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What's Your Leadership Style?

What's your leadership style?

Back to the Firewalker’s Guide to Leadership

A good leader can step into any given situation and construct a vision for a better future, brainstorm strategies for realizing that future and execute a plan to see it to fruition. But the best leaders take it a step further by understanding their strengths and weaknesses and learning to practice the leadership style that best suits them and their team, allowing them to accomplish more, compel greater change and create a legacy that extends beyond their lifetime. Those around you then learn how to lead themselves, creating a positive cycle of growth.

Knowing the leadership style best suited for your particular personality will not only make you a more effective leader, but it will help you better understand yourself. You’ll learn about your strongest qualities and therefore be able to refine and maximize them, while also becoming more aware of the qualities that you need to work on in order to be the best version of yourself you can be.

Most leaders fall into one of six different leadership styles: democratic, visionary, coaching, affiliative, pacesetting and commanding. It’s important to keep in mind that just because you feel more naturally inclined to a certain style doesn’t mean you can’t jump around to another one if the situation calls for it. Some types of leadership styles are more effective for a particular set of challenges than others, so don’t be afraid to pull from another style if you feel it will help your cause. Curious as to which style of leadership most speaks to your personality? We’ll explain the six types of leadership in more detail so you can identify which one resonates with you.

But before diving into the six leadership styles, we need to talk about servant leadership.

Servant leadership

Regardless of which leadership style you resonate with most, your leadership should always be rooted in servant leadership. Servant leadership is a term used to describe using your leadership skills to serve a greater good. This could be working to benefit your community, culture or the world at large. Servant leadership is the most effective and powerful way to lead; when you focus on your ultimate purpose or vision, you’re better able to persevere through hard times that may come your way.

Democratic leadership style

A democratic leader is one who places high value on the diverse skills, qualities and knowledge base of their team. He or she will work to cultivate consensus within the group by consistently asking, “What do you think?” to those around them. Doing so will tap into the collective wisdom the group has to offer in order to discover the next best step, and allow others to develop confidence in the leader.

United States senators, regardless of their party affiliations, are, theoretically, democratic leaders in that the decisions they make are heavily informed by the thoughts, opinions and desires of their constituents. This is a very collaboration-heavy leadership style that makes for effective long-term planning.

That said, this style of leadership is not a great approach in an emergency or crisis as it can be more time-consuming than other styles. It’s beneficial to know where your team stands on any given issue, but sometimes you have to make decisions alone.

Visionary leadership style

Visionary leaders are at their best when it comes to finding new directions and new potential solutions to a given problem. This type of leader relies on abstract thinking and can envision possibilities that many others aren’t yet able to see. They’re “big picture” thinkers who can see future potential and articulate it to the group. They tend to be passionate, creative and open-minded and are most effective at inspiring forward momentum.

Steve Jobs is a quintessential visionary leader. Known for his big ideas and his knack for innovation, he’s infamous for being able to envision a future that’s yet to exist, as seen through his groundbreaking technology.

A visionary will be able to come up with new goals and ideas, but they’re likely to enlist others to plan how to achieve those goals as they typically don’t like to be bothered with minute details. Visionary leadership highlights how important it is to have a variety of different skills on your team. That way, one person can formulate big ideas while others execute.

Coaching leadership style

A coaching leader is one who spends a great deal of time and energy on the individuals in a given group. He or she will work on cultivating deep connections that allow for a more thorough understanding of an individual’s hopes, beliefs, dreams and values. They will direct and guide others based on what influences their deepest desires, and deliberately work to cultivate a positive environment where encouragement and communication can flow freely.

While this is an incredibly effective style of leadership, it does run the risk of making others feel as though they’re being micromanaged. If coaching speaks to you most out of the different leadership styles, remember to occasionally step back and let your team breathe.

Affiliative leadership style

Affiliative leaders place high emphasis on a “team first” approach. Of the numerous leadership approaches, affiliative leadership focuses on building trust within the group and creating emotional bonds that will promote a sense of belonging to the organization. Affiliative leaders are particularly effective in times of stress or when group morale is low. They have a knack for repairing broken trust in an organization, improving communication and fostering a sense of team harmony.

Praise and encouragement are very important in an affiliative group setting, but it’s critical that affiliative leaders make sure not to let poor performances go unaddressed. They sometimes run the risk of overlooking issues in order to make others happy, which can be detrimental to the success of the organization if done too often.

Pacesetting leadership style

A pacesetting leader is one who leads by example. They set and live by high standards for themselves in the hope that others will follow their example. This is a good choice for groups that consist of self-motivated, high-performing people who are dedicated to improvement, which is why it’s commonly found in the military.

Julius Caesar, for example, is famous for never having asked his soldiers to do something that he wouldn’t do himself. He’d frequently fight with them, join them in their daily activities and be the kind of soldier he wanted them to be. This empowered his troops to give their jobs their all, because if their leader was willing to try and excel at the task, that meant they could, too.

However, this type of style can become problematic for those who require a lot of detailed guidance as it often comes with an expectation that folks should already be able to see what to do, as the leader themself would. It can also create an environment where individuals in the group might feel they’re being pushed too hard by a leader whose standards don’t mirror their own.

Commanding leadership style

A commanding leader is the kind of leader we most often see in movies and read about in books. They approach leadership with an attitude of “do as I say because I’m the boss,” giving directives and expecting others to follow suit without question. This is a very effective style in times of crisis when quick decisions need to be made.

On the other hand, long-term usage of this style can undercut morale and job satisfaction as it often leaves group members feeling as though they have very little say or influence in the group’s direction and goals. You want your employees to be raving fans of your business, and to do so, you need to treat them with respect and offer a listening ear.

There's no wrong way to be a leader

It’s important to keep in mind that there is no “one-size-fits-all” leadership style. Different situations call for different approaches depending on the needs and challenges of the moment. And sometimes, a problem is best solved by combining different types of leadership styles. For example, when faced with planning a business’ next steps, it’s common for CEOs of major companies to be visionaries, coaches and democratic leaders all in one.

They’ll cultivate a community by fostering meaningful connections (coaching) that make its members feel comfortable collaborating (democratic), and utilize the resulting strength to carry out the vision in their mind’s eye (visionary). So, when contemplating solutions, be mindful of the different strengths and weaknesses within these leadership styles and explore whether combining two, three or even four can help you achieve your goals.

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