There’s an old expression in the U.S. Navy which says that there are three ways of doing things: the right way, the wrong way and the Navy way. Right or wrong doesn’t seem to matter. In the Navy, what matters is that you do things the way you are told.
In corporate life, many of us have worked for individuals who embrace this “command and follow” style. The implicit or explicit directive is to fall in line and trust in the knowledge and experience of the leader.
While this approach may work in certain situations, experience also tells us that it can have an extremely negative effect on individual and team motivation.
So what is the most effective leadership style? There is more than one way to skin the cat. In fact there are six.
Our alliance partner, the Hay Group, has spent many years researching the issue of how leaders unleash motivation. They have discovered there are six styles or behaviour patterns that leaders apply.
Rather than choosing a particular style, the most successful leaders possess the enviable quality of flexibility. They analyse the demands of the situation and apply the most appropriate style to meet the challenge at hand.
Let’s take a look at the six leadership styles and the circumstances when they are most and least effective.
1. The Directive Style
Like our friends in the Navy, when using this style a leader demands immediate compliance and does not listen to or permit much employee input.
The Directive style is most effective:
when applied to relatively straightforward tasks
in crisis situations when the leader has more information than the employees
when deviation from performance will result in serious problems (e.g. enforcing safety regulations)
with problem employees when all else has failed
It is least effective when applied to complex tasks or to self-motivated and capable employees.
Also, if applied to all situations over the long term, employees are likely to rebel, resist passively or leave.
2. The Visionary Style
Visionary leaders take responsibility for developing and articulating a clear vision and direction for the organisation. They see selling the vision as a key part of the job.
It is most effective when a new vision is needed (e.g. during a change initiative) and with new employees who depend on their leader for active guidance.
It is not effective when the leader lacks credibility, or if used with sophisticated and experienced employees who know as much or more than the leader.
3. The Affiliative Style
An affiliative leader’s primary objective is to create harmony among employees. As such, it is particularly effective when getting diverse or conflicting groups of individuals to work together more harmoniously.
It doesn’t work as well in crises or complex situations that require clear direction and control, or with employees who are task oriented and uninterested in friendship with their leader.
4. The Participative Style
This style involves building commitment among employees and generating new ideas. Participative leaders often use consensus decision-making processes. They trust that employees are capable of developing the appropriate direction for themselves and the organisation.
It is very effective with a team of highly competent and committed employees. After using the visionary style to create and gain buy-in to the vision, a participative style can work very well during the implementation phase.
Conversely, one wouldn’t adopt this style when employees lack competence or commitment.
5. The Pace-setting Style
A pace-setter leads by example, has very high standards and is apprehensive about delegating without assurance that the person can reach that standard.
It is used most effectively when managing highly-committed individual contributors, such as lawyers and R&D teams, where the leader also has individual-contributor responsibility.
It falls down when the leader is unable to do all the work personally and needs to be able to delegate (e.g. during a high-growth phase of a business).
6. The Coaching Style
As the name suggests, the coaching leader focuses on the long-term professional development of employees through ongoing instruction and feedback.
It is most effective with committed employees who are seeking to address a performance or skill gap. It is far less effective when the leader lacks expertise and in times of crises.
As you can see, there is no single leadership style that can definitively be described as “most effective”. The real skill is to know which style to adopt in the circumstances. The good news is that, with a heightened level of self-awareness and awareness of others, we can learn to be more flexible and effective leaders.
Red Sky is a consultancy that helps Australian and multinational organisations maximise business performance by converting strategy into action. www.redskygroup.com.au
This is the final instalment of this four-part series on leadership.