Top 4 Leadership Styles and How You Can Build Your Own

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Curious about leadership styles? Wondering how best to identify and build your leadership style? Look no further! We’ve covered everything you need to know.

What is Leadership?

While everyone has a different definition and understanding of leadership, experts prefer to characterize leadership as the ability to motivate people and lead them toward a common goal. Leadership is a vital skill for anyone.

With it, you can affect efficiency and productivity—be it in your social or professional life—and help others to grow and develop. Just as there are several definitions of leadership, there are different approaches to leadership or leadership styles as they are more commonly called.

Before we jump into that, let’s quickly cover some basics.

What Makes a Good Leader?

Of the several traits and qualities of a good leader, the five most desirable include:

Influence

You have to be able to influence and motivate others.

Followers

You have to have some following—whether it’s because you were entrusted with authority or because people believe in your vision and goal and naturally chose to follow you on a transformational journey.

Organizational Objectives

As much as leadership is people-centric (if we differ in our choice of leadership styles, you may disagree with me here), it is also organizational-centric. It doesn’t matter whether you are strategizing with the girl scouts or the little league team or motivating your team to deliver—all organizations have goals and targets that need to be met.

Change

Stagnant people are never happy, and they never perform. They leave. A key ability would then be to push people out of complacency, help them reach their potential, and adapt to and accept changes they might not welcome.

Develop Enduring Relationships

To have the finesse, charm, and persuasive ability to do all of the above in a way that builds good relationships.

Aside from the above, you also need two essential skills:

Technical Skills

It’s challenging enough to be a leader, but to be one without at least the basic knowledge of tools and methods your team needs to complete their goal? While technical skills aren’t too high on the “must-have” list, it helps to have them.

Complex Decision-Making Skills

So much can and does go wrong, even in the simplest of situations and projects, that it’s impractical to expect a leader not to have decision-making skills. After all, when has anyone inspired trust, loyalty, and awe if they fumble when the situation demands composure and quick thinking?

With the multitude of roles expected from a leader and an equally diverse set of skills, would it surprise you to learn that 57% of leaders in the learning and development domain favor leadership development as a ‘high priority training need’ as per a 2020 report on data, predictions, and trends? Would it also shock you to learn that the leadership development industry is valued at US$366 Billion!

Let’s Discuss Leadership Styles

The following are some of the most common styles of leadership.

Transactional

Think of titles like ‘Employee of the Month.’ What does that tell you? If you perform as per my expectations, I shall reward you with something that will act as an extrinsic motivator.

Think of the boss that promises a party after every major deadline that is met? That’s about the crux of a transactional leadership style. Instructions are given and depending on your performance, you’re either rewarded or penalized. Remember that sad appraisal?

Pros:

Since it involves direct instructions, there’s no ambiguity and no guesswork. With expectations clearly laid out, targets are easier to meet.

Cons:

With no room to deviate from instructions, creativity is stifled.

Transformational

Think Technology. Think Advertising. Any competitive industry where innovation is crucial to survival will demand a transformational leadership style.

Why?

Because it fosters creativity. You are pushed out of your comfort zone repeatedly, and as a result, you undertake a more transformational journey than other professionals.

Pros:

Soft skills receive a boost—problem-solving, adaptability, constantly thinking outside the box. Processes are continually examined for efficiency and effectiveness, and ‘change’ is a mantra.

Cons:

You’ll struggle and burn out if you’re not cut out for a fast-paced environment. Not meeting expectations or underperforming will have you questioning your abilities, and it will erode your self-confidence.

Autocratic

Think military. They’re rigid, inflexible, and have little patience for how others do things. There’s a process, a hierarchy and everything must be followed exactly as it has been for generations before. Control is important and not likely to be shared.

A typical top-down approach to leadership where clear policies are set, decisions are made, and feedback is not part of the process.

Pros:

Efficiency soars, and crises are deftly handled.

Cons:

Most people feel stifled in such an environment, and attrition is subsequently high.

Democratic

Ah, this is my favorite. I was once asked to step up and lead a fairly underpaid and demotivated team of which I was part. My first executive decision was to find the lowest-paid members and give them what I considered a suitable raise. I received my lowest ever appraisal that year. But the next four years that I led the team, attrition was at its record lowest.

So yes, it’s a people-centric leadership style. One where the leader focuses heavily on ‘happy employees.’

Pros:

People feel valued and empowered. Contributions mattered, everyone on the team is heard, engagement and positivity are fostered. As a result, people are willing to push and extend themselves to situations they normally wouldn’t.

Cons:

It can lead to conflicts, especially between co-managers who don’t have similar leadership styles. Problem-solving becomes a time-consuming effort, and it’s not a suitable approach to situations that require more immediate resolutions. It can foster procrastination.

Building Your Leadership Style

All of our experiences, either directly or indirectly, influence our leadership style. Whether it’s our values, strengths, beliefs—all of these and more form the basis of our leadership approach. With this understanding in mind and knowledge of the different leadership styles, you can identify which leadership style you follow.

This insight can help you align your vision and goals with that of your organization. It will also help you identify the improvements you need to make to become an efficient leader.

While change can be intimidating, in this situation, your approach simply requires you to make a conscious effort to question old habits and find a workaround that aligns with the leadership style you prefer.

For instance, if you tend to be people-centric like me, take a moment to consider implications before making decisions. Ask a colleague for their opinion so that you learn alternate approaches. And finally, swap ineffective habits for those in line with the style you’d like to develop.

The Bottom Line

Here’s a bonus–break free of barriers. There’s no obligation to limit your leadership style to just one of the several we’ve listed above. Pick the traits you find favorable and be flexible. Implement the style and strategy that suits the situation instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach.

Like all other things in life, leadership is a learning process. With a little trial and a few experiments, you can grow into a style that suits your natural strengths and meet the demands of your specific industry.

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Julie Oney

Julie Oney

Julie Oney holds an award in Creative Writing and a Master’s Degree from the University of Michigan. An optimist, music lover, and full-time writer. Passionate about pets, especially puppies.
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