Expert advice on Business Leadership and tips on becoming a more effective Leader.

What is Your Leadership Style? By Mitch McCrimmon

Your leadership style depends on what you are trying to do. There are at least three possibilities:

1. You are in charge of a team and you want to know how best to make decisions.

2. You want to know how to motivate your subordinates to work harder or change direction.

3. You want to show leadership to people who don’t report to you.

Let’s consider each of these situations in turn:

1. The question of how best to make decisions is the classic leadership style situation. The original 3 leadership styles were: autocratic, participative and laissez-faire.

The autocrat makes decisions and simply tells team members what to do. The word “autocratic” suggests being dictatorial, but clear direction can be provided without being heavy-handed.

The idea is that leaders should be directive when time is of the essence, when subordinates don’t know what to do, or they are not motivated. The participative leadership style is sometimes called democratic or consultative.

The key point is that subordinates are involved in making the decision rather than simply being told what to do.

Consultative leaders gather input from subordinates but still make the decision themselves. Being participative or democratic means that executives and team members make decisions together.

This style is useful when the executive recognizes that wider input will yield a better decision or when participation will enhance commitment to the decision. With the laissez faire style, executives let subordinates make their own decisions.

This style is also called empowering or delegative. The conventional term ”laissez-faire” has a lax implication, suggesting that employees are free to do whatever they want. But it is now more constructive to talk of empowerment so that there is no connotation of losing control.

2. You’re in charge and you need to motivate your team to work harder or change direction. This is generally seen as a job for the inspiring leader, someone who can paint a vision of a bright future and the place in it of all who are required to help the organization get there.

Ideally, you should be an orator along the lines of Martin Luther King or Winston Churchill. But how many leaders are this charismatic? Also, there is research that suggests dangerous downsides to being very charismatic.

Such people can be too convinced of their own infallibility and can lead blindly devoted followers over a cliff. So-called transformational leadership is closely related to the charismatic type.

In both cases the point is to inspire people with a cheerleader-like enthusiasm, creating the sort of awe in followers that is normally associated with rock stars. Realistically, very few people are like this and those that aren’t can’t transform their underlying personalities. However, you can move people with honest conviction and a well argued case.

3. Suppose you want to show leadership upwards or to colleagues. Maybe you don’t even have people reporting to you.

In this case, the classic leadership styles do not apply at all because you are trying to show informal leadership where you have no authority to make decisions for people who don’t report to you.

To get people on side who can take it or leave it, you need to show how your proposal appeals to their self-interest, how your idea will help them achieve their goals. This is a delicate balancing act.

On the one hand, you are trying to sell an idea that will be of great benefit to the organization but you need to enlist the support of skeptics, colleagues who may put their own interest ahead of the organization’s.

But if you go too far in catering to their needs, you may win them over, but your action is hard to classify as leadership. Buying votes is good salesmanship, but may not be considered leadership. We generally think that, when leadership is shown, people are persuaded to act for unselfish reasons, for the greater good.

Leadership style is really an old-fashioned idea, applicable only to how people in power make decisions for their teams.

Today, leadership is a much broader concept. It is taken for granted that managers need to be empowering – which is like laissez faire without letting people do whatever they want.

Leadership style today is really influencing style and it is not possible to identify one ideal way of influencing prospective followers. If you are in a high tech industry, for example, the key might be hard evidence.

In the medical profession, so-called evidence-based decision making is all the rage. To show leadership in this field, you need hard evidence for your proposals.

Whether you can present your proposals in an inspiring way or not is less important. The bottom line is that influencing style will always be a combination of your personality and the needs of the situation, what it takes to move your particular audience.

The best advice here is to do a trial run. Try out your ideas and approaches with a small number of prospective followers before you go live.
See for more information on this and related topics. Mitch McCrimmon’s latest book, Burn! 7 Leadership Myths in Ashes was published in 2006. He is a business psychologist with over 30 years experience of leadership assessment and executive coaching.

-What are your thoughts on the ideas in the above article? Is there anything you would like to share that would be helpful?

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