The 6 Leadership Styles Everyone Should Know Before Starting A New Management Role
A coaching leader or a visionary: which one will you be? Developing the ability to adapt leadership styles helps new leaders in a fast-changing work environment.
So you’re three weeks away from your first day as a new manager and you’re wondering what kind of leader you will be. There is a long road ahead of you. And especially when you’re new, it can be difficult to know how you want to walk it, right?
No matter who you are or where you are in your career journey today - we all have to grapple with our own ideas and ideals about leadership.
What is a good leader?
How do you make a difference and reach everyone in your team, and your company?
What are the best ways to rally your troops?
How do you behave when things turn south? Or in a crisis?
Because a crisis is truly where leadership mettle is tested. OK, but we’ve jumped ahead.
Remember all those years spent observing good and bad leaders, as a team member yourself? I would never do that if I was a leader, you probably once said. We’ve all said that. And now it’s your turn to put your spin on leading.
Here’s the thing: good leadership is very easy to observe, much harder to do.
There is so much material about leadership out there - newspapers, films, documentaries, research - it is hard to know what best works for you as an individual and what your own personal style should be.
That’s why we’re here to help. To succeed as a leader, you will need to have a good understanding of yourself and your own convictions: what you value as a person and what motivates you personally is the key to understanding how other people are motivated too.
Many of us learn from past leadership experiences. For example, you know when a leader has made you feel like a valued member of the team, and the very particular way they praised you.
Indeed, we tend to gravitate to known styles rooted in our pasts, preferences, our own personalities and backgrounds. Naturally, we want a leadership jacket that is designed to fit us perfectly from day one.
However, this is a skill that takes time to cultivate.
And inherent in all leaders is an ability to adapt or pivot to whatever the situation requires at particular moments.
You need to be flexible and be able to read situations and people to know what is the best course of action — now — to motivate someone or get your team where you need to go.
It’s not intuitive to all people just how to move effortlessly between different styles of leadership depending on the situation.
But we believe being adaptable is going to help you.
Why? Because change is all around us in the workplace.
Why your leadership style matters. A lot
In a business environment defined by uncertainty and change, developing good leaders has never been more urgent. Why? Because work is changing and people’s views of work are changing with it.
According to a study by the American Management Association, 48% of organizations consider developing global capabilities in their leaders now to be a top priority.
What's concerning is that only 18% of multinational companies say they have the strong global leadership pipeline necessary to meet their future business challenges.
Trends such as the rise of remote working, virtual collaboration and a rethinking of the traditional workplace — and even work itself — all put additional pressure on leaders.
Your team will all have different needs and preferences. One day you could be managing half of your team remotely, while the other half are in the office.
While the trend of more remote work and flexibility differs between countries and industries, it is clear that workers have their own personal preferences for how they perform their roles. For example, the Harvard Business Review highlights the increasing desire for more flexibility in their work,
Younger employees also expect rapid progression towards their career goals, and enjoy positive feedback from their managers, according to the consultancy PWC. They also want more variety in their work.
In other words, different leadership styles and approaches are now required to meet the changing needs of employees.
However, we believe that leadership styles – and the personal impact of a leader – should connect teams made up of people from all walks of life, whatever age they are, and wherever they come from.
So, how do you, as a leader, focus on creating an environment where everyone feels valued and motivated to give their best effort?
As you step into your leadership role, there are likely to be many core leadership ideas and styles needed in your toolkit.
To enhance leadership effectiveness, it’s crucial to develop a style that is yours and which merges different leadership techniques. This will give you scope to adapt to new situations as they arise.
Your style may differ depending on the challenges that you face. You may see the merits in being a Coaching leader initially, and then adopt a more Pacesetting, Democratic or Visionary style of leadership as you learn, develop and grow.
Some leadership styles may not suit who you are as a person — and that’s OK!
Instead look for ones that will naturally suit your abilities — you may need to be flexible in your approach.
For example, if you’re naturally someone who likes to work closely with your employees and cultivate their skills, you’re likely not going to adopt a Directive style of leadership.
Equally, if you’re exclusively focused on speed, efficiency and delivering results, you may not be as fussed about being a Visionary.
So, let’s start with two styles which are poles apart – the Democratic and the Directive ones and move to others you may not know so well.
Behind the principle of a democratic leadership style lies the equal balance leaders give to each member of their team.
They make decisions based on the input of team members, empowering them in decision making, and giving them ownership of the team direction. This gives lower level team members the same power of decision making as more senior people.
It is a common style of leadership in the modern workplace and government – on boards for example, a chairman will ask all board members to contribute to make a final decision on the board’s behalf.
The key problem with this approach is quite an obvious one – what do you do when you don’t like the decision the team makes or feel you can make a better decision on your own?
This is perhaps why some leaders arrive as democrats and leave as directives. Do the best decisions always get made via a democratic style of leadership? Or you may be wondering if going it alone is the better way.
The bigger point to make here is that keeping all parties happy is not easy— but that is leadership: making the best decisions to support your team and help your business grow.
As the person who brings all decisions together, a democratic leader can unify a team and give them a strong sense of purpose and direction. All while empowering employees and making them feel like they are contributing to every decision.
Not everyone feels comfortable aligning around one idea or decision. And the beauty of teams is that you have a diverse range of opinions and ideas under one roof. The democratic leader can unify these different perspectives, but not all. And that is the struggle, some employees will naturally push back against this approach.
Traits of a democratic leader
- Trustworthy and dependable
- Principled and process driven
- Struggles to make fast decisions in the moment
Modern workplaces are becoming difficult learning grounds for more directive styles of leadership, mainly because it is rarely, if ever, effective. Typically, this brand of leader will not take input from team members, opting instead to make decisions on their own.
Because the value they place on their own knowledge and experience far outweighs those around them, consultation rarely happens, and if it does it’s usually after the event. The emphasis is on making autonomous decisions and getting employees to follow their instruction.
The intention of this leader is to drive productivity and efficiency anywhere they can, on their own. And to steamroll anything that gets in their way — an unproductive or disloyal member of the team, a different view or idea. A directive leader is generally well-drilled at getting around these obstacles.
Obviously, the focus on results and performance is good for the team and the organization as a whole. However, it’s in the soft skills that modern leaders are made.
Micromanaging, singling out weak performing team members or lavishing praise only on top performers can all destabilize teams. We view this style as effective in some situations, but ultimately regressive.
And while the instinct to take control at all costs can overcome some leaders, we believe in the power of listening to your team, not in overriding them at every turn.
A directive leader has a ‘can do’ attitude and is decisive. This can be a comfort to the broader team and make them feel assured in their roles and even ease their own stress to perform.
The key problem is that their focus on themselves and their ability to lead and make decisions often comes at the expense of others. And, generally speaking, groups will push back against directive styles of leadership if they feel their voices aren’t being heard.
Traits of a directive leader
- Prioritizes productivity and efficiency
- Drives relentlessly at company goals
- May single out weaker members of the team
Popular in the rapid tech and innovation industries, the visionary leader is certainly in vogue. They can galvanize teams and companies around a single vision, cultivate and drive new ideas and approaches to business that have not otherwise been considered, which makes them a valuable and sought-after asset.
In particular, among start-ups and smaller companies this style of leadership is extremely valuable in driving the company mission, adapting to new business challenges, inspiring team members and building confidence.
When you look at contemporary examples, such as Elon Musk, the dynamic nature of a visionary leader, who can inspire and motivate people, is a huge asset to companies.
However, it isn’t always the case that a visionary leader will fit comfortably into your workplace if there isn’t the oxygen in there to let them thrive and do their thing.
Sometimes companies turn to a visionary, when in fact they need a different kind of leader. Still, the attributes of this style of leadership far outweigh the negatives.
The real value of being a visionary leader is the magnetism they bring into the room and the conviction that inspires employees. Not all leaders can be visionaries, so the positive driving force is powerful and unifying.
Not an avid fan of structure and rigid corporate procedures. Sometimes visionaries will also struggle to change course or pivot when necessary, such is their conviction in their own ideas and direction.
Traits of a visionary
- A motivator who is bold and decisive
- Strategic thinker who takes risks
- Always optimistic and inspirational
In sports, top athletes have coaches. And many of them excel at what they do.
Take the example of Usain Bolt: becoming the fastest man on earth was no accident.
His success came from coaching, nurturing and hours and hours of practice from his coach, Glen Mills. Obviously, he wasn’t short on talent, but working with Coach Mills helped him fine tune his talent and reach the pinnacle of world sport.
That’s what a coach does. Yet, for some reason, this leadership skill isn’t adopted into the corporate setting the same way. Given the various needs among today’s workforce, it is possibly exactly what some teams need where a top-down style of leadership can miss vital chances to nurture and grow talent.
The key feature of the coaching leader is that they identify very quickly where they can build and grow their team. They laser in on the strengths and weaknesses in their team and work closely with team members to set individual goals and provide constant and regular feedback to support them as they grow. Much like Coach Mills and Bolt.
They’re skilled in setting clear expectations and creating a positive, motivating environment among colleagues. However, it doesn’t work for everyone. This leadership style can be highly labor intensive and can lead to crowding employees who crave independence and autonomy in their daily work.
Employees tend to value immensely the additional focus on their development and future. Which means this style of leadership enables building close bonds with employees and knowing specifically where strengths and weaknesses lie in their team.
The difficulty is that by focusing solely on coaching team members, this leadership style relies heavily on chemistry between all employees.
Traits of the coach
- Prioritizes value of learning over performance
- Prefers to guide rather than command
- Has high degrees of empathy, self-confidence and self-awareness
Leadership isn’t measured by the clock. However, in the eyes of a pacesetting leader it may as well be. A pacesetting leader will say, “Do as I do now.”
This is the person who is first out of the blocks and first across the finish line. They set impeccable standards for the team to follow and pride themselves on leading always by example.
Obviously, the name is in the title: the speed at which tasks are completed is a key metric for the pacesetter. And it goes without saying that results are equally important.
This is a leadership style that garners quick results in a mature team. However, it can risk isolating and overwhelming team members who are not experienced and need time to develop. The focus on speed of execution may therefore encourage people to sacrifice quality in the process.
A pacesetting leader will motivate and drive employees to meet their goals, provided they are individuals who thrive in an environment where speed and execution are everything. Employees know what their roles are, and what is expected of them at all times.
The pacesetting leader will struggle, however, in a more creative and innovative setting where goals are less defined and openness and experimentation prevail.
Traits of the pacesetting leader
- Focuses on immediate goals and prioritizes efficiency and speed.
- Favors structure, policies and procedures in their work.
- Expects team members to meet the same standards they set.
In a workplace where employee needs are changing, a connected leader will always have their thumb on the pulse. That’s because they know intimately how each person on the team is motivated, what they need to perform, and they tailor their management approach directly to each individual.
Because they favor a style that is about preserving harmony at all times, a connected leader will struggle with confrontation. That may be music to your ears, however, in moments where you need them to put their foot down, it could be a challenge.
The most important attribute of the connected leader is that they can quickly build bonds with employees and boost team morale in the moments when you need it most.
A connected leader will always give teams a sense of belonging and comfort, even when the pressure is on. The ability to connect with people makes them a powerful advocate for the team across the business.
However, the connected leader’s relentlessly supportive approach can prove detrimental to less driven team members, who would benefit from a style that applies more pressure.
Traits of the connected leader
- Builds strong connections across the team and promotes harmony, cohesion.
- Will keep morale high during difficult times.
- A connected leader will say, “People come first.”
Benefits of an adaptive leader
It’s easy to define leadership styles and present them nicely with the associated pros and cons and traits beneath them, so you can quickly browse through the list and see which one suits you.
It's less easy to learn how to switch between them as needed — in short, to become an adaptive, agile leader.
Your individual style of leadership will develop over the course of your life. As you go through life you focus on your personal goals, you overcome challenges, you learn to deal with different – and difficult – stakeholders, you appreciate the nuances of the workplace, and the value of relationships and the ability to inspire, move or motivate people.
All of these contribute to your ability to adapt to your environment, changing your leadership style accordingly.
Good leaders have learned to become good through overcoming personal challenges. They don’t rely solely on articles and books to define their leadership style.
Instead, they continue to work on themselves to become someone others can look up to and follow. This is how we view leadership here at Krauthammer.
And the best part is that you can learn this valuable craft exactly the same way you learn any skill: through practice, practice, practice and by making mistakes and quickly learning from them. And as you take those steps into your leadership role, and become the leader you want to be, we are next to you offering support and advice along the way.
Which is why we recommend downloading the Manage your mindset ebook, our comprehensive guide to leadership, as your next step in developing your leadership style.