What is common to Christopher Columbus, Mahatma Gandhi, and Steve Jobs? Perhaps very little. Yet they were all leaders in their own right. More to the point, they all had different ways of leading. Which brings up the question, How many styles of leadership are there, after all? Many, as it turns out.
One of the early theories on leadership styles was proposed by the psychologist Kurt Lewin in the 1930s. He suggested there are three main leadership styles:
(1) Authoritarian / Autocratic leaders: They make decisions without consulting team members. While it works well in emergencies and non-controversial situations, it can lead to demoralization, high level of absenteeism and staff turnover.
(2) Participative / Democratic leaders: Although they make the final decisions, they consult their team members in the decision-making process. Creativity is encouraged, and the people feel engaged. This leads to high job satisfaction and productivity.
(3) Delegative / Laissez-faire leaders: These leaders give the team members a whole lot of latitude when it comes to their work and its schedule and deadlines. They provide resources and advice as needed, but do not get involved in any major way. Although this style of leadership can lead to high levels of job satisfaction, it can be disconcerting for some who are left to fend for themselves and may come up short.
The Blake-Mouton managerial grid, published in 1964, classifies leadership styles based on whether your major concern is for people or for tasks. People-oriented leaders focus on organizing, supporting and developing the team members. It is a participatory style which leads to good teamwork and creative engagement. Task-oriented leaders focus mainly on getting the job done. They manage by defining the work to be done and the people necessary, putting structures in place, and then planning, organizing and monitoring work. Of course, the best leaders use elements from both styles.
Hersey-Blanchard situational leadership theory, proposed in 1969, says that the leadership style you adopt should be geared to the maturity level of your team members. A directing approach is necessary when there are relatively immature individuals, whereas a more participative or delegating leadership style can be followed when you are dealing with highly mature people. Path-goal theory of leadership, proposed in 1971, says something similar – participative approach suffices when highly capable people are working on a complex task, but you need a directing approach if people with low ability are working on an ambiguous task. In other words, the leadership style to be adopted depends on the people’s needs, the task, and the environment.
There are other leadership styles which do not fit neatly into any of the above frameworks:
- Bureaucratic Leadership: They are sticklers for rules and procedures. This style is ideal for situations involving serious safety risks or other serious issues and also when routine tasks need to be carried out. However, it can stifle flexibility, creativity and innovation.
- Charismatic Leadership: These types of leaders are able to inspire and motivate their team members based on certain enigmatic or charismatic qualities they possess that mesmerizes their followers. However, this style can be dangerous in a crisis because they tend to be overly confident of their prowess and will not pay heed to advice.
- Servant Leadership: A “servant leader” leads by catering to the needs of the team members, often leading by example. They operate with high integrity and generosity. This style can foster positive corporate culture and high morale among team members. It may not be appropriate when you have to make quick decisions or meet tight deadlines.
- Transactional Leadership: This style works by reward and punish structure in place for the job done. The advantage is that it clarifies everyone’s roles and responsibilities. The downside is that those who are not self-motivated can flounder and there is likely to be high staff turnover.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to leadership. You have to mix and match depending on the circumstances.