Leadership Styles for the Effective Leader

Posted on February 7, 2010


Personal Management, photo from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

It is important that as leaders, we are aware of our own leadership styles, and the effects of it. One of the largest mistakes a leader can make is to be uncertain about his own style of leadership, as when he can’t make up his mind as to what kind of leader he wants to be, he’ll not just create confusion for himself but for his team too. Can you imagine if one fine day your boss wakes up and can’t decide whether he wants to be a dictator or a participative leader? You’d never know whether it is fine to raise your thoughts or will you get a major lashing for doing so. Often, friction occur not because the team disagrees with the leader’s leadership style but because they are confused by their leader’s seemingly random ‘mood swings’, where a matter is fine on some days but unacceptable on others. As such, it is absolutely critical that as leaders we have a well formed outcome as to our own styles of leaderships and what we hope to achieve by it, as well as it’s limitations.

There are three main categories of leadership decision making styles. They are the autocratic, democratic and free rein style. The autocratic leader favours unilateral decision making, where the power to make decisions lie solely with the leader. This allows quick decision making, free of bureaucracy, but risks loosing many perspectives. The democratic leader favours the consult-and-decide strategy in making decisions. He listens to the opinions of the group members equally to obtain a rounded perspective before making a decision. The free rein leader allows his team to gain consensus and decide on what they collectively believe in.

A leader may also relate to his team and operations in a transactional or transformational manner. A transactional leader uses the carrot-and-stick approach in motivating his team- do well and you will be rewarded, err and suffer the consequences. He will run operations based on what is immediately most beneficial to the task, for instance, putting the best people for the work. A transformational leader, on the other hand, motivates by inspiring and persuading his team. He leads by example. In terms of operation, he will consider what is most beneficial to the team, for instance, putting the people who will best benefit from a task to fill the role.

It is critical to note that there is no one style and manner of leadership that should be considered better or worse, it is all a matter of appropriateness. The style of leadership we choose should very much be situation based. Considerations include the operations, the culture, the team members as well as our own habits. An autocratic leader may be more suitable for wartime, but a democratic leader may be more suitable for peacetime. It would be unadvisable to impose our will on a team used to having their own way. It would be wise to adopt a transformational rather than transactional style leadership on a team with a large potential for growth. It is also impertinent that the style we choose is one that we are comfortable with and can maintain in the long run.

Ultimately, we should also note that most styles are, in practice, a combination of the above. This means to say that there is hardly anyone utilising a pure ‘autocratic’ or ‘democratic’ style; they may be a combination of ‘democratic’ and ‘transformational’ or somewhere along the gradient between ‘free rein’ and ‘democratic’. Knowing these will allow us to be sure of the leadership styles we aspire to adopt and the necessary leadership lessons that should apply.

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