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How to employ different leadership styles to get full potential from your team

Updated: Apr 12

Effective leadership is crucial for the success of any team or organization. However, leadership is not one-size-fits-all. Different situations call for different leadership styles, and understanding these styles can greatly enhance a leader’s ability to maximize the potential of their team. In this article, we will explore various leadership styles and when to employ them to achieve the best results from your team.

You may be a leader who naturally gravitates to one or two communication styles while directing your team. Chances are that you employ two or three of the main styles more naturally and easily.

At Transform we are big proponents of empathetic leadership styles including coaching, affiliative and visionary.

It might surprise you to hear that we still believe commanding and authoritarian leadership has a critical role to play. Experience and best practise show that these styles must be used sparingly and carefully as each comes with various health warnings. Lazy, distracted, or inexperienced managers can find themselves falling into commanding styles to maintain control if they do not give situations the required forethought and analysis. Lets look at how to employ different leadership styles to get full potential from your team

As we examine each leadership style in turn, I’d like to focus on the importance of establishing the correct ratio between control, support and autonomy for each situation. If we force ourselves to pause and assess these three dimensions, we can increase our awareness of which style to employ. We can ask ourselves as a leader what the team or individual needs in this situation from a control, support, and autonomy perspective. When we analyse the circumstances, we will quickly be able to judge if we should lead with motivating vision, hand holding support, or exact clear direction.

What is more, choosing the most appropriate style will take discomfort away for the recipient.

The fourth key dimension to consider in every scenario is communication. I will not dwell on this topic here though as the principle is that strong clear communication should be used in each situation and through every leadership style.

Commanding leadership can be effective in situations where quick decisions are needed or in times of crisis. This style involves making decisions quickly and calmly without consulting others and expecting conformity from team members. As such there is high control, and low autonomy for team members. There is a degree of support born out of the confidence of the leader inhabiting the style. There is limited support within tasks as directions are specific and team members are left to execute following instructions.

While this style has value in certain situations, it can stifle motivation if over used. Autonomy is a key to inherent motivation and therefore a key downside to a commanding approach. To employ this leadership effectively, leaders should clearly communicate expectations, provide rationale for decisions, and remain open to feedback.

Style in a phrase: “Follow my specific instructions.”

Control - high, Support - low, autonomy - low

Pace-setting leadership is focused around results. Leaders demonstrate the behaviours and work ethic they expect from their team. The leader is skilled and proficient in their domain and sets a fast pace to drive results. It is for use when targets are clear and the team is competent. The control dimension is seen in the communication of the goals and deadlines. Support is low, and autonomy for team members is typically high. It is only a style to employ with an experienced team. If the team is not experienced the lack of support and constant banging of the drum will not yield positive outcomes. Overuse of this style will lead to burnout and demotivation. Use of pace-setting leadership when there is insufficient experience, resources or unrealistic targets will also end badly, possibly increasing staff turnover.

Style in a phrase: “Follow my lead and get the job done.”

Control - medium, Support - low, autonomy – high

Visionary Leadership is used to share new vision or clear direction to the team. Leader control is high and directions are made clear. Support is moderate and leaders work with empathy in a collaborative way. Autonomy for team members is high and the focus on the destination and individuals required to employ the strategy of the leader making decisions for themselves day to day. There is scope for creativity and feedback from the team to enable the longer-term vision.

Style in a phrase: “Let’s do it together.”

Control - high, Support - medium, autonomy - high

Affiliative leadership is focused around building relationships and creating a sense of connectedness and belonging within the group. Support is high from the leader as they aim to get to know team members and provide individualised and adaptive input. There is low control over the teams activities it is a collaborative approach with equal input invited from team members. Autonomy is high, trust in people is prioritised over results and problems are solved openly together.

Style in a phrase: “Prioritise individuals and the team.”

Control - low, Support - high, autonomy - high

Democratic leadership is used to ensure equal input from all to address concerns and gather perspectives. It is useful when buy-in and collaboration is needed for success. This could be in periods of change management or during complex problem solving. Control is only moderate in this leadership style as decisions are collectively reached. Independence is fostered and team members are trusted to encouraged to take ownership of their own work. Autonomy is high as individuals exercise judgement and take responsibility.  It is a highly supportive and empathetic style where leaders create an open environment for discussion and encouragement. However, if there is a need for greater clarity, direction, and accountability in the team it would not be an appropriate style.

Style in a phrase: “What do you think?”

Control - medium, Support - high, autonomy – high

Coaching leadership is the most empathetic and development orientated style. It is useful when an organisation is focused on the long-term capabilities and skill building within the team. Leaders are self-aware and allow team members to have a go at things and try and support their progress with questioning and empowerment. Team members are highly and often individually supported to grow and learn to increased their contribution to the business. The level of control exerted over people is low as they are encouraged to figure out how to proceed for themselves. As such they also enjoy freedom to make mistakes, to try things and to learn. They have more autonomy here but it is founded in increased support and continual presence of the leader and their availability as a sounding board. There is no time or place for coaching style leadership in urgent situations or within dysfunctional teams. Nor is coaching leadership viable when the skills of team members require directive and teaching support. Equally as the onus is on the team members to own the problems and self-solve it will not lead to strong outcomes when motivation is too low for high levels of ownership and self-directed development.

Style in a phrase: “Have a go, you can do this!” 

Control - low, Support - high, autonomy – high

Transform coaching provide bespoke training on leadership, team work and communication skills.

Email Miles to set up a chat and we will invite you to join a free upcoming training session on choosing and using leadership styles.

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