We all have a dominant leadership style, a style that feels natural and comfortable to us. What is your preferred style? Below is a link that will take you to a short leadership survey that will help you discover a little more about your dominant leadership style. The survey contains 20 short statements. Take a look at each statement and respond by clicking on the tab below the statement (there are 4 choices: strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree). Whilst completing this survey think about a recent experience where you exercised leadership. Try not to over-analyse the statement – the survey should take no more than 10 minutes. When you have finished responding to the 20 questions, a result box will appear suggesting a dominant style based on your reactions to the 20 statements.
Please do not read beyond this point unless you have completed the survey above.
So how was that? Did it reinforce your suspicions or were there any surprises? For the purposes of this survey, I have selected four key leadership styles. Here they are in full.
(sometimes known as authoritarian, cohesive or autocratic)
People with a dominant directive leadership style want to make the decisions and come with firm ideas of how tasks should be done. They tend to instruct followers on the steps they need to take. They need to be regularly updated and see compliance as a necessary part of doing good business. A celebrated modern directive leader was Margaret Thatcher.
(sometimes known as democratic, consulting or facilitative)
People with a dominant participative leadership style encourage followers to be part of the decision making process, seeking input from followers and soliciting many views and approaches before acting. They tend to build consensus through participation and will always share the outcomes of any group decision and give praise where praise is due. A celebrated modern particicipative leader was Nelson Mandela.
(sometimes known as laissez-faire or servant leadership)
People with a dominant delegative leadership style have trust and confidence in the abilities of followers. They tend to give followers latitude to develop their own approach and goals. They promote self-autonomy and self-direction believing that it inspires initiative and commitment. They intervene only when asked. A celebrated modern delegative leader was Mahatma Gandhi.
(sometimes known as guiding, coaching or affiliative)
People with a dominant supportive leadership style are concerned for the well-being and needs of their followers, looking out for them and acknowledging their successes to others. They tend to have a kind, considerate and understanding attitude regarding followers’ problems and focus on their professional development. A celebrated modern supportive leader is Pope Francis.
The modern digital business environment is a globally competitive, consumer-centric, information driven enterprise where leaders are expected to deliver results through knowledgeable and often culturally diverse employees who are sophisticated social media users with their eye constantly on their next internal or external move.
Leaders who are effective in this diverse and complex environment are the ones who are aware of their dominant leadership style, are aware of other leadership styles and the impact these styles have and they have learned to adapt their style over time to connect with their followers in an authentic way that enables them to at perform their best. The primary take-away from any reflection on leadership styles in a modern business setting is that each of these styles are effective or ineffective in context and a good leader learns these different contexts and adapts her or his leadership style and behaviour accordingly.
Brief analysis of context
In the right context, this style can achieve fast results. It is a highly effective style to use in a ‘burning platform’ situation or if all team members are focused pace-setters. Used in the wrong context, team members can feel micromanaged, undervalued and bullied.
In the right context, this style can lead to inclusive and quality decision making. It is a highly effective style to use when quality is more essential than productivity and where you need to build team togetherness. Used in the wrong context, decision-making can be too consensus driven and frustratingly slow.
In the right context, this style produces confident self directing individuals. It is a highly effective style to use in an environment where the team is made up of experts or specialists and you have confidence they will deliver results. Used in the wrong context, team members can feel neglected and directionless.
In the right context, this style creates a pleasant and motivating team environment. It is a highly effective style to use for building and developing new teams particularly if the team members have diverse skills and experience. Used in the wrong context, team members can feel smothered and over-protected.
Think of it as a tool not a label
The benefits and limitations of using psychological surveys and instruments as a learning tool was detailed in another article (click here). The key danger to observe here is that one should not use this survey to label oneself or others, rather think of it as a self-reflective tool. It is recommended you look at all of the leadership styles and make your own assessment as to which style or styles you tend to use the most and through your own experience and examples, assess the negative and positive impact of these styles in given contexts.
One style does not fit all
Whatever our dominant leadership style, using the same default style sooner or later will render us ineffective – doggedly sticking to one leadership style is not effective in the digital age. A modern enabling leader, a leader who enables others, is aware of their dominant style and adapts it in order to motivate and deliver results more effectively through others. In the life cycle of a typical project, a good enabling leader will adopt different styles in different scenarios to help move the project forward in different ways. At the beginning of the project they may sit with the team member and co-create an approach (participative style), they may then step back and let the team member take ownership of the initiative (delegative style), at key times when the leader sees the team member getting off-track, they may step in and steer the team member back on target (directive style) they then may step back again but will have scheduled and unscheduled moments when they check in with the team member to see how they doing and to offer coaching (supportive style). The leader’s role here is to enable the person to deliver by flexing and adapting their style in an authentic way to help move things forward.
Leadership style instruments can be very useful, particularly as a means of uncovering blind spots; but whether they are used or not, it is essential for modern leaders to understand and adapt their style to fit the context so that they motivate people and performance in the right way.
Richard Kelly PhD.
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