Leadership takes many forms, but there are three styles of leadership that are the most prevalent. Good leaders do not take one form and stick to it – they look for the right situations for each style. However, good leaders do know what their dominant style is and capitalize on the benefits of that style. Let’s look at the three leadership styles, and the potential pitfalls of each. Think about which style is yours – and how you can modify it in various situations.
Autocratic leadership is also referred to as authoritarian leadership. In this style, the leader normally outlines what he or she wants and how this is to be achieved. In many ways, autocratic leadership isn’t leadership at all but a form of disciplinarian management. Are there situations where this style is effective? First of all, look at the organization. If the organization is well motivated and mature, an autocratic situation may be effective. Let’s say you have most of the information you need but the time to achieve a certain goal is very short. In a well-motivated organization, you can probably give an autocratic order and not be concerned about how it will be taken – as long as this does not become your dominant style. If you are a consistent autocratic leader, you’re probably not getting a good response from your organization. One of the pitfalls of autocratic leadership is the possibility of falling into an abusive or demeaning pattern – this is why you should only use an autocratic stance in rare situations and certainly not regularly. If you identify with a dominant autocratic style, consider transitioning into a more participative style of leadership.
Participative or democratic leadership is a style in which the leader still outlines a goal but allows some input from the organization as far as how the goal will be achieved. But a democratic leader still makes it necessary to obtain approval for decisions by any member of the team. In situations where information is spread out between the leader and the team members, a democratic style may work. This style can also be an appropriate way for an autocratic leader to transition out of that style – without giving total control to the team. This leadership style is very empowering to teams that have not felt empowered before. It’s also a great way to test the knowledge and ability of a team before transitioning into a much less controlling leadership style. Because this leadership style is basically one step up from autocracy, it may be easy for a leader to fall back into an authoritarian stance. If the team fails or falls short, democratic leadership allows them to re-formulate plans and activities – without telling them exactly what to do.
The third, and most empowering form of leadership is the laissez-faire or delegative style. The delegative leader sets an overall priority, goal, or instruction, but then stands out of the way to let things happen. Using this style, a leader takes responsibility for all decisions that are made – but leaves the decision making to the team. This also means that team members are expected to analyze, evaluate, and change issues and problems as they move along. This style of leadership is definitely appropriate with mature or more senior teams – the ones who have had the time to prove themselves to the leader and have the confidence to handle all issues. One of the biggest pitfalls of this type of leadership involves failure. If something goes wrong, this is not the place for a leader to blame the team – and this is more than likely a natural reaction for a laissez-faire leader.
Now that we’ve seen the three dominant leadership styles, which one are you? Remember that the mark of a good leader is the ability to use various styles depending on the situation – a bad leader sticks with the same style at all times. So what are some of the situations where each style is appropriate? If you have a new team, you may want to use the autocratic style as a means of assessing the group and its members. But what if you are placed in a position where most of the teams know their tasks well and would not react well to an autocratic stance? Use a participative style in this situation – allow the teams to have input in the decision making process. Remember that you can empower yourself as a leader as well as a team using this style. Finally, what if your team members know more about the situation than you do? Take a delegative approach and let the teams make their own decisions, all the while reminding them that you will be responsible for the outcomes.
When you’re deciding what leadership style to take, there are a few things to consider. First of all, how much time do you have? If you’re very limited in time, participative or autocratic may be the best style. Of course, this also depends on the team and its makeup – if you have an experienced team and limited time, there is no need to use an autocratic stance. Simply explain and emphasize that time is limited. You should also take into account who has the information related to the project or task at hand – if information is divided amongst you, the leader, and the team, you may want to take a participative stance. If your team has all of the information, take a delegative stance – let them use their information to come up with the best solutions. Also consider the type of task you’re looking at – how complicated is it? Compare this with the skill of the team and you should be able to choose an appropriate leadership style.
If your dominant style is more autocratic, you may want to examine what’s keeping you from moving into a participative stance. If you are one of the other two types, you’re probably getting a good response from your teams. Just remember to alter your leadership style based on situations – and don’t stick to one style regardless. When you begin to move around the different styles, you’ll find that your teams will respond.
Copyright 2008 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.
Bryant Nielson – Managing Director and National Sales Trainer – assists executives, business owners, and top performing sales executives in taking the leap from the ordinary to extraordinary. Bryant is a trainer, business & leadership coach, and strategic planner for sales organizations. Bryant’s 27 year business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering.
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