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7 leadership styles and how you can develop your own

09/10/2019
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Every manager, department head or supervisor has their own style of leadership, and every style has its pros and cons.

Whether you’re already the head or manager of a team, or you’re leading a project for the first time, you can think about your own style and how it will impact the people you’re leading and the goals you’re trying to achieve.

These are some of the most common leadership styles identified by leadership researchers, and the benefits and negatives of each:

There are many different styles of leadership - which one is yours?
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Transactional Leadership

Transactional leaders approach each task as an exchange with rewards or costs being given out to the team members.

“You do [X], you receive [Y].”

This approach is common in areas such as sales where commission or rewards are given out when certain targets are met. But it can also be seen in the form of praise for a task completed satisfactorily to a deadline, or threats of staying late to complete a task.

A benefit to this style of leadership is that everyone knows what is expected of them. The goals are laid out and there is an incentive to achieving them. It’s a simple give and take. However it can stifle creativity and innovativity if people are avoiding risks in order to hit their targets. It can also create resentment within a team - particularly if there are negative consequences to not achieving a goal.

Transformational leaders want to see constant change and improvement
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Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders begin with the premise that the current position of the business/project needs improving. They want to transform current processes by encouraging innovation from the team.

A transformation leader will encourage their team to find a better way to accomplish a task, which can allow for a more creative culture that gives people more autonomy within their jobs.

The benefits of having an inspirational leader is that employees can feel as though they’re given a high level of trust and are able to work to their own preference towards a shared goal.

The negative side arises when people don’t appreciate being pushed out of their comfort zones to innovate an existing process that they’re experienced with. 

Servant leadership sounds like an oxymoron, but it's often seen in leaders who will put themselves out there to help their team in any way they can
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Servant Leadership

“Serve first and lead second”.

Servant leaders prioritise the needs of their team over their own. They put more time into finding ways that they can help others than they do setting tasks or monitoring performance. 

Servant leaders will always ask “What can I do to help?”, which can boost morale in a team and generate a positive culture. However it can have a negative effect if concessions are being made to a team that needs pushing to achieve a goal, plus it can make it difficult for a leader to accomplish their own goals if they’re giving all their time to the team.

Democratic leaders listen to their team and make decisions based on the views of everyone
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Democratic Leadership

Democratic leaders prefer to give decision making power to the wider team, rather than running things from the top. 

This approach allows for a greater degree of collaboration which can make everyone in the team feel involved and appreciated for their ideas and opinions. It can also be an effective way of generating new and superior ideas from the combined brainpower of a team.

However a democratic approach can produce its own problems if you have a group of people who struggle to agree. Eventually a leader needs to take charge and make a decision, but there is always a risk that someone will have committed themselves to an idea that doesn’t get chosen. In addition, setting discussions and votes for every goal can be an inefficient and time-heavy approach.

Autocratic leaders know the approach they want to take and expect their team to follow their ideas
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Autocratic Leadership

Autocratic leaders are the opposite of democratic leaders, in that they don’t wait to hear what the team think but instead will make a decision unilaterally and expect the team to get on with it.

A leader with absolute power will ensure that tasks are completed in a structured and consistent way. If anyone on the team runs into a problem or has a question, they know who to go to for a quick and strategic decision.

However this of course can result in employees feeling undervalued, with no opportunity to generate their own ideas or use their own expertise. If they don’t agree with the way a project is going they have no chance to say so. And creativity is limited solely to the autocratic leader.

Bureaucratic leaders have a set of rules for approaching everything, and will insist on following them
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Bureaucratic Leadership

Bureaucratic leaders are those who will follow a structure set in place by the company or organisation. They will give their team clear instructions for what their role is, how they fit within the team and how they should approach a task. 

This creates a stable environment where processes are laid out as roadmaps that anyone can follow, whether they’re new to the team or they’ve been there for years. 

However this approach can result in a lack of innovation, with people following a process simply because “this is the way it’s done”. Bureaucratic leaders often stick to long-held rules, without considering whether that rule is actually important or relevant.

Laissez-Faire leaders have a hands-off approach to management that lets their team solve their own problems
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Laissez-Faire Leadership

A laissez-faire leader will sit back and allow the team to work in their own way.

This hands-off approach gives team a high level of trust, with people able to make their own decisions, solve problems and develop new ideas without anyone checking up on them.

However this of course results in an unstructured environment where a team may not be pulling in the same direction and people can be left to deal with a task without anyone making sure they’re not making mistakes.

Similar to a democratic leader, giving more authority to the team can result in great ideas, but ultimately someone needs to have the final say. And if your leadership style is too laissez-faire, then there may not be any point in you being there at all.

There are benefits and negatives to every leadership approach, so you need to find the right one that will work for your industry, company or project
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Obviously the best leaders encompass elements of all of these styles. They will encourage the team to have their own ideas and responsibilities, while setting boundaries to ensure everyone works towards the same goal. They’ll set targets and benefits while also making themselves available to help the team. They’ll create a clearly-defined system of rules and processes, while encouraging new ideas that will improve upon existing structures.

Consider the approaches taken by your best (and worst) managers and see how they fit in to the styles above. This will help you determine the most effective leadership style within your industry so you can adapt your own approach.

Tags: Engineering
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