Every business faces challenges, whether that be completing a large order, undergoing expansion, getting to grips with a new market, or launching a new product. Each of these situations requires a strong leader, but what style of leadership should you adopt?
Blending leadership styles
The idea of ‘situational leadership’ has become popular over the last couple of decades. It suggests that rather than picking one style of leadership, successful leaders are able to adapt their style depending on the task at hand, and on who they are attempting to lead.
Visualise a set of golf clubs, with the clubs as different leadership techniques. Each one has a different purpose. You wouldn’t use a driver to get out of a bunker, just as a visionary leader may struggle when faced with an immediate technical problem. A golfer knows what each club is for and when to use it, just as a great leader always knows what to say and when to say it.
So, what is an effective leader?
Leading a team takes more than just a simple pat on the back or thumbs up. It’s about motivation and giving your team a clear sense of direction. You have to take into consideration not just the details of the task at hand, but demonstrate how and why something needs to be done, too.
There’s much more to leadership than just issuing orders. We’ve all heard of, and possibly worked for, bosses whose style of leadership involves keeping absolute control over staff, issuing orders from above, and expecting that those instructions are followed without question. This is known as an autocratic style of leadership.
A flawed style?
There are certain situations when an autocratic style might be called for. This includes where you are faced with a crisis and decisions need to be made quickly. But in the absence of an emergency, it’s a flawed style of leadership. Taking this approach can often leave team members feeling disempowered, unable to contribute, and not valued within the organisation. The consequences are likely to be high turnover of staff, low morale, and low productivity.
Moving away from the autocratic model of leadership, other styles tend to involve empowering your team members to take control of their actions.
A visionary leader seeks to ensure that all team members are aware of the organisation’s goals, where the company is headed, and how it is going to get there. This type of leader makes it clear to team members how their efforts will contribute towards this vision.
This visionary approach can be especially useful when training new staff. It gets them familiar with your company culture, objectives, and ways of doing things. Even if a trainee is in a relatively junior role, this vision can help them focus on the importance of their contributions towards your company’s aims.
A visionary approach, however, can result in not enough focus on current action. Although reminding staff of the bigger picture can be a morale booster, it’s important to combine this with practical advice to solve specific and immediate problems.
According to the English dictionary, charisma is defined as ‘personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty’. This approach can be very effective and powerful. This is becuase people tend to be drawn to charismatic leaders because of their individual qualities, and their ability to inspire enthusiasm.
The company or the leader?
However, adopting a solely charismatic leadership style can be problematic in the long run. You have to consider whether team members are motivated because of what the company stands for, or whether it’s down to the personality of the leader? If it’s the latter, there could be problems should the leader moves on. Famously, when Walt Disney stepped down from his company in the mid-sixties, Disney went into decline and took two decades to recover.
Let’s say you rely exclusively on the force of your personality to set the ball rolling on a project. If you step into a different role down the line, and shortly afterwards the project collapses, you could be criticised for not giving the team a solid enough grounding for the project to survive without you. This is especially true if you combined charisma with an autocratic style — preventing individuals from taking ownership of tasks themselves.
A laissez-faire leadership style involves stepping back and giving your team plenty of independence to work in their own way. It can be especially useful where the work involves a strong creative element. This is because you know your team will come up with the best results when left alone.
But even in a creative environment, it’s possible to be too laissez-faire. Although you might want to leave your team to it, it may be wise to check in from time to time. Plan regular progress meetings to ensure the work is completed to brief and deadline.
Laissez-faire and juniors
Additionally, be careful when taking a laissez-faire approach with very junior employees. Even if they don’t ask for it, they may still require guidance, advice, and supervision to stop them drifting. Avoid the situation where being laissez-faire is mistaken for aloofness. Make it clear that should a problem arise, your door is always open.
In direct contrast to laissez-faire, this is ‘by the book’ leadership. It focuses on policies and procedures. A bureaucratic leader hammers home the importance of rules and routine, leaving little scope for innovation or creativity.
A bureaucratic leadership style may be unavoidable if:
- You’ve got a production line to oversee
- If customers demand work is done in a certain way
- Orr if you’ve got a strict professional regulatory framework to adhere to
But that’s not to say that you can’t incorporate elements from different leadership styles to get the best out of your team. This may include, for instance, a visionary approach. This is to make it clear how following these strict processes fit in with the wider plan for the company. Even though the processes, once set out, must be adhered to, you could empower employees by inviting them to suggest ways to improve on them.