still be held accountable for the outcome! So you might want to organize team decision making processes to support your people while you take a “hands-off” approach. Just be sure to delegate the right task to the right person, as a mismatch could mean that the whole team fails.

Avoid becoming too remote, even with a high-performing, highly autonomous team. Change can occur at any time in business, so your organization’s requirements for your team might shift after your initial brief. If this happens, stay in touch with your people, and communicate clearly and promptly. Remember, you can offer your support without becoming a micromanager

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