Ask a room of leaders “What should leaders do?” and you’ll likely hear only one response. A leader should get results.
A global management-consulting firm took a random sample of nearly 4,000 executives from more than 20,000 executives worldwide and found six distinct leadership styles, each springing from different components of emotional intelligence.
Leaders with the best results did not rely on only one leadership style; they incorporated several—seamlessly—depending on the situation.
Envision these six styles as the golf clubs in a pro’s bag. The pro picks and chooses clubs based on the shot. Sometimes he deliberates over his selection, but often it’s instinctive. That’s how high-impact leaders operate, too.
What Kind of Leader are You?
We’ve determined that the more styles a leader exhibits, the better. Leaders who have mastered four or more—especially the authoritative, democratic, affiliative and coaching styles—garner the very best results. And the most effective leaders switch flexibly among the leadership styles as needed.
Very few leaders possess all six styles. In fact, the most common responses to these findings have been, “But I have only two of those!”
It’s important that a leader understand she can learn new styles. To do so, she must first understand which emotional intelligence competencies underlie the leadership styles she is lacking. She can then work to increase her aptitude for those.
For instance, an affiliative leader has a high capacity for empathy. Empathy—sensing how people are feeling—allows the affiliative leader to respond to employees in a way that aligns with that person’s emotions, thus building a bond.
So if you are a pacesetting leader who wants to use the affiliative style more often, be mindful of situations in which you lack empathy and hone your communication skills to improve your relationships.
Truly effective leaders use these styles interchangeably like golf clubs, the right one at just the right time and in the right measure. Expand your repertoire and you’ll see: The payoff is in the results.
Authoritative leaders mobilize people toward a vision. When a nationwide pizza chain struggled with plummeting sales, its vice president of marketing turned the story around by rewriting the company’s mission statement to focus on customer convenience.
With a clear vision, local managers started acting like entrepreneurs, opening new, successful branches in ingenious locations: busy street corners, airports and hotel lobbies.
The research indicates that of the six leadership styles, the authoritative one is most effective. By framing the individual tasks within a grand vision, the authoritative leader defines standards that revolve around that vision. The standards for success are clear to all, as are the rewards.
The approach, however, can fail when a leader is working with a team of peers who are more experienced than he is. They may see the leader as pompous.
A coaching leader helps employees identify their unique strengths and weaknesses, and ties them to their personal and career aspirations. These leaders are willing to put up with short-term failure if it furthers long-term learning.
Of the six styles, our research found that the coaching style is used least often. Many leaders told us they don’t have the time. But leaders who ignore this style are passing up a powerful tool; its impact on climate and performance are markedly positive.
By contrast, the coaching style makes little sense when employees are resistant to learning. And it fails if the leader lacks the expertise to help the employee along.
The affiliative leader strives to keep employees happy and to create harmony among them. The affiliative leader offers ample positive feedback, providing a sense of recognition and reward for work well done.
But its exclusive focus on praise can allow poor performance to go uncorrected; employees may perceive that mediocrity is tolerated. And because affiliative leaders rarely offer constructive advice on how to improve, employees must figure out how to do so on their own.
Perhaps that is why many affiliative leaders use this style in close conjunction with the authoritative style. Authoritative leaders state a vision, set standards and let people know how their work is furthering the group’s goals. Alternate that with the caring, nurturing approach of the affiliative leader and you have a potent combination.
When a school administrator was told to shut down one of her schools due to a financial crisis, she immediately called a meeting of all the teachers and staff to discuss the details. After two months of meetings, it was clear to all: The school would have to close. But by permitting the school’s constituents to reach that decision collectively, she received none of the backlash that would have usually accompanied such a move.
Spending time to achieve people’s buy-in allows a democratic leader to build trust, respect and commitment. And because they have a say in setting their goals, people operating in a democratic system tend to be very realistic about what can and cannot be accomplished.
One of this style’s more exasperating consequences can be endless meetings where the only visible result is scheduling more meetings. And the democratic style, of course, makes very little sense when employees are not informed enough to offer sound advice.
Pacesetting leaders expect excellence and self-direction. This is a style that should be used sparingly; many employees feel overwhelmed by the pacesetter’s demands for excellence and their morale drops. Work becomes too task-focused.
As for rewards, the pacesetter either gives no feedback on how people are doing or jumps in to take over when she thinks they’re lagging. And if the leader should leave, people feel directionless.
This approach only works well when employees are self-motivated, highly competent and need little direction.
Coercive leaders demand blind obedience, which can be damaging. Most high-performing workers seek the satisfaction of work well done, and the coercive style erodes such pride. The style also undermines one of the leader’s prime tools—motivating people by showing them how their job fits into a grand, shared mission.
The coercive style should be used only with extreme caution and in the few situations when it is absolutely imperative, such as during a turnaround or with problem employees with whom all else has failed.