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Nearly everyone who considers themselves a leader – or is considered a leader by others – has a natural leadership style. Different leadership styles have been studies for some time now. Some leaders fall fully under one style or another but most find they practice situational leadership – using different leadership styles depending on the situation.

What if your leadership style doesn’t work for your employees or employer? Should you change it? Can you? If so, how? 

Lewin’s Leadership Styles are perhaps the oldest of those studied. Kevin Lewin created this leadership framework in the 1930’s and many modern leadership style classification models still carry over many of his ideas.

Lewin’s Leadership Styles define these three types of leaders:

Autocratic Leaders

  • Make decisions without consulting their team
  • Beneficial when quick decisions are needed or when the team doesn’t need to have buy-in for a positive outcome
  • Can be very harmful for team morale and has been found to lead to high absenteeism and turnover

Democratic Leaders

  • Final decisions are made by the leader but with input from the team
  • Encourages creativity and people on the team are often highly engaged
  • There is high satisfaction and productivity among team members
  • Not a great choice when fast decisions are necessary or required

Laissez-Faire Leaders

  • The team gets great freedom in their deadlines and how they do their work
  • Resources and advice are provided to the team but generally, leaders don’t get involved
  • The members of the team experience high satisfaction
  • This can be a poor leadership style if employees themselves are unmotivated or don’t have the education and/or experience to do their job well—or even right

Several other leadership style frameworks have come since then such as these popular ones: 

The Blake Mouton Managerial Style – This style says most managers are either people-oriented leaders (most concern for the team members) or task-oriented leaders (puts the job first). It also argues you shouldn’t skew to either direction but strive for balance between the two.

The Path Goal Leadership Styles (1971) – This leadership style suggests people assigned a complex task will need a different leadership style than people assigned simple jobs or objectives will need. You can use this theory to find the best leadership style based on your team’s needs, the task, and the environment.

The 6 Emotional Leadership Styles (2002) – This rubric comes from Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatis and Annie McKee in their book, “Primal Leadership.” It highlights the strengths and weaknesses of six common emotional leadership styles including: visionary leadership, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting, and commanding. Then, this framework addresses how each of these also affects the emotions – and outcomes – of your team.

Transformational Leadership (1978; 1985) – Transformational leadership is probably the best modern leadership style for business and the professional world in general. Here are some trademarks of a transformational leader:

  • Has high integrity and high emotional intelligence
  • They motivate others through a shared vision of the future
  • They communicate well
  • They are self-aware and authentic
  • The are empathetic and humble

The main reason this is considered the best leadership style for business is because a transformational leader inspires his / her team because they naturally assume and expect people will do the best work of which they are capable. 

Transformational leaders also hold themselves just as accountable as they hold their team. They are also clear with their goals and calmly and rationally resolve conflicts. As you can imagine, this usually results in a highly productive and satisfied team.

While this has been generally proven to be the best leadership style or framework to use professionally in the workplace, it’s always important to keep the other leadership styles in mind as well.

Sometimes – often, actually – situations can be complex and/or require fast decisions with far-reaching outcomes and consequences. True leadership then, comes from not only being able to recognize the styles of leadership, but also understanding which one is appropriate and best for who, when, and in what situations.




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