Is it me or does no-one in the workplace talk about leadership styles as something that they can learn and master?

“My leadership style is very hands-off. I won’t micromanage. I’ll let you get on with it. You know where I am if you need me.” That was what I was told by my manager when I worked for a global business. My instant reaction was, “Then you’re probably not getting the best out of this team, then.”

Leadership is a tricky skill. Everyone largely knows what it is, but very few get it right.

In fact, 18% of businesses report that they have extremely effective leaders…That means that 82% don’t!

79% of employees admit that they quit their jobs due to lack of appreciation. Appreciation comes from good line management. (Check out Infoprorlearning for more)

The problem is that a lot of people believe their natural leadership style is all that they have. That they can’t change it.

This is a fallacy.

Managing When Teams Are Small

Let’s suppose that you have a team of 4 people, in a digital design studio. Together, you focus on 2 projects at any one time.

As a leader, you spend one-on-one time with each team member…

You get involved in brainstorming ideas and solutions for each problem.

You celebrate successes together and share a pizza or two, when things go well.

But as the team grows, you start to get pulled.

Projects expand. What once was a manageable 2 is now at a resource stretching 5. You’re now finding it hard to carry on doing what you’ve always done – whereby decisions go through you, whilst you guide the teams on what to do and how.

As the team grows further, you’re at your wit’s end with long hours spent trying to keep control of things. If nothing changes, you’ll feel like you’ll break.

This is a common situation. Many leaders manage one way when everything is small and controlled.

When complexity increases, control is lost. It makes no sense to keep managing this same way.

After all, the saying goes…

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

Continuing to manage in a centralised way will result in burnout…and an under performing team.

Likewise in the case of the first example of my old line manager, who was a hands-off leader, you’ll typically get a similar output, whether you stand-off or micro-manage:

  • Your staff don’t get proper one-on-one time with you any more: Morale starts to waver and people feel unappreciated
  • The same problems keep happening, as root causes aren’t fixed
  • People stop developing in their role and start to feel stagnant
  • Your team constantly ask you questions that they should know the answers to
  • Project lead times slip and delivery is poor
  • There’s no time to do anything but fire-fight and get through problems

Perhaps you’re experiencing some of these symptoms yourself?

They’re all resulting factors of a leadership style that may well have once worked, before the team outgrew your leadership methods.

A Spectrum Of Leadership Styles

A lot of thought applied, models developed and discussions have been made over the last century to dig into leadership. To define what makes a good leader and how to lead effectively – even when complexity increases.

And what’s formed is a large landscape of theories and models – some of which conflict with one another.

The simplest model that shows a spectrum of leadership styles is Kert Lewin’s Leadership Framework. It defines three main styles: Autocratic, Democratic and Laissez faire.

3 common leadership styles

In this simple model, you:

Manage your teams based on power and control, whereby final decisions are yours and the team are told what to do and how (Autocratic leadership style). The focus is more on task, rather than relationships and people. We’ve written a more detailed guide on the autocratic leadership style and when and when not to use it.

The Democratic leadership style is focused on involving others in decisions. This role centres on team consensus and input. The manager still has responsibility to ensure that the decisions get the required results, but there’s a balance between people, and task.

Laissez Faire leadership style is pretty much a hands-off approach. The leader doesn’t actively get involved in much day to day decision making, leaving the team to organise and control themselves.

Pros and Cons of Each Style

There are pro’s and con’s to these 3 styles.

For instance, if something is extremely urgent and needs to be completed quickly and effectively, the autocratic style is ideal. The job will be completed quickly and to your instruction.

If the team are capable of the task at hand and highly motivated, then you can adopt a laissez faire approach. Managing them in this situation would be overkill. Instead, giving them total control of decisions and actions, makes sense.

The majority of the time, the team will need guidance, coaching and assistance in decision making. This is the democratic style, and is the preferred stance for most of the time. For instance, when there is time to do a task well, try to step back and let someone else complete it under your guidance… Even if they take longer to do it. This approach ensures that both task is being completed and skills are being developed.

The crux is this: Leadership styles must be adjusted, to maximise your effectiveness.

Leadership Facts

Leadership is a skill and can be learned.

And in order to be an affective leader, you must learn to flex your leadership style to suit the situation.

This will ensure that your team can grow and you do too, as a leader.. all whilst maintaining control.

One of the simplest theories on leader is that of John Adair. He suggested that consists of three main functions:

  1. Maintain task needs
  2. Maintain group needs
  3. Maintain Individual needs

If you’re going to ensure that tasks get done, you need a focus on output. If you’re stretched, then you can’t possibly make all the decisions. You need to step back, empower others and elicit team decision making.

The more empowerment you provide, the more you can maintain control through the effective use of other competent team members.

Over the course of time, this focus helps develop the overall team capability. It also builds skills at an individual level and drives a unified team, too.

The Key Requirements For Balancing the Right Leadership Styles

Implement the following for a better balance of leadership.

  • Focus on developing and coaching team members, not on you making decisions and controlling things
  • Identify how to motivate each individual and seek ways to implement these tools to grow each team member
  • Always look for opportunities for team members to learn new skills
  • Empower people to work together to build team ethic and relationships
  • Clearly agree and define work standards and task deadlines

The principles above will help you develop task, group and individual needs in a balanced way.

We know that holding on to power and ensuring that everything goes through you cannot be sustained forever. So why do so many people maintain this one autocratic style?

Two main answers:

  • Some don’t know that other leadership styles exist
  • Others believe that they can’t change their natural style

Both assumptions are wrong and are complete fallacies. The art is to learn how to change your leadership styles to suit the situation.

So you can build the team, develop individuals, and achieve goals.