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How to Find Your Exact Leadership Style

This September, I had the opportunity to participate in the first session of Graduate School USA’s Executive Leadership Program (ELP), where I discovered my leadership style. The ELP is a competency-based leadership development program for government employees at the GS 11-13 level (or equivalent). The nine-month program helps participants build confidence and develop the skills necessary to become effective leaders.

Over the course of the first week of the program, participants were able to discover their own leadership styles and work to implement this knowledge to lead a wide range of personalities. Throughout the week, we were introduced to 12 leadership styles and worked through the strengths and potential pitfalls of each one.

Most people are a mix of a few leadership styles – I am a mix of democratic and coaching. Generally, leadership styles fall into two categories: top-down or bottom-up. Top-down leadership styles usually involve the leader being the focal point with subordinates taking direction and following orders. Bottom-up leadership styles usually involve the subordinates driving the action and the leader facilitating the action.

Top-down leadership styles

Autocratic leadership

Autocratic leadership is the epitome of top-down leadership. With the autocratic leadership style, the leader makes all the decisions and owns all of the responsibility. Autocratic leadership can be effective when quick decisions need to be made and one person is comfortable shouldering all of the responsibility for any consequences of the decision. However, autocratic leadership typically lacks flexibility, and the lack of outside input can limit opportunities for creative solutions.

Strategic leadership

In the strategic leadership style, the leader is basically an organizational head. The strategic leader, unsurprisingly, involves strategic thinking, wherein the leader lays out a strategy to reach an organization’s mission by providing a prescriptive set of habits or steps for subordinates to adhere to. Effective strategic leaders have the opportunity to create an organized scenario facilitating high performance by their employees. On the other hand, the focus on the process involved in strategic leadership can sometimes lead to a disconnect with the overall vision of the organization, becoming too bogged down by details or “in the weeds.”

Transactional leadership

The transactional leadership style maintains a tit-for-tat or exchange process. A transactional leader provides immediate and tangible rewards for completion of tasks. Setting clear expectations with immediate feedback can be an important component in a larger leadership strategy and ensures that tasks are completed and subordinates understand what is expected of them. The reward process can also provide a morale boost to subordinates. However, transactional leadership does not help subordinates buy-in to the larger mission of an organization and does not encourage professional growth and development.

Charismatic leadership

In the charismatic leadership style, the leader is the lynchpin of the organization’s success. The charismatic leader captures the hearts and minds of their subordinates, transforming followers’ values and beliefs and developing subordinates’ passion for the organizational mission. Charismatic leadership can be effective in motivating subordinates to action. However, because success is dependent upon the charismatic leader’s ability to motivate followers, organizational longevity can be in jeopardy should the charismatic leader leave the organization.

Visionary leadership

Similarly to charismatic leadership, visionary leadership revolves around the individual leader. A visionary leader works at the highest level to develop the big picture of an organization’s mission and can often lead to transformative organizational and societal moments. Most great leaders maintain some aspect of visionary behavior and can inspire subordinates to fully buy-in to their mission and move it forward. Conversely, because visionary leaders are so concerned with the big picture, they often fail to recognize the importance of the details involved in turning a vision into a reality.

Bottom-up leadership styles

Democratic leadership

Democratic leadership is the opposite of the autocratic leadership style. With the democratic leadership style, subordinates are involved in the decision-making process, providing input on the solutions and strategies. While the leader in the democratic style maintains final responsibility for the success or failure of a decision, they will often delegate authority throughout a work project. Democratic leadership often allows subordinates to feel more engaged and appreciated, facilitating subordinate buy-in. However, with multiple inputs, coming to a decision can often take longer and may be less efficient.

Transformational leadership

Transformational leadership centers around the promotion of growth, change and yes, transformation in a leader’s organization, themself, and their subordinates. Transformational leaders work to empower subordinates and inspire them to go above and beyond what they originally thought possible. Transformational leaders can be incredibly effective in professional development and often achieve higher performances from subordinates. While effective when an organization is in need of a change or a revitalization, transformational leaders may not be as effective when an organization and subordinates are already achieving high performance levels.

Team leadership

Team leadership is similar to democratic leadership in that it revolves around the group and requires the input of all team members. A team leader works to coalesce subordinates around a common vision and/or mission, utilizing a strong joint sense of purpose and direction to achieve the organization’s goals. Team leadership can develop strong cooperative relationships where subordinates feel engaged and have fully bought into the larger mission, working together to achieve the team’s goals. However, if there is a rift within the team or a lack of consensus, team leadership may not be successful and may prevent trusting cooperative relationships between team members. Additionally, it can be difficult and time-consuming to come to a consensus on both the larger vision as well as the steps required to reach the larger goal.

Cross-cultural leadership

Cross-cultural leadership exists in scenarios where various cultures are coexisting within an organization. Leaders of international organizations are often required to be cross-cultural leaders in order to adjust their leadership to work in different cultural realities. Cross-cultural leadership facilitates cooperation across cultures and can ensure team members work together despite a wide range of backgrounds. Cross-cultural leadership is important, but it is focused almost exclusively on team members and may neglect an organization’s larger mission.

Facilitative Leadership

In facilitative leadership, the leader acts in a capacity to bring out the best in each team member. A facilitative leader monitors group dynamics and helps the group stay on task by providing process suggestions and interventions when necessary. Facilitative leadership has the ability to bring about the highest level of performance possible in each group by looking at the individual dynamics and tailoring leadership needs accordingly. However, facilitative leadership does not encourage the growth and development of individual subordinates, instead focusing solely on larger outcomes.

Laissez-faire leadership

Laissez-faire leadership is completely hands off. Subordinates have total authority and autonomy over their work and daily activities with little to no oversight and interference. Laissez-faire leadership may be appropriate in a setting such as a lab where scientists work mostly independently. Because subordinates have little interference, they have the freedom to “think outside the box” and develop new ideas and strategies. However, subordinates are also less likely to feel engaged in the organization or believe in the overall mission. There is also little oversight to ensure goals and tasks are achieved.

Coaching leadership

Coaching leadership focuses on the teaching and development of followers. A coaching leader directly addresses specific skills and attributes for a subordinate to improve upon, actively guiding and facilitating the subordinate’s progress. Coaching leadership can be especially effective when employees are performing low or an organization requires specific performance measures. Coaching leadership also promotes the professional development of subordinates, which can help subordinates feel more engaged and committed to the leader’s vision. However, because coaching leadership is so focused on the performance and attributes of individuals, it may neglect larger team and organizational needs.

It is important to remember that no one style is perfect all the time and the most successful leaders implement different styles in different scenarios. Understanding the leadership styles you are most drawn to and the personality of your subordinates can help ensure a team’s success. Which leadership style(s) do you most identify with? What other positive and/or negative attributes do you see in each style? Comment below!

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Amelia Shister is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Avatar photo Nicole Blake Johnson

“It is important to remember that no one style is perfect all the time and the most successful leaders implement different styles in different scenarios.” This is so true. I can relate to the coaching style of leadership, as well as others that are helpful depending on the people I’m working with and what we are working to accomplish. Thanks for sharing!

Avatar photo Spencer Grady-Pawl

This is such a useful breakdown of leadership–helpful for identifying styles in both yourself and those that you work with!

Avatar photo Blake Martin

I really enjoyed reading through the different styles of leadership, and I think it is interesting to consider these side-by-side with results from other personality quizzes, like StrengthsFinder and Myers-Briggs. I definitely agree about being a mix of leadership styles, and I think mine might change by the day depending on what I’m facing. Really interesting to consider- thank you for posting!