Much has been said over the years about leadership styles. Yet research into the best and most practical overview leads to the easiest conclusion (there will always be variables on these, as well as mixes of them), are that there are four distinct leadership styles. With one to avoid as well!
1. The Autocrat
This leadership style is one that is typically less prevalent now than it was in the 70’s and 80’s. This leader thrives on leading from the front making all the decisions and typically dragging the rest of his people along with him.
He is energised by his own ego and is driven internally to make decisions and those which are right and those which are his. There is little potential to influence here and he is single-tracked in his determination for doing things his way.
Often full of self-importance, he has little confidence in his subordinates and distrusts them. He makes most of the decisions and passes them down the line. He makes threats where necessary to ensure that his orders are obeyed.
The autocratic leadership style is sometimes described as strong leadership, desired by their followers. This is where individuals seek ‘leadership’, but often mistake this for being told what to do, which is much more comforting in certain situations and organisations. Sadly, in many organisations, individuals have no other experience than this way of being led.
Whilst it is less favourable a style nowadays, than in the past, it rather seems to have become unstylish to overtly behave this way. To be seen to be an autocrat is not the thing. This may well have driven the Autocrat into hiding. Often ego-driven autocrats will be found lurking just below the surface of the other three key styles, paying homage to current trends, but still calling the shots!
2. Involving Autocrat
In this leadership style, true autocrats have realised that they can’t do it all, so they seek and get help. The ideas may still be theirs, but they try to sell the ideas to others in as convincing a way as possible.
By spending time being approachable, actually talking and, even better, listening to their people, they develop a much more inclusive way than the pure Autocrat. Often very charismatic, they build effective teams, who are pulled along in the wake of their personal character.
And they still get their own way! Lurking Autocrats often hide here! Yet it works, because people get far more engaged. This leadership style needs a lot less energy to drag people along, than have them alongside you, up to a point.
They often see themselves as a sort of benevolent father figure who makes all the important decisions and then persuades his people to go along with them. He may even let minor decisions be made by some subordinates using his own rules. Incentives as well as reprimands may be used to keep people onside and delivering.
3. The Partial Democrat
In this leadership style, their people get a look in, with involvement in major decisions, even strategic planning, being the benchmark.
Partially Democratic leaders really do believe that their people can contribute and they take their issues to them for some input. Believing that there is value in taking in some contributions as useful, is a major breakthrough of leaders to behave this way.
Although they seriously retain their overall leadership position, they are seen to be involving, although not so far as to let others get on with it fully freed.
The partial democrat has believes in the capabilities of most of his people and involves his employees widely. Before making decisions he will seek their views, but he will still have the final say.
4. The Total Democrat
Fully bought into the value that the involvement of others, brings the very best solutions, the Total Democrat enables solutions to come bottom up (as distinct from The Autocrat, who is very ‘top down’). Indeed this style of leader is quite hands-off, letting the wisdom of his people deliver solutions.
Great at delegating, this style of leader can also significantly develop individuals, if they are given ongoing support and focus for the challenging work asked of them. Often this style of leader has the vision to realise what people need and ensure they get it, generating successful and sustainable organisations.
The Total Democrat has complete confidence and trust in his employees. When issues arise and decisions must be made, relevant and varied participants are involved to discuss the situation and a majority view is taken as the final decision.
And finally…recognise this?
This leadership style is way the wrong extreme. Here, there is no guidance regarding quality, standards, direction or strategy from above, and everyone beneath the leader is frustrated, even though they are allowed to do their own thing. Decisions are just left to happen and responsibility is abrogated.
Total Democrat to the extreme, but without any leadership qualities, all his people feel unable to cope and in the end, underperformance precedes implosion of team and individuals are left floundering.
This is a disastrous style, which is more common than you might think. Often, when this happens, a ‘sub-leader’ takes over and delivers enough to keep things afloat.
©2006 Martin Haworth is a Business and Management Coach. He has hundreds of hints and tips at his website, Coaching Businesses to Success.