There is a lot written about leadership; like books on leadership styles and techniques, as well as biographies of leaders that have inspired people to action. However, when it comes to trying to understand what makes a great leader, we need to look at the different leadership styles, and how leadership skills are developed.
- The Different Kinds of Leaders
The two main categories are formal and informal leaders. Formal leaders are elected to their positions like congressmen, senators and office bearers of clubs. Informal leaders are those we look up to because of their experience and wisdom. This could be your parents, grandparents or elders in your community. Informal leaders can also be those that are respected because of their expertise and contributions in certain fields such as Albert Einstein in Theoretical Physics and Leonardo de Vinci in Arts. Whether formal or informal, these leaders practice certain styles. This could be:
Lewin's 3 basic leadership styles
- Autocratic or authoritative: the leader takes decisions without consulting with others
- Democratic or participative: the leader involves the people in the decision-making
- Laissez-faire or delegative: the leader's involvement in decision-making is minimized
Likert's 4 leadership styles
- Exploitative authoritative: the leader has a low concern for people and uses such methods as threats and other fear-based methods to achieve conformance
- Benevolent authoritative: the leader adds concern for people to an authoritative position
- Consultative: the leader makes genuine efforts to listen carefully to ideas, but major decisions are still largely centrally made
- Participative: the leader makes maximum use of participative methods, engaging people lower down the organization in decision-making
Goleman's 6 emotional leadership styles
- Visionary: the leader inspires, believes in own vision, is empathetic, and explains how and why people's efforts contribute to the 'dream'
- Coaching: the leader listens, helps people identify their own strengths and weaknesses, counsels, encourages, and delegates
- Affiliative: the leader promotes harmony, is nice, empathetic, boosts moral, and solves conflicts
- Democratic: the leader is a superb listener, team worker, collaborator, and influencer
- Pacesetting: the leader has a strong drive to achieve, has high standards, initiative, but low on empathy and collaboration, impatient, micromanages and is numbers-driven
- Commanding: is commanding, threatening, has tight control, monitors studiously, creates dissonance, contaminates everyone's mood, and drives away talent
- Leadership Skills Can Be Developed
For some people, leadership seems to be so natural, it makes you wonder if it is a quality that they were born with. Even if this may be true, without exposure to the right environment, it is possible that they would not develop to their full potential.
You can learn how to become a leader by attending good leadership training seminars and then putting it into practice constantly. You can also observe leadership skills in your daily interactions in your working environment, home or social environment.
Through observing both formal and informal leadership behaviours, you can pick up insights and further your knowledge on leadership skills.
Remember, though, that leadership styles are not learnt in a day. It requires constant practice and reflection, combined with feedback.
- Practice Makes Perfect
Theoretical knowledge alone is not sufficient to develop leadership styles. The best way to develop it is to apply it at every opportunity you get.
Leadership is not only handling situations. It is also how you interact with people such as your work colleagues, family, friends, and is also reflected in how well you manage your personal and organisational responsibilities.
If you keep applying your knowledge, leadership should become a habit to you.
- Successful Leadership Requires Trust Between The Leader And Team
There is no leader without the team members. The responsibility of achieving objectives is a shared responsibility as the leader alone cannot achieve them.
A person may be made leader as a formal position but this does not necessarily mean that he or she can bring the team together to complete the tasks at hand. Each member will have their own skills that makes them informal leaders in those areas.
The formal leader needs to be able to work together with the team and generate trust to build a cohesive group. Words are not enough. Appropriate actions will be required to foster trust and to build confidence.
- Situational Leadership
The type of leadership applicable to different situations varies depends on the circumstances. You cannot just apply the last technique you learnt without thinking about the style of leadership appropriate to the situation. The key is to be adaptable as one size does not fit all!
In emergency situations, like an earthquake, you can't consult with everyone before making a decision. If however you are leading a team and need everyone's buy in, then you will want to take a consultative approach. The style you choose will also depend on the skill level of your team. For a highly skilled and motivated team, you may use a combination of high delegative and moderate participative styles. But if the team has low competence, you may need to use a combination of high coaching, high supporting and high directing leadership styles. Leadership styles need to be continually learnt, not only through leadership training and books but also from observing other good leaders.