There is no such thing as a born leader. Instead, leadership is an acquired attribute, gradually built and refined throughout one’s life. Realized or not, our social interactions since birth have impacted our attitudes and actions as leaders, and continue to evolve and determine our philosophy when leading.
We are all leaders in some form. Corporate leadership is well known as hierarchies dictate communication processes and work flow. Yet leadership also occurs in sports teams, households, among friends and family, and in daily problem solving. Leadership is a core element of human interaction. Humans’ aspire to lead, to set goals and achieve, because leading breeds confidence and competence, which are critical components of self-esteem and happiness.
We all have our own ‘leadership comfort zone,’ or behaviors that come naturally when interacting with others. While this style works well for us, it is important to recognize that it may be uncomfortable or difficult for others. People receive and process messages differently, and if not handled appropriately, mixed messages can create rifts in relationships and delay results. Consequently, to excel as leader, one must be aware of personal strengths in both self and others, and work to adapt and mesh styles to lead appropriately and effectively. This may require a leader to learn new skills, behaviors, and communication styles in order to better connect with those they lead. While uncomfortable at first, this growth can help one to expand their current approach, equipping themselves with new tools that can be used to overcome limitations and intensify impact. Adapting leadership style doesn’t require a complete overhaul of current approach, but rather an openness and willingness to embody the leader others need you to be.
Awareness of different leadership styles and their characteristics is key. It can help you understand your personal preferences in leading, and how it impacts others. If you are aware of different leadership styles, you can work to adapt your style fluidly and timely, to manage situations and advance goals on every project team you lead.
How do you approach leadership? Read, reflect, and stay flexible...
1. Charismatic Leader
Characteristics. Charismatic leaders influence others with their personality. They inspire energy and passion in others through words and actions that motivate. They easily captivate the attention of others and exude pride and confidence in their personal abilities and the skills and potential of their team.
Benefits. This style succeeds at spurring others into action, motivated by the tangible passion of their leader. It also achieves high team morale and energy. Charismatic leadership works to increase team commitment by inspiring others to achieve team goals.
Limitations. Charismatic leaders' feelings of invincibility may, at times, cloud judgment, consequently impeding success. Overconfidence in leaders can become risky and jeopardize results. Project teams led by charismatic leaders may get overly captivated/reliant on leadership reducing autonomy and idea creation.
2. Innovative Leader
Characteristics. Innovators grasp ‘big picture’ goals. They go above and beyond the usual course of action to achieve novel results. They posses a keen awareness of what is not working, and a readiness to quickly adapt and implement new ideas and actions that stick.
Benefits. Innovators succeed at thinking ‘outside of the box,' and solving large-scale problems in novel ways. They excel at creating a work environment that fosters innovation and creativity to develop new materials/ products/ systems.
Limitations. A heavy reliance on innovation can at times create more risk than solution. Innovators pay less attention to rules and traditional methods that may be already productive. Teams can feel overwhelmed by the fast-paced, big change mindset of their leader. Additionally, innovators move so quickly that they may forget crucial steps needed for long-term success.
3. Command & Control Leader
Characteristics. A command, control leader abides strictly by rules and expects others to do the same. This leader acts on rational principles and traditional practices when conducting teams and directing projects. Typically, commanders direct a project from start to finish, with little insight from the team. They are usually well organized, direct and clear in communication style, and relentless with compliance.
Benefits. This style succeeds in situations that demand real urgency, especially when safety is at stake. This approach provides teams with order and structure, which can increase production rate and satisfy inflexible deadlines.
Limitations. Team members may feel restricted in this approach. It can limit a teams ability to develop new skills and unite in shared goals. Team members frequently have little opportunity to make decisions or contribute to success, further reducing team morale. Such rigid adherence to established rules and norms can also greatly limit creativity and success.
4. Laissez-Faire Leader
Characteristics. A laissez-faire leader knows what is happening, yet does not readily get involved. They trust team members to complete tasks without oversight, and stick to monitoring team performance from afar.
Benefits. In well-organized teams, this freedom and flexibility produces quick thinking and timely results. It can empower team members to take an active role in achieving goals, which can spur workplace commitment and engagement.
Limitations. This type of leader can be perceived as lazy and uninvolved to individuals who seek instruction or reinforcement. In unorganized settings, this style can create increased ambiguity and stress for team members, which can also stagnate progress. Additionally, this style can feel overly relaxed, which can lead team members to become demotivated and eventually, burnout.
5. Situational Leader
Characteristics. A situational leader is good at sensing the needs of a group and/or project. They excel at directing and supporting a group on the path towards a goal, adapting to situations, and coaching team members to achieve top potential.
Benefits. This style is productive in situations that require refinement or reinvention of traditional methods due to its adaptive nature. It encourages a democratic approach to teamwork, where individual contribution and idea sharing is welcomed. This style is flexible and can adjust to highlight the strengths of the individuals within the project team.
Limitations. At times, this style of leadership can appear to lack order and organization. Quick changes can cause great confusion amongst teams if not accompanied with a clear explanation. This style of leader makes decisions based more on intuition than fact or evidence, which may be uncomfortable for some team members to accept. Additionally, if a team is given too much power, they may not fully 'buy in' to the leader's vision.
Clearly, there are many different approaches to leading others, and each has benefits and limitations. Reality is, there is no perfect leadership style because each unique team or project setting is diverse and complex. That’s why it is crucial to understand your own leadership preferences first, and then be willing to learn and adapt new techniques to round out your style in ways that can motivate and inspire in various situations.
A helpful tip to excel as a leader is to maintain a ‘mental dashboard.’ How leaders monitor, manage, and self-correct is imperative in leadership success. It is important that leaders pay active attention to how their words and actions impact the expression, response, and body language of others. These real time reactions are key in uncovering moments where adapting approach is needed in enhancing a team’s performance. Instead of focusing on what you are doing, greater focus must be turned outward on how the team is responding. This quick mental shift, with practice, can become habit and accelerate your performance as a leader.
A true leader owns their impact—and staying mentally aware is a critical first step.
- Reflect on your own leadership style. What are your strengths? What could you work on? Pick one thing to work on this week.
- Pay active attention to the body language of those you lead. Let your mental dashboard guide changes to better meet team needs.
- Think about a time when a project went wrong. What was the leadership like? How could it have been better. Take this advice.
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