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The Advantages and Disadvantages of 6 Leadership Styles

  • Apr 06 2020
11 minutes to read

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The Advantages and Disadvantages of 6 Leadership Styles
Business leaders come in all shapes and sizes. Richard Branson led using a more delegative style. He believed in finding the right talent and trusting them to get the job done. Former Apple boss, Steve Jobs, was known for being autocratic and deeply involved in the details of projects. Oprah Winfrey leaned into a transformational and charismatic style.

But what leadership style can help you achieve your business goals, especially with the major economic and industrial implications of the COVID-19 outbreak? The reality is that leadership styles aren’t set in stone. Most successful leaders take a highly nuanced approach, shifting and changing their leadership style depending on the situation. Now more than ever, it is important to adapt and make more conscious leadership decisions to achieve success.

To help you become a better leader, we’ll take a look at six leadership styles that Daniel Goleman, researcher and acclaimed writer, has investigated. We’ll unpack his findings into each style and when each is useful.

The coercive style – “Do what I tell you”
Goleman explains that if an organisation is in a bad place and you need someone to make and follow through on tough decisions, this is the style to go with. A leader with this approach will not be very well liked, but will have sufficient control to turn a situation around. It’s highly beneficial in the short term.

However, outside of moments of crisis, the coercive style isn’t only less effective, but can actually harm an organisation. It impacts flexibility and motivation, pushing employees towards a culture where they feel their thoughts don’t matter. It also erodes job satisfaction, which is an important driver for many high performing employees.

The authoritative style –  “Come with me”
Our research indicates that of the six leadership styles, the authoritative one is most effective, driving up every aspect of climate (working atmosphere).

Goleman explains how authoritative leaders drive success through a clear vision that they are able to communicate to others. The effectiveness of this vision is amplified by the leader’s ability to unpack the important role each employee will play. Defining expectations, as well as rewards for fulfilling those goals, contribute towards the effectiveness of this leadership style. Finally, an authoritative leader gives individuals a goal, but lets them reach those goals as they see fit.

Because of its positive impact, the authoritative style works well in almost any business situation. But it is particularly effective when a business is adrift. An authoritative leader charts a new course and sells his people on a fresh long-term vision.

However, Goleman also understands that there are downsides to this approach. If the authoritative leader lacks experience, or leans too heavily into this style, the authoritative leader can be seen as “pompous” or “overbearing”.

The affiliative style – “People come first”
This leadership style places individuals and their emotional well-being above company tasks and goals. Goleman notes that this type of leadership is able to inspire fierce loyalty from employees and fosters a culture of open communication and flexibility due to high levels of trust.

However, this leadership style needs to be tempered with a more critical approach, as affiliative leaders may lean too heavily on praise. It also may not offer necessary feedback or coaching when it is needed to improve an employee’s performance, making it an ineffective style of leadership when people need focused or clear direction.

Goleman recommends you combine affiliative leadership with authoritative for maximum effectiveness.

The democratic style – “What do you think?”
Goleman shares how trust, respect and commitment from your employees, followers or community are the hallmark of this approach. By allowing people to contribute their ideas, this leadership style is able to drive up flexibility and responsibility and keep morale high, while also defining a realistic set of standards for work.

The downside to this approach is that it can dramatically impact performance. This disadvantage can be almost crippling when it comes to decision-making, leaving employees feeling direction and leaderless. This approach may also be effective at forging relationships, but may not produce the results needed if everyone involved doesn’t have the experience or knowledge to offer useful insights.

The pacesetting style – “Do as I do, now”
Goleman found that this style is effective under a very specific set of circumstances: “when all employees are self-motivated, highly competent, and need little direction or coordination”.

However, he was surprised to find that when it came to effectiveness, this style fell into the same category as coercive leadership. Under this leadership style, even though the leader sets the example around performance and efficiency and tries to raise the level of poor performers, the work environment suffers.

The pacesetting leader may have an idea of what they want, but in their drive for faster results, poor communication takes place that causes problems further down the line. Morale, flexibility and responsibility all drop under this leadership style.

The coaching style – “Try this”
Goleman discusses how the coaching style helps an employee identify their strengths and weaknesses, and connects them to a long-term personal and career plan. This leadership style relies heavily on instructions and feedback. Even if this approach impacts the performance of the employee in the short-term, it offers long-term benefits for the employee and the company.

Unfortunately, not many leaders make use of this leadership style because they believe it to be excessively time consuming. In a high-pressure, deadline-driven environment, leaders see this approach to leadership as “slow” and “tedious”. However, Goleman found that once an initial session had been completed, this style of leadership didn’t require extra time investment.

This leadership style does have a couple of issues though. If employees are not open to coaching, or the leader lacks the necessary expertise, the coaching style will fail to create the desired impact.

Learn to be the best business leader you can be
As a business leader, knowing when to push or step back, or when to listen or give direction, can make or break an organisation. At the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), we offer a PGDip in Leadership Development to help you improve and cultivate your leadership skills. In this programme, you’ll learn how to implement an approach to leadership that aligns with your core values, helps you navigate complex situations and environments, and helps you lead with responsibility and authority.

If you’re interested in this programme and would like to find out more, be sure to contact us today.

Develop qualities that will enable you to lead with responsibility and authority.

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