Leadership. It has become this buzzword that is thrown around so loosely in business, defining who you are based on what specific leadership style describes you best. It is almost as if you are put into this specific box and once defined as that, you are always that style. Depending on what leadership style you identify most with, it could feel a little governed.
Is there one leadership style that is better than the other? Which specific leadership style is best for creating a desirable culture that retains employees? Can one have multiple styles at once? If so, how? Before we can answer these questions, we first need to define the different leadership styles (simplified for ease):
- Autocratic: Do as I say and you will not have any input whatsoever
- Bureaucratic: Following the rules to a “T”; very process driven
- Charismatic: High amounts of enthusiasm and energy (Think, “Everything is awesome!”)
- Democratic: I’ll let you give me feedback, but I’ll make the final decision
- Laissez-faire: Very chill; lets their team do their thing with check-ins on progress
- People-oriented: Collaborative and very team oriented; there is no “I” in team
- Servant: Meets the needs of the team; they are followed based on their values and ideals
- Task-oriented: There's a job, it needs to be done; follow the rules, no in between
- Transactional: Because I hold a leadership position, you must follow me
- Transformational: Shared vision; very “out there” and transparent
OK. So if you are like me, you automatically started categorizing yourself based on the simple descriptions above. Maybe you even googled them to get a more thorough description. Then you probably went down this “low-key” rabbit hole of, “Hey, I’m doing great,” or, “Oh shoot, I better step it up.” What if to be a good leader you need to be able to hone a little bit from each one *insert mind blown*?
Let's be honest; the autocratic style kind of gets a bad rap because nobody wants to be treated like they don't have a voice, and everyone is over the whole old-school mantra of leadership that the boss is the boss and that's it. Sometimes that style of leadership has to be brought in, where you have to be a person that says, “This is how we will do it and there will be no questions about it.” For example, if you are a parent, at times you have to lead your younger children with that style as they are still learning the world. “No, you may not have a cookie before bed after you have brushed your teeth.” There is absolutely no input needed from them to change your mind on that. If you have kids you, for sure, have had this conversation.
In the work environment, there are times when you have to be a little bit of everything depending on the individual you are dealing with. For instance, in our industry, which tends to be very male-dominated, you may see more transactional or bureaucratic styles. Me being a woman leader, I tend to lead by servant or charismatic styles that are not always received well, especially from those who have not previously encountered this approach or have become accustomed to different leadership approaches.
Leadership Through the Lens of Employees
By this point, you have learned about the different leadership styles and have recognized it takes more than one style to be a leader. Now it's time to understand what those who you are leading, such as employees, want in a leader or how they define leadership. When tasked with writing this article, I reached out to my staff. I asked them to answer those specific questions and give me feedback on their views when it comes to leadership (recognize the people-oriented leadership style applied).
Danny Ponce de Leon, construction manager, views leadership as something that is flexible. A leader must be able to roll with the punches, as they are in charge of creating an environment that is transparent, solution-driven and cohesive. A leader should have the willpower to control emotions, and be able to recognize when a member of the team is struggling and address it quickly.
Chelsea Hughes, emergency services coordinator, doesn't believe in the old mantra of “leading by example,” as she says a leader should be constantly striving for opportunities to better the processes (leaders don't know everything and shouldn’t be expected to). She also sees leaders as having a responsibility to collaborate with team members to achieve more – not staying stagnant and sticking with one way of handling situations.
Last but not least, Robert Simmons, client relationship executive, views leadership as a position that is not given but earned. This individual must have courage, the ability to see the path they are taking the team through, and to convey that message clearly and often. Robert shared a great list of qualities that seem generic, but serve as reminders for all of us who are in leadership roles or aspiring to be in one:
- Strong communication skills
- Passionate and optimistic
- Lifelong learner
- Good coach
In closing, there is an unlimited amount of information available from which you can read/hear/see views on the topic of leadership – how to become a better leader, what leadership is and even silly questions to answer to determine what leadership style you are (e.g. “Are you a dog or a wolf?”). You can google the word “leadership” and there are literally 2.9 billion results.
I believe in embracing different leadership styles, and that adopting just one style is very limiting. In a market where it has become extremely hard to retain employees, and where we have a whole new generation of people entering, we must adapt. We have to start putting people first by collaborating with them on the future because, truth be told, they are the future. If you want to keep the high performers on your team and develop the ones who strive to be, make them a part of the conversation and have the courage to continue to try new things. Ask questions, admit when you are wrong and be that enthusiastic cheerleader, even on the worst days.