Matching style to situation

Matching style to situation

What style of leader are you? What is the style of leadership you default to and how would you describe yourself? These are questions that the reflective leader may perpetually ponder. And the skilled leader will know that the best way to understand leadership style is to understand leadership situations. This module will look at the critical relationship between leadership style and prevailing situation. 

Daniel Goleman came up with six leadership styles that can help place leadership alongside situations that may vary from one team to another, depending on the prevailing circumstances. Let’s have a closer look at these styles.

  1. The Visionary Leader: The Visionary Leader is someone who mobilises their team towards a vision. They inspire and enthuse people to come along with them in the pursuit of a common goal or vision. This style of leadership is best suited to new teams, or those facing a new challenge, or indeed teams that need a new start or to be re-enthused about their purpose. As the leader you need to have a very clear vision in your head, that you can easily articulate, and you have to have the confidence in yourself and in your team, that you can successfully attain the vision. If done properly, this style of leadership can have a very positive effect on the team dynamics. 
  1. The Coaching Leader: This style of leadership is best suited to situations where you want your team members, as individuals, to perform at the top of their game. Taking a coaching approach to leadership requires a high degree of emotional intelligence and the exertion of large amounts of empathy so that you, as the leader, can truly understand each member of your team and therefore know how best to get the best out of them, and to help them grow professionally. If you are a leader trying to distribute leadership more broadly within your team, this is an ideal style because it allows you to support and grow your team members in line with their own leadership and specific roles. It is a very supportive style of leadership and consequently has an overall positive impact on the team dynamics. 
  1. The Affiliative leader: This Affiliative leader is one who focuses on the relationships between team members within their team. They desire a sense of collaboration and harmony and this style is, therefore, best employed in teams which are perhaps underperforming due to negative internal politics or dynamics. Because of this, the affiliative leader needs to exercise a high degree of empathy and understanding for the group as a whole, and very good communication skills in order to get to the bottom of any dynamics that may be causing concern. The affiliative leader will also be skilled at taking on challenging conversations, which is something we cover in another module. Because it is a people focused model, it tends to have a positive effect on team dynamics. 
  1. The Democratic leader: The Democratic Leader is one who forges consent amongst the team. This style of leadership is best employed in teams that are highly skilled, independent and productive. When you wish to get the best out of your team, and to drive towards the goals and vision as strongly as possible, the democratic leader will allow his well-skilled team to come up with ideas and decisions themselves; rather playing the part of facilitator to make sure that consensus is gained in the end. Importantly, however, teams that can function under a democratic leadership style are generally mature teams that work well together and understand where the team is going. In other words they are in line with the vision and values of the team. Overall this is seen as a positive leadership style in terms of how it impacts on team dynamics.
  1. The Target setting / Pace making leader: This leadership style is very difficult to do well because it aims to set high standards for the team that you want them to achieve, and then you aim to role model them yourself. This style of leadership would probably work best in situations where the team is very newly formed, or has unskilled members that need to be upskilled. The potential for a negative impact on the team is very high because it is likely that some or all of the team members will feel bullied or harassed into doing things in a certain way, and also it is likely that they will feel their contributions to the team up until that point have not been good enough. However, if there are challenging targets to meet and time is of the essence, this style may be the only one to adopt successfully. As the leader, if you wish to make a success of using this pace setting style, you will need to carefully balance your desire for attainment with your empathy to keep in mind how the team is feeling and mitigate this where you can with other styles of leadership. Care should be taken though. Overall this is a style that is considered to have an overall negative impact on team dynamics.  
  1. The Control Command leader: Of all the six styles of leadership this could be considered to be the most autocratic style of leader. It is best described as “Do what I tell you”. It demands immediate compliance and leaves no room for consultation and negotiation. It is therefore, probably best left for crisis situations where there is no opportunity for more democratic leadership styles. It is generally considered to have an overall negative effect on team dynamics. 

These six styles can all be considered to be applicable under certain circumstances. Since teams are so fluid in nature in terms of how they react, perform, adjust and change depending on a multitude of factors, it is reasonable to assume that all teams will, at some point or other, require most of these styles of leadership. 

Goleman makes the very important point that effective leaders do not stick to one style; far from it, they mould and adapt their style depending on the prevailing situation that they have in their teams. They employ high levels of emotional intelligence to understand their teams and the individuals within them so that they can adjust their styles accordingly. 

Point of Reflection:

The ability to switch leadership styles comes with experience. In your experience what style(s) of leadership do you feel you are naturally drawn to?

Personal Development Activity:

Scenario Activity (30 mins)

In the following situations try to identify which leadership style you feel would be most fitting and in your leadership journal write about a situation where each of these may apply to your current setting.

Scenario 1

Mark’s team has been together for a long time and they have come to work very well together with a great deal of understanding about the various quirks that they all have. Mark, however, has decided to leave the organisation and move on to higher things. The new leader, Jonathan, has been hired to continue leading this team. Jonathan has also been given the mandate to improve results from the department because, whilst they have been OK, the team seems to have stagnated somewhat and the senior leadership wants to inject a bit more enthusiasm into the team. 

What style(s) of leadership are likely to be best utilised by Jonathan with his new team?

Scenario 2

Linda has taken over a team that is very bruised. The team’s previous leader, was fired for incompetence, which, amongst other things, resulted in mass turnover of team members, people fearing for their jobs and livelihoods and a falling customer base. The team is on the brink of being disbanded.

What style(s) of leadership should Linda be seeking to employ as she enters her new role?