Choosing an Appropriate Leadership Style
Transitioning into the role of managing technical professionals means your relationship with individuals who were previously your peers will change. As you transition into the role and develop new relationships with them, you’ll need to think about how you’ll lead these individuals and others who join your team. In other words, you need to choose a leadership style.
To achieve goals as a manager, you need to use a leadership style suited to your circumstances.
You may think it’s best to stick to one leadership style so you’re consistent and so employees know what to expect from you. However, a leadership style that’s appropriate in one situation may be ineffective — or even offend employees — in another. So it’s important to vary your style according to the context.
For example, sometimes it’s best just to tell people what to do so that an urgent task can be completed. In other cases, this can prevent innovation and lead to resentment.
It’s common to label managers as having one particular style — for instance, as autocrats or facilitators. But to be really effective as a manager, you need to adjust the way you lead team members based on a variety of circumstances.
Consider an event like a sudden loss of data at a critical moment or even an accident that could endanger people’s safety. Would it make sense to gather everyone together and to debate what course of action to take? Probably not. It would be quicker and more efficient simply to direct team members what to do — and it’s likely they’ll understand the need for this approach.
But imagine introducing a completely new process that would affect the way everyone in the team completed their work. Just telling people what to do is likely to lead to resistance and feelings of frustration from the team.
Being able to use different leadership styles — and knowing when to do this — has two main benefits. You’ll be a more effective manager because you’ll know how to adapt your behavior to get the best results in different situations. And you’ll have a broader skillset at your disposal for supervising and working with employees.
In any situation, there are several factors that influence which leadership style to adopt. These include your personality and the personalities of your employees; employees’ levels of experience; the nature of the work that must be completed; your organization’s culture; and employees’ levels of commitment and enthusiasm.
Let’s see each of the factors that may influence your leadership style for more information about it.
It’s likely that as a manager, you’ll have personal preferences that affect which leadership styles you’re most comfortable using.
Similarly, each employee in your team will have personal traits and characteristics that make them favor specific leadership styles. For example, some people naturally respond best to simply being given clear directions and whatever resources they’ll require to get tasks done. Others prefer more discussion and debate, favoring a collaborative approach.
Although it’s acceptable to be influenced partly by your own personality and preferences, it’s also important to be sensitive to the preferences and expectations of those you manage.
Employees’ levels of experience will help determine how much direct supervision they expect and require. In turn, this may affect which leadership style is most effective.
Nature of work
The nature of the work that must be completed will help determine which leadership style is best. For example, a team may have to be innovative to complete a new type of project or to identify creative solutions to particular design challenges. Or it may be important to complete a substantial set of routine tasks within a tight deadline. In each case, a different leadership style might be called for.
An organization’s culture both reflects and helps shape the expectations that managers and employees have — including their expectations in relation to leadership styles.
For instance, a manager who simply issues orders and expects team members to follow them may not be readily accepted in an organization with a highly collaborative culture. Similarly, a highly collaborative approach in an organization with a more authoritarian culture — with a tight hierarchy and a clear chain of command — may fail.
If employees are highly committed to and enthusiastic about their work, it’s likely they’ll respond well to a “lighter” leadership style — with a focus on collaboration and less direct supervision of their work.
For employees who are less motivated and less likely to take initiative, more direct supervision may be required.
Although managers’ approaches to leadership may vary, four styles are predominant:
- the commander style, in which you issue directions and expect them to be followed without question,
- the shepherd style, in which you facilitate team collaboration and simply guide the team’s efforts,
- the bureaucrat style, in which you focus on following set procedures and policies, and
- the entrepreneur style, in which you focus on facilitating change and encouraging innovation.
Commander — Managers who are commanders are decisive, direct, and driven by results. They demand unquestioning loyalty, give clear orders, and expect them to be carried out with minimal supervision.
Shepherd — Managers who use the shepherd style of leadership are facilitative, accepting, and thoughtful. They focus on strengthening relationships and on encouraging both open communication and collaboration among team members. They’re particularly good at seeing employees through trying or difficult periods.
Bureaucrat — Managers who are bureaucrats like to do things according to rules and procedures, and are efficient and information-focused. This type of manager sets clear objectives and stabilizes workflow by implementing work schedules and processes that require little personal supervision.
Entrepreneur — Managers who use the entrepreneur style of leadership are innovative, visionary, and experimental. They accept feedback readily, are collaborative by nature, and recognize opportunities where others see challenges.
Leadership styles in practice
Different people and situations require different leadership styles.
For example, the commander leadership style is effective for those who are inexperienced or new to an organization or process, and need clear direction. Your former peers probably wouldn’t appreciate this type of style, particularly if they’ve worked for the organization for a while.
The style is also useful when it’s important to achieve objectives quickly — for example when crises or destructive conflicts are occurring.
The commander style is often used when effective supervision can be provided only through detailed orders and instructions, when there are high volume production needs on a daily basis, or when there’s limited time in which to make a decision.
Some employees don’t respond well to any leadership style other than the commander style. And others may make it necessary for you to adopt this style if they challenge your authority.
In contrast to the commander style, the shepherd leadership style is appropriate for people who require minimal supervision and are generally self-motivated. You may find this an appropriate style for former colleagues. It’s effective when employees like to be kept informed about matters that affect them, or when you want to share decision-making and problem-solving duties. It’s also used to provide opportunities for employees who want to develop a high sense of personal growth and job satisfaction.
The shepherd style is an ideal approach when the unity of individuals in a team or organization is at risk, or when an organization’s culture is being significantly changed.
It helps ensure that team members feel included and supported, and trust their manager to guide them through potentially challenging or disruptive changes.
The bureaucrat leadership style is ideal for leading experienced individuals. It’s typically used in well- established organizations that don’t often need to make significant changes.
This style can be effective for employees who like structure and routine, for when people must perform mundane tasks, or for when they need to understand certain standards or procedures. For example, it may be used when employees are working with dangerous or delicate equipment that calls for a definite set of procedures to operate.
The entrepreneur leadership style is best for people who are independent, value creativity, and enjoy experimenting. It’s typically used with people who have a lot of experience.
This style is particularly effective when employees are “stuck in a rut” and need to make some kind of change, or when the status quo needs to be challenged.
It helps inspire individuals to find creative solutions and to develop processes that promote valuable change.
As a manager, it’s important to use the appropriate leadership style in any given situation. The style that’s best will depend on factors specific to you, your employees and the nature of their work, and your organization.
The main leadership styles can be described as the commander, shepherd, bureaucrat, and entrepreneur styles. Each has advantages in particular situations and environments.