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Selecting the Ideal Leadership Style for You

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Meeting room at Pixar Studios: Most powerful people are silent for the first 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, story artists, producers and writers make suggestions and critique the directors to help them develop their films.

With power gone from the room, creativity can flow freely.

Only at the end of this session, called a "brain trust" by the animation company, is the hierarchy restored.

Then the director takes charge and has the final say on the suggestions.

According to the Harvard Business Review, successful leaders know when to lead and when to follow. Knowing when to take the lead and when to step back is crucial to their success.

It is important for transformational leaders to recognize the right moments to assert their authority and when to delegate tasks. This balance is essential for effective leadership.

The authors suggest that teams should engage in divergent thinking to generate lots of ideas. They also recommend convergent thinking to focus on a single goal. Managers need to know which mode is appropriate and when.

A person may prefer a particular leadership style based on their personality and preferences. However, an organization may prefer a style that fits its business priorities and culture.

Teams function best when individual leadership styles align with those needed to achieve an organization's goals. This can help leaders find meaning in their work, reduce conflict, and promote teamwork.

Functions of great leaders

People who demonstrate a transformational leadership style build systems of co-creators that drive innovation both inside and outside the organization. These leaders take advantage of the different strengths of individuals, the sum of which makes up the “collective genius” of organizations.

According to What Makes a Great Leader, such leaders help organizations innovate at scale and quickly. And they make this possible by performing the ABC functions of leadership: architect, bridge builder and catalyst.

1.Architects: They build the skills of talent inside and outside the company to create together.

Managers use the levers of leadership style, talent, structure, operating model and instruments to promote an ecosystem of participation.

2.Bridge builders: You build networks of talent both inside and outside the company.

The authors suggest that leaders must have access to talent and tools "that cannot be found within the walls of a single department, division or company." To do this, they need to build trustworthy social connections.

Typically, companies build incubators, labs or accelerators to enable such partnerships.

3.Catalysts: They enable and strengthen collaboration between different stakeholders.

“They map these dependencies and activate key players, recognizing that they must enable other organizations to work differently in order for the organization to fulfill its purpose,” the article says.

Types of leadership styles: where and how to use them

A blanket approach to leadership style is short-sighted at best. When leading teams, individuals must assess the collective needs and adopt the appropriate leadership style depending on the situation.

This leadership style helps teams overcome unexpected challenges, be inclusive, and work effectively toward a common goal.

1.Authoritarian leadership:

Those who hold high leadership positions use this style to overcome challenges and inspire others. You lead with a vision.

They empower and guide others and allow them to lead. These leaders also demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence. You lead teams with characteristics such as empathy, agility and trust.

The authoritative leadership style works best when:

  • The manager is competent
  • The manager does not have to give detailed instructions to achieve the goal
  • Employees have enough resources to complete the tasks

But beware! Authoritative leadership does not work with incompetent or “pushy” leaders.

2.Servant leadership

In a 2002 article, Sen Sendjaya and James C. Sarros of Monash University in Australia discuss servant leadership. They explained that this leadership style is focused on helping others reach their maximum potential.

Additionally, Larry C. Spears in Virtues and Leadership (1992) suggests 10 characteristics of servant leadership:

  • Conceptualization
  • Forward-looking
  • Awareness
  • Heal
  • Sense of responsibility
  • Commitment to people's growth
  • Building community
  • Empathy
  • Listen
  • Convince

A servant leader is first and foremost a servant, says Greenleaf.

"It begins with the natural feeling that you want to serve. Then you make a conscious decision to seek leadership. The best test is: Do the people you serve grow as people: do they become healthier as you serve them, wiser, freer, more autonomous and more likely to become servants themselves?

According to the Wharton School, servant leadership works best when:

  • A team desperately needs a great role model to look up to and learn from.
  • A team has conflicts and needs to be patched up.
  • Large-scale projects require the full participation of all team members.

3.Transactional leadership

These leaders are very task-oriented and claim to be practical. They do not go beyond their responsibilities to achieve the goals. Often, teams led by such leaders are not particularly innovative.

The disadvantage of this leadership style is that employees do not find fulfillment in their work and are hesitant to make it their own.

The transactional leadership style works best:

  • For teams that require detailed guidance
  • When sticking to protocols or procedures can increase efficiency
  • When enforcing individual accountability benefits the team.

4.Democratic leadership

A research paper in Frontiers in Psychology describes the characteristics of democracy in democratic leadership:

  • Democratic leaders are team-oriented
  • You are open to advice from subordinates
  • They provide their subordinates with information necessary to complete a task.
  • They are mentors to their subordinates

The democratic leadership style is best when:

  • A project requires brainstorming
  • Fresh ideas are needed to tackle a new problem
  • Closely networked, highly collaborative teams in the start-up phase, such as: at start-ups or new small companies.

Democratic leaders encourage debate and discussion but make the final decision based on input from various members. Democratic leaders also demonstrate a participatory leadership style and delegate tasks to others based on their potential and abilities.

5.Empathic leadership

Empathy is one of the components of emotional intelligence that psychologist Daniel Goleman sees as essential to cultivating leadership skills.

Empathic leaders take a people-first approach.

Empathetic leadership works best when:

  • The team is competent enough to know the requirements of a task and how to carry it out effectively
  • The manager does not have to give many instructions
  • Team members perform better when they have freedom and independence.

Situational Leadership: Choose a contextual style

Situational leadership means responding to the demands of the situation with the right leadership style.

The Center for Leadership Studies has developed the situational leadership model, which consists of four leadership styles.

The center assumes that the situations are "a function of the task to be performed combined with the follower's task-related skills and willingness to perform it."

These styles are operationalized by task/directive behavior and relational/supportive behavior:

1.Telling, instructing or guiding

Here the communication flow goes from the manager to the employee. This style requires close supervision from the manager. This style is suitable for participants who have limited skills or experience, or who are unmotivated. It is designed to create movement.

2.Sell, coach or explain

This style is characterized by a high proportion of directive and relationship-oriented behavior. It aims to create acceptance and understanding.

3.Participate, Facilitate, or Collaborate

This model is “follower-oriented” and aims to create consensus.

4.Delegating, empowering or supervising

This style aims to create "task mastery and autonomy." This style also depends on employees having sufficient intrinsic motivation that drives them to achieve their goals. The communication flow here goes from the follower to the leader.

How to maintain your authentic leadership style

Authentic leadership is characterized by achieving business results over time, Harvard Business School professor Bill George and others said in an article.

The authors point out that people do not have to be born with certain characteristics to emerge as leaders. In addition, the people do not have to carry out any formal management tasks.

Here's how individuals can become authentic leaders:

1.Leverage your unique life stories

Every person is the sum of their life stories. To become an authentic leader, you must reflect on and be inspired by your unique life experiences and contexts. This is especially true for transformative life experiences and events.

2.Create awareness for yourself

This also includes exploring yourself and accepting feedback from others, especially “loving critics” who usually have your best interests at heart.

The authors point out that self-inquiry requires “the courage and honesty to open up and examine your experiences.”

Additionally, denial can block the journey to self-knowledge. This can mean not being open to feedback, especially snarky ones that can fuel insecurities.

You can address denial by looking at the feedback objectively and doing a gut check to make sure it is in your best interest.

3.Practice your values

The authors argue that just having a base of values is not enough.

Leadership principles are values that are put into action, they say.

And testing your values under pressure allows you to discover and develop your principles.

Additionally, leaders must balance their extrinsic and intrinsic motivations and build a supportive team.

Choose one main leadership style, subordinate others

A successful leader does not stick to a single leadership style in all situations. They rely on a style that is appropriate for the team's needs and context.

However, there are people who choose one style as their main style and others as their secondary style. The primary style is what comes "naturally" to them, while the secondary style is what they have cultivated over time through conscious effort.

Hope Horner, founder of Lemon light, says there are three types of leadership styles people can have. You can have one as a major and others as a minor:

1.Process orientation - These managers value organizational processes and adherence to them in order to achieve company goals. They believe that organizations can function efficiently by defining organizational structure and accurately setting expectations for work.

2.Performance Orientation - These leaders value “results at all costs.” That is, they value the end more than the means used to achieve it. They are decisive and make decisions based on data.

3.People-centeredness - Such leaders create a safe space where employees feel supported and comfortable asking for help and addressing challenges. They are good at recognizing the strengths of their employees and making the most of them.

Change your leadership style as your team grows

Leadership style must evolve as teams and organizations grow. This can help companies increase employee engagement, control turnover, and develop high-performing teams.

Julie Zhou, Vice President of Design at Meta, pointed out the differences in leadership methods when managing small and large teams:

1.Direct to indirect management

This means delegating responsibility to lower-level managers. Empowering employees to make decisions independently. Leaders of larger teams need to know when to avoid self-sufficient teams and when to step in and take responsibility.

2.People see you differently

Zhou points out that as your authority and team grows, you move further away from your feet on the ground. If the followers don't know you well, they are less likely to tell you the ugly truth and challenge you if they think you are wrong."

He advises leaders to make it clear that they welcome open feedback and suggestions. Leaders also need to admit their own weaknesses and stupidities. This can help increase trust and credibility in them through the “pratfall effect.”

3.Frequent context switching

When you start managing larger teams and projects, the context in which you discuss changes quickly throughout the day. In the past, you may have only met designers and content writers during the day. Now you might also be working with developers, performance marketers and event managers.

It is important to keep an eye on the overall picture that connects the various projects.

4.Choose your battles

Managers should prioritize important tasks and avoid feeling overwhelmed by the number of tasks they have to do. By concentrating on what is important, they can better manage their workload and tasks. This helps them stay organized and have a clear direction in their leadership role.

“Perfectionism is not an option,” says Zhou. "At the end of the day, you're just one person with a limited amount of time. You can't do everything, so you have to prioritize."

5.Focus on people-centered skills

Leaders set goals, hire good people, build strong teams and communicate effectively to be successful. It's about getting the best out of people.

Leaders must recognize each individual's unique strengths and apply them where they are needed most.

How to be a leader in the digital age

Digital team leaders must adapt their leadership style to each situation in order to effectively drive successful initiatives and transformations.

Gartner has suggested five leadership styles that information officers can adopt depending on the goal of a digital project and the composition of the team:


These leaders guide experienced digital professionals who are used to leading themselves. They provide the initial spark for the project and leave the day-to-day business to the team.


This style is suitable for mid-career professionals who transform designs into usable products. The leader regularly monitors the team's progress and sets both individual and team performance goals.


This style is suitable for novice professionals who need the leader to work with them on the front lines. They model practices and behaviors necessary for the team's success on a project.


These leaders support innovation and creative risk-taking. They are best suited for teams that are tasked with formulating breakthrough innovations and taking unconventional approaches to problem-solving.


They offer “guidance, advice and connections” at various phases of project implementation. This approach is best suited to professionals with intermediate professional experience and high technical expertise who are tasked with improving existing projects.

Gartner advises leaders to first evaluate the styles above to determine which style suits them best and then validate it with their team members.

Technical aid for transformational leadership

Effective leadership requires changing leadership styles to meet the needs of each situation. This begins with identifying the styles that “come naturally” to you and evaluating the style an organization needs to achieve its goal.

With the help of IceHrm, you can transition to an agile and transformational leadership style:

  1. Get feedback from your colleagues, superiors and subordinates on the platform. This can help you find the right leadership style to lead your teams.
  2. Set goals at organizational, departmental, team and individual levels and make them visible to everyone involved. This can help you align performance toward shared goals.
  3. Get the pulse of the team you lead by conducting anonymous surveys.
  4. Hire the right people for your team by assigning the appropriate skills to different roles.
  5. Develop the skills required to be a transformational leader. Identify the leadership potential of employees who demonstrate these competencies.

IceHrm aids in cultivating adaptive leadership, aligning teams, and fostering innovation. Embrace diverse styles for effective leadership.

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