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A look at the different types of leadership styles and how they affect teams

As a leader, you’ve probably seen a plethora of leadership models being talked about in management literature. You’ve developed your own leadership style, maybe subconsciously, or have had the opportunity to undergo leadership development programs at a highly prestigious institute. Either way, you have your own unique style of leading your team. 

Leadership models and styles are a way to make sense of these wide variety of approaches by clubbing them into separate groups of similar characteristics. By doing this, it becomes easier to study the impact of such approaches and also understand the motivation drivers underlying them. From this perspective it becomes an interesting tool to understand our own leadership styles and assess whether we are having the impact we desire or just the opposite. 

Leadership approaches range from Lewin’s Leadership Styles framework of the 1930s to the more recent ideas about transformational leadership. There are also many general styles, including servant and transactional leadership. Become aware of such frameworks and styles can help you to refine your approach and to be a more deliberate and effective leader.

So let’s delve deeper into some of the key leadership styles to understand how they affect your team’s performance.

I. Lewin’s Leadership Styles

This is a framework developed by psychologist Kurt Lewin in the 1930s, and it became the foundation of many of the approaches that followed afterwards. He argued that there are three major styles of leadership:

Autocratic leaders make decisions on their own without consulting or taking inputs from their team, even when they might be able to come up with good ideas. An autocratic leader believes that they are the most qualified to take decisions and do not value the ideas that come from others. Working with a leader like this can make even the most creative and enthusiastic team member, hesitant about sharing their ideas. This style can be quite demoralizing for the team, and it can lead to high levels of absenteeism and staff turnover. 

Democratic leaders include team members in the decision-making process by seeking out their ideas but eventually they make the final decisions themselves. This approach of a democratic leader encourages creativity, and people are often highly engaged in projects and decisions. As a result, team members tend to have higher job satisfaction and higher productivity. 

Laissez-faire leaders give their team members a lot of freedom in how they do their work, and how they set their deadlines. They tend to provide support in terms of advice or resources if required, but otherwise they let the team function on its own.  This autonomy that team members sense under such a leader can lead to high job satisfaction, but only if the team members have the required skills and resources to accomplish the task. If the team lacks motivation or has to deliver under tight deadlines, this approach could lead to a lot of frustration within the team. At it’s extreme, it would even appear that the leader is not interested in the team or the task. 

This framework clearly indicates that a less autocratic approach would get better results. However, in times of crisis or when decisions need to be taken quickly, the autocratic approach may appear to be the best route. 

II. The Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid

The Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid which emerged in 1964 uses a simple two-by-two grid to describe five leadership styles on the basis of the leader’s concern for people and concern for tasks.

Authoritarian Leader (high task, low relationship): Leaders who have very high focus on tasks and not so much on their people tend to be hard on their teams. There is little or no allowance for cooperation or collaboration. Such leaders are very strong on schedules; they expect people to do what they are told without question or debate and when something goes wrong, they tend to focus on who is to blame rather than concentrate on exactly what is wrong and how to prevent it. They tend to be intolerant of what they see as dissent, which might just be someone's creativity, so it is difficult for their subordinates to contribute or develop. 

Country Club Leader (low task, high relationship): A leader who focuses on relationship with his team rather than tasks uses predominantly reward power to maintain discipline and to encourage the team to accomplish its goals. This makes them almost incapable of being directive and giving difficult feedback to their team, or exercising their legitimate power in any manner.  At the core, they fear that using such powers could jeopardize their relationships with their team members. 

Impoverished Leader (low task, low relationship): This type of leader uses a "delegate and disappear" management style. Since they are not committed to either task accomplishment or maintenance of relationships, they essentially allow their team to do whatever it wishes and prefer to detach themselves from the team process. This could lead to the team suffering from a series of power struggles. 

Team Leader (high task, high relationship): A leader who has a high focus on relationships and tasks leads by positive example and is able to foster a team environment in which all team members can reach higher potential, both as team members and as people. Such leaders encourage the team to reach team goals as effectively as possible, while also working tirelessly to strengthen the bonds among the various members. They normally form and lead some of the most productive teams. 

As you can conclude from the above description, the ideal leader would be a team leader who not only has a high focus on the tasks and outcomes but also builds the capabilities of and relationship with their team members. 

III. Transformational Leadership

The leadership frameworks discussed so far are all useful in different situations, however, "transformational leadership " is often considered to be the most effective style to use in business. This leadership model was first published in 1978, and was then further developed in 1985.

Transformational leaders have integrity and high emotional intelligence. They motivate people with a shared vision of the future, and they communicate well. They're also typically self-aware, authentic, empathetic, and humble.

Transformational leaders inspire their team members because they expect the best from everyone, and they hold themselves accountable for their actions. They set clear goals, and they have good conflict-resolution skills. This leads to high levels of productivity and engagement.

What type of leadership style do you follow? 

So, what is your predominant style of leadership? 

  • Do you focus a lot on tasks and not so much on the people who work with you? 
  • Are you able to inspire and motivate your team? 
  • Do you fix blame for things going wrong or show how to fix them?
  • Do you drive your team members or coach them?
  • Are you able to give tough feedback when it has to be given for the benefit of their team member and the entire time? 
  • Do you work hard to produce results yourself or work hard to help team members produce results?

These are some questions for you to ponder.

To summarize, leadership is not a "one size fits all" thing. Often, as a leader you need to adapt or flex your style to fit the situation. A good understanding of what impact each of these styles have on your team members and their performance is a way to be more intentional in your approach and flexible as required by the situation. 

To understand more about your leadership style, you could explore some leadership assessments along with a coaching session. Assessments around emotional intelligence can provide you with a lot of insights about your self-awareness and relationship management. If you want to explore this further, feel free to schedule a consultation with me.