Word to the Wise: Know Your Leadership Style

3/23/2017 - By Zachary Farrington

What’s the difference between leadership and management? Perhaps management guru Peter Drucker put it best: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” 

As a business owner and leader, you must not only “do the right things,” but you must also inspire others to do the same. According to Daniel Goldman’s well-known Harvard Business Review article, “Leadership That Gets Results,” a manager’s leadership style is responsible for 30 percent of a company’s profitability.

Know Thyself

Goldman describes six leadership styles and how they work:

  1. Pacesetter: This type of leader is a role model and sets high standards. His or her leadership style works best with a motivated, skilled team. 

  2. Authoritative: Also known as a “visionary,” this leader gets the team focused on common goals using enthusiasm and inspiration. Rather than providing explicit direction, this type of leader encourages individual innovation and experimentation to get to the shared endpoint. 

  3. Affiliative: Think connection and collaboration. This leadership style focuses on emotional needs over corporate goals and is effective in times of change or trauma.

  4. Coach: Empathetic and encouraging, this style of leader connects employees’ personal goals with the goals of the business. This is a positive style and helps build skills for the long term.  

  5. Commanding: This leader expects full compliance with his or her direction. As the name implies, “commanders” are often military-style leaders who demand obedience.

  6. Democratic: Perfect for developing consensus, this style fosters a sense of ownership and participation. It is most effective when the leader needs fresh thinking and input from others in the know.

Where do you land in terms of your default leadership style? Each of these styles has its pros and cons, but it’s likely that your “comfort zone” lies in a particular style or range of related styles.

Know Thy Circumstances

Of course, leadership is usually situational. In other words, how you lead depends on the circumstances. Even if you aren’t aware of it, you’re likely practicing situational leadership to some degree. 

For example, in periods of stress and discord, your “affiliative” leadership style might move forward to foster harmony and balance. In an urgent situation, your commanding self might take over and lead the troops to appropriate action. And when your business needs a new focus or direction, the authoritative visionary in you will probably arise to mobilize the team. 

To be most effective, you must match the right style, or blend of styles, to the right circumstances. But if you are not particularly facile in assessing the environment and switching to the appropriate leadership style, don’t despair: You can learn by observation and practice. In both contemporary and historical settings, you will find that exceptional leaders artfully use a mix of styles at different times. Studying leadership in context is a great way to develop and hone your own skills.

Know Thy Coworkers

Also note that leadership for various projects and initiatives doesn’t always have to come from the top of the org chart. Offering leadership opportunities to employees at every stage of their careers helps to foster flexible skills that will serve them well as they move along. 

Leadership matters because how you lead — how you “do the right things” — will affect your company, your people and your overall success. Working on your leadership skills and developing flexible leadership styles will help your company thrive.   

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