In leadership, one style definitely doesn’t fit all
  • leadership
  • Blog post

In leadership, one style definitely doesn’t fit all

We’ve all heard that authenticity is a key trait in a leader. And this might make you think you should always lead with a style that reflects your most authentic self — the one you’re most comfortable with.

But according to workplace research, that’s not so. There are actually a number of leadership styles, and not every one is appropriate for every challenge. Some of these styles might not come naturally to you, but you can develop them if you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone. And don’t worry; you’re not sacrificing authenticity when you divert from your go-to style. You’re merely trying to be at your most effective.

Let’s look at six key managerial styles and examine situations where they work, or don’t.

1. Command and Control

Think of an Army General: “I know how to do this. So do exactly what I tell you.”

These days people tend to look down on Command and Control. But that’s not really fair. In the right situation, it’s the best option. Command and Control works when leading beginners, who need strong direction. And it’s the only style that fits in a real crisis. If the building is on fire, or your computer systems crash, leaders need to confidently take charge and give orders.

That said, Command and Control is ineffective in most other situations.  Managers often overrely on it because it feeds the ego. It feels good to believe that you have the answers. But it disempowers and demoralizes people, particularly high-potential employees who seek autonomy and want to figure things out for themselves.

2. Democratic

The Democratic style is where you give team members a big say in decision making.

It’s most effective for planning. When you get input from those who will implement the strategy, plans will be reality-based and more comprehensive. And people will take greater responsibility for the results.

But as leaders who always use this style eventually discover, it can have a downside. While planning should be democratic, execution often requires a more top-down style. Imagine that your team falls behind on a project with a mission-critical deadline. That’s not a debatable issue. You need to step in and light a fire under people.

3. Relating

Great managers build rapport with their people. When bosses know the names of their employees’ children and ask about them, they’re using the Relating style. They make people feel safe and valued.

There couldn’t be a downside to being a Relator, could there?

Yes. Many managers rely too heavily on the Relating style and find it difficult to make tough decisions. They don’t want to be unpopular. They put protecting their people ahead of the organization’s goals, which in the long run will lead to an underperforming  team.

4. Goal-setting

The is style is about communicating your vision and goals. You might say: “Here’s what we need to accomplish — I want YOU to figure out how.

That last thought is essential. You’re making goal-setting a collaborative effort where people buy in and feel empowered to execute.

But there are two situations where this collaborative approach could backfire:

  1. When you’re driving a major change initiative. People resist change. They’ll often nod in agreement with the goal, but don’t adopt the new behaviors required to achieve it. When that happens, you’ll need a more directive approach.
  2. When your people lack the skills to execute. In other words, they’re willing, but not able. As a leader committed to a goal, you need to skill up your existing team or bring in new talent.

5. Hands-on

This one is the twin of Command and Control. When overused, it disempowers employees and destroys morale.

But it is appropriate when managers need to intervene and just get it done. If an employee says, “I’ve tried everything but can’t solve this problem. Show me how,” you deploy the Hands-On style and model the way.

But be sure you’re using this approach as an opportunity to teach a skill. Hands-On managers are often high performers, and their natural tendency is to jump in and fix problems. They tend to take all the credit for successes, which can create resentment on a team.

6. Coaching

Great coaches ask questions that help people find their own answers. They offer advice and direction. And they follow up to ensure people are succeeding.

Coaching isn’t a quick fix. It’s about the long-term development of people. For managers who over-rely on the Command and Control and Hands On styles – both of which achieve short-term objectives — the coaching style is the one that most needs to be developed.

This blog entry is adapted from the Rapid Learning module “Six Managerial Styles You Need to Lead Effectively.” If you’re a Rapid Learning customer, you can watch the video here. If you’re not, but would like to see this video (or any of our other programs), request a demo and we’ll get you access.

The blog post and Rapid Learning video module are based on the following scholarly articles:

Yukl, G. (2008, April). The importance of flexible leadership. In Conference of the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology. San Francisco, CA

Lombardo, M. M., & McCauley, C. D. (1988). The dynamics of management derailment. Technical Report No. 34. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

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