In this article, we will explore leadership further and look at what I believe to be the four main types of leadership styles and how they fit in to business and more importantly business success. You will walk away understanding more about different leadership style and the impact they play within your business. You will be able to reflect not only on your style but how it can impact the success of your team.
Approximate reading time: 10 minutes
Leadership is an interesting word that may have different meanings, depending on whom you ask. However, if we consider what leadership means in business then we can focus in context and better understand the basics. As an engineer, I know that if you understand the basics, then when faced with more complicated challenges ( you know… the challenges where “things” don’t fit in evenly) you’ll be able to deal with them effectively because you will be clear, focused and driven with purpose.
Leadership is defined as: The action of leading a group of people or an organisation, or the ability to do this. (Ref: oxforddictionary.com)
If we take a simplistic view…Leaders are people and people come in different shapes, sizes, backgrounds, experiences, abilities and so on… Another import aspect to consider is, because they are people, they ( ie leaders) also have different styles.
What do we mean by Leadership styles?
This can be subjective and if you were to do some research, you’ll find there are many tag-lines, descriptors or handles attached to leadership. Some may argue there are more than four leadership styles; and they would be correct. It all comes down to how you slice the loaf of bread or how deep you want to explore this. In my opinion, I see four basic styles of leadership. When I say “styles of leadership” I am referring to the way the individual leader executes their role.
Lets get to the point of Leadership Styles:
Leaders come with different styles and these styles can be quite varied. If we get down to the rudimentary elements, some may even struggle to understand the difference between a manager and a leader. I touched on this in a separate article where I explored the key differences between these two and I recommend you take a look at it. There are many reasons for this misunderstanding ranging from education, experience, comprehension, culture and ego to name a few. If we focus back onto leadership and assume we have a good understanding of what it is, we can look at this a little deeper. There is a lot of literature available on leadership which is based on research, experience and opinion. All of which converges to a point that identifies in my opinion four main leadership styles.
- Hands-Off (aka Laissez-Faire)
I always like to start with some clarity. Lets look at their definitions:
- Autocratic: Relating to a ruler who has absolute power, or Taking no account of other people’s wishes or opinions ( Reference: Oxford Dictionary )
- Hands-Off (aka Laissez-Faire): The policy of leaving things to take their own course, or without interfering (Reference: Oxford Dictionary )
- Authoritative: Able to be trusted as being accurate or true; reliable (Reference: Oxford Dictionary )
- Democratic: Relating to or supporting democracy or its principles ( Reference: Oxford Dictionary )
After taking into consideration the definition of these styles, lets now focus on what they mean with respect to leadership in business or the workplace.
- The Autocrat:
This leader is not interested in the input from the team but rather the results ( or the output) they achieve. The autocratic leader calls all the shots, turns all the dials and pulls all the levers. He or she makes the decisions alone (.…or at best with input from only a very selected minority). I would say this is more like classic front line management and is quite transactional in its approach. It does have it’s place and works well in an environment where the team require close monitoring and supervision. The flip side is that it does not work well for a team made up of capable and competent people because there is no autonomy or opportunity for individual or team buy-in.
Example: Donald J Trump
Donald Trump is easily the first person to come to mind when identifying an Autocratic leader. He is well known for centralising decision making and assumes total control. He has a reputation of involving himself deep within the details of his enterprise and limits inputs from only a select few in his team. He used this style along with some effective campaign marketing to win the US Presidential election. He even followed through with this style as US President and early in his tenure, publicly showed by hiring and firing various advisors in similar fashion to his TV show “the apprentice”. One can get away with this style within their own private company and in an environment which allows them to “get away with it”.However, in public office this approach does not work all that well especially in a democratic environment. This was also a significant reason why former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd was removed by his own party ( more info )
- The Hands-Off ( aka Laissez-Faire)
The commonly referred to Laissez-Faire leader, is a style which traditionally doesn’t direct, provide feedback or for most part is not all that engaged with the team. This mainly occurs, when the team in question is made up of highly experienced, competent and importantly, accountable members which require little supervision. This style works well in this particular situation and is ok when the leader identifies that this is the appropriate way to handle it. Good Laissez-Faire leaders will however provide non negotiable metrics and keep a remote close eye on them and will step in if necessary. However, when the leader naturally exhibits this approach ALL of the time, even in the instances when the members lack the skills which are conducive to this style, resulting effect is in productivity issues, delays and cost increases to name a few.
Example: Warren Buffett
Warren Buffett known for his great success over many decades, basis his approach to business on investing in proven organisations, markets and technologies. This approach extends to his people. He surrounds himself with people he knows can execute and deliver the outcomes and performance required. He intervenes when necessary and also has a reputation of allowing his team to make mistakes so they can learn and develop further. This style works for Warren Buffett because he chooses his people wisely and encourages a culture where his employees are motivated and feel confident.
- The Authoritative
In certain instances, this type of style is closely aligned with the democratic style especially with respect to team engagement and communication. Authoritative leaders have a high level of expertise in the field they are working in. Because of this, they are able to effectively articulate a vision and the way forward to success. Whilst they maintain a firm control, they allow and encourage team members to be involved and engaged; providing an encouraging amount of opportunity for autonomy.
Authoritative Example: Bill Gates.
Bill Gates was known for his technical capabilities and as the CEO of Microsoft he successfully moved it towards the vision he saw the industry was trending towards. In simple terms, Bill Gates had a vision which he clearly communicated and subsequently aligned the organisational resources for that vision.
- The Democrat
This leadership style is participative and values the input of the team members. This style of leadership is welcomed by many and boosts overall morale due to the value placed on the members, their engagement and probably most of all they have bought into the solutions. Critical to the success is the decision making process which still lies with the leader. He or she still makes the final decision, however the team have been brought along for the ride and their input contributes to the final decision.
Democratic Example: Larry Page.
Google is an organisation known for its collaborative and innovative work culture and this is significantly influenced by the way it is lead. Larry Page the co-founder and CEO of Google has a work mindset that “we should be building great things that don’t exist” To be able to deliver on this approach requires a significant innovative approach which in turn drives the democratic environment at Google. This is underpinned by an engaging and collaborative approach with its team members to bring out their best whilst at the same time demanding they must validate their input.
Which Style are you and what does this all really mean?
From my experience, great leadership can be made up of all the above four styles and more importantly great leadership can be made up of elements of the above four styles in the right amount. In essence, a great leader is one who can adapt.
The four people that I have highlighted as examples who use the respective style are successful at it because they have instilled a culture or business environment which compliments their respective style. However in the normal scheme of things, this may not always be possible. This is why I say great leadership needs to be adaptable. As mentioned above, because people are different and leadership is mainly about dealing with people, then so should their styles be different depending on the situation.
A great leader will have a core style but will also exhibit attributes from the other style depending on the situation at hand. The exception is when the situations are orchestrated such as with the examples of the above. Meaning, the above four people have their respective styles which work for them because they have structured their organisations to work that way.
How can you tell which style to use?
Lets assume you are an adaptable leader who can adjust their style based on the situation presented within their respective workplace. I have created the following two charts which will help you to take into consideration:
- the level of engagement of your staff (Chart 1)
- the level of competency of your staff (Chart 2)
in comparison to:
c) the level of leadership control.
Both of these charts can be looked at from two perspectives:
- based on the level of leadership control, you will attract ( or retain ) those type of staff
- based on the level of your staff, you will typically require the corresponding level of leadership control.
If you would like to discuss more about leadership or learn more on how to systemise your business so that it simply works, contact me at ANBA Solutions.
The Wrap Up.
There is a time and a place for everything, so they say. However, good leadership; leadership which is effective, is something which is required all of the time. Creating an environment which suites your style as a leader, in theory has its merits. The four people mentioned in this article have proved that; especially the two at the extremes – The Autocrat and the Laissez-Faire.
However, the down side to only operating with one leadership style is that it typically requires your staff to also have the same certain qualities which best fit your style. The ability to adapt is a fundamental key to success and this also applies to leadership. The benefit of having staff which are highly engaged, competent and passionate about what they do and the contribution they make will no doubt result to support you as a leader to manoeuvre your business, adapt to changing conditions and achieve great results.
What do you think?
Andrew Baldacchino, is a business coach, mentor, facilitator and speaker. He applies his global industry experience to help companies of all sizes to systemise their business so they can be more competitive, profitable and time effective.