Is Your Leadership Style Helping or Hurting You?

If you’ve had more than one job, you know not all leadership styles are created equal.

Maybe you’ve had this experience: a new leader joins your organization, bringing along rave reviews and high expectations. Months (or even weeks) later, it’s clear that something has gone wrong. His team is complaining, productivity has dropped, and people are talking. What happened?

While there may be a lot of factors to consider, one key factor to look at is how the leader has adapted to their new team and environment. A great leader in one organization may move on to a new organization and struggle to survive if they fail to adapt their leadership style. As a leader, you have an outsized impact on team performance, so it’s essential to align your style with the environment you are in and the people you work with.

I’ve recently seen a few leaders asking themselves (and others) hard questions about their ability to lead. Can you relate to any of these?

  • I recently discovered that how I prefer to get work done actually drives people away from me. It’s hard for them to follow me. What am I supposed to do about that? I am who I am.
  • I don’t like confronting other people, but I want to help make a difference. Is there room for me in leadership?
  • If I’m leading other leaders, how can I do that if they have different styles of leading than I do?
  • If the work is getting done, why does it matter to anyone how we get it done? Why should I change my leadership style if the end result meets expectations?

I firmly believe leadership is a skill anyone can develop. Are some people given a head start by having some natural level of charisma or decision-making prowess or confidence? Sure. But there are an endless number of organizations and communities and circumstances begging someone to step up and lead the way. And as diverse as the opportunities are, the diversity of people who can make a lasting difference is enormous.

Leadership can be developed and it can be learned. But right now, is your leadership style helping or hurting you?

Leadership is inherently challenging because it requires you to serve the people you are leading. And people are complicated. In order to influence, motivate, and guide diverse people, you have to learn how to adapt and develop different styles for influencing, motivating and guiding. No two people see the world the same way and no two decisions, circumstances, or organizations are exactly the same. You have to learn to meet the challenge you see, not the challenge you prefer.

Leadership is always contextual. Who you are leading, where you are going, and what you need to do to get there should always influence how you lead.

Are there any broadly applicable principles or ideals? Yes. Integrity, ethics, and moral standards always apply. Leadership, however, is a dynamic, constantly evolving posture that requires tuning into the specifics right in front of you and adapting your approach to meet the specific needs.

Whatever your context is today — leading a startup, a Fortune 500 company, homeschooling your little ones, coaching a tee ball team, or organizing a community project — think about who you are leading, where you are going, and what you need to do to get there. As you read on, ask yourself, “Where am I today? And where do I want to be in six months? What will it take to get there?”

Many frameworks exist for describing different leadership styles. Here a few for comparison and consideration.


Daniel Goleman is a world-renowned expert on emotional intelligence and outlines six leadership styles in his book, Primal Leadership.

Different circumstances require a different approach. In a crisis situation, a Commanding style is essential for bringing clarity and stability in the midst of chaos. If you are working one-on-one with a disengaged team member, a Coaching or Affiliative approach may be most effective. If you’re leading a sales team, a Pacesetting team will likely bring better results than a Democratic style. When a major culture change is happening (by choice or by necessity), a Visionary style will dramatically increase the chances of successful adoption of the change.

A key concept from Primal Leadership is the idea of being a “resonant leader.” Developing resonance with your team or organization requires you to tune into the emotional, social, and practical realities each individual and the team as a whole is facing. Developing the skill to switch styles at a moments notice is key here, because effective leaders understand that how they communicate and connect will influence the willingness and ability of others to commit and work toward the ultimate goals of your organization.


As you can imagine, a lot of research has been done into the impact of different leadership styles. Bernard M. Bass is one such researcher who explored and defined several leadership concepts, including “transformational leadership.” He differentiates between three styles.

Transactional Leadership

The relationship is focused primarily on practicalities. “You do this work, I’ll give you this reward. If you miss the mark or go off the path, you’ll be corrected.” Neither the leader or the team member takes much ownership and the drive to go above-and-beyond, or improve is essentially absent. Satisfaction, engagement, and creativity likely suffer. Transactional leadership can rely too heavily on rational thinking.

Inspirational Leadership

The relationship is marked by motivating communication and expressing confidence in team members to perform and achieve. While these teams may have more energy, an undiscerning inspirational leader may tend to view most problems as motivational problems. The temptation is to pump more inspiration, more energy, and more positive communication into the system indiscriminately. That strategy clearly isn’t guaranteed to be received well by everyone and won’t be appropriate (or effective) in every circumstance. Inspirational leadership can rely too heavily on emotional motivation.

Transformational Leadership

The relationship is driven by a shared sense of mission, personal connection, and individualized engagement. Transformational leaders still have high expectations while using a multitude of strategies to empower, engage, and encourage great performance. Each person on the team is seen as unique and is engaged as such. Transformational leaders evoke enthusiasm, loyalty, and trust (even more so when leading remote teams). At their best, transformational leaders understand you have to engage both the rational and emotional, the head and the heart.


Craig Groeschel shared a spectrum of styles on his leadership podcast, presenting an array of six styles ranging from unhealthy (Unpredictable) to healthy (Empowering). Listen to the two-part episode to get a clear picture of how each style impacts a team.

Six Styles of Leadership from Craig Groeschel (

A key thread I see in this spectrum is the extent to which a leader practices self-awareness and is open to feedback from the team. Since leadership is always contextual, you may be a Healthy or Empowering leader with your direct reports, but may be seen as a Secretive or Domineering leader by those who are further down the line or interact with you less. Under stress, you may become Unpredictable while operating as Healthy leader in ideal circumstances (which are far and few between). Any leader is vulnerable to moving toward unhealthy when they fail to intentionally seeking out feedback, practicing self-reflection, and invest in their own growth and development on a regular basis.

What kind of leader are you? How does your style fit with your current circumstances and team? Do others agree on how effective your leadership has been over the last three months?

Block out some time on your calendar before the week is over to reflect on these questions and identify two things you need to adapt or develop in order to improve your leadership.

Looking for some additional reading on the topic? Here are a few book recommendations:

I am a leadership and organizational development coach and consultant. I offer leadership coaching, emotional intelligence assessments, team training, and more. Get more info at and let’s pick up a conversation.