Is there an optimal style of workplace leadership?

Over time, psychologists have defined a number of leadership styles. While there isn’t universal agreement on what they are, some are more broadly accepted than others. But are we each locked into one style and should we define people by type? Let’s start by looking at some common leadership styles.

Time to read: 4 mins

Coercive (the boss)

This “do what I say” approach is effective when compliance is critical, for example, to ensure employee safety or appropriate process. However, it should be leveraged only when required because it can create resentment within teams by squashing flexibility, goodwill and morale. It can also lead to increased staff turnover or bullying claims.  

Democratic (the listener)

These leaders believe in participation and seek feedback before making decisions. This style typically fosters an environment of creativity, engagement, innovation, empowerment and trust. However, it can be time intensive.   

Authoritative (the visionary)

Authoritative (separate from authoritarian) leadership utilises a “come with me” style of guidance and mentoring. Leaders give employees the goals and framework, then allow them autonomy within that. This reduces the chance of errors while encouraging innovation, engagement and collaborative success.

Affiliative (the carer)

This centres less on hierarchy and more on relationships and workplace happiness. The leader’s care has a positive effect on wellbeing, but they need to be able to draw a line between leading and being a team member to avoid decreased productivity and issues going unaddressed. They also need to ensure that individuals’ needs don’t overshadow the wider team. 

Pacesetter (the go-getter)

Pacesetters focus on performance. They set high standards and hold team members accountable. These leaders can achieve fast results and have a positive impact on motivated and competent employees, but their expectations can be overwhelming to those who need mentorship and feedback, and their tendency to take over situations can breed resentment.

Coaching (the mentor)

This style helps generate long-term development and success by increasing engagement, commitment and loyalty, and instilling leadership qualities in others. However, it can be time intensive.

Laissez-faire (minimal interference)

This hands-off approach allows team members to do their jobs and solve problems with minimal supervision. It can bring employee fulfillment, creativity and innovation, but requires staff to be self-motivated and issues can go undetected or unresolved until they become serious. 

So is there an optimal style?

It’s situational. BTSR Taranaki HR specialist Glenny Lewis says good leaders are chameleons – able to tailor their approach as the situation requires.

Style shouldn’t be driven by expectation, for example a new leader feeling they need to be coercive when that’s not who they are. Nor does she think people are permanently bound to a particular type of leadership. “I’m reluctant to put people into boxes because some straddle styles and people can change,” she says.

If you’re a leader, it ultimately comes down to whether your approach fits your personality and is beneficial to your team. A few good questions to ask yourself, in contemplating whether you need to change or tweak your approach are:  

  • Honestly, how are you perceived as a leader?
  • Is there potentially a gap between your perceptions and how others see you?
  • What changes could you make to enhance your strengths and minimise your weaknesses?

If you feel you’d benefit from some training and assistance, our Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay and Auckland HR teams are here to help, regardless of where you are in New Zealand. 

My organisation needs a new leader. Should I promote someone from my team?

When you have a trusted, high achiever who is brilliant in their current role it can be tempting to promote them, which may also encourage them to stay with your team long-term.

However, not everyone is suited to leadership, so it’s important to consider the following:

  • Do they communicate well and clearly?
  • Do they have the trust and respect of their teammates or those they deal with?
  • How do they handle pressure?
  • What gives them a sense of purpose and makes them happy?
  • Would the leadership role provide that?
  • What leadership style(s) might they employ and does that approach suit your team and workplace needs?

If you decide to promote someone who is new to leadership, it’s important to provide mentoring and professional training, says Glenny. We don’t put novice drivers behind a steering wheel without instruction, so likewise guided leadership assistance, while also letting the person find themselves in the role, will make it a “safer” transition for your business and all involved.   

If you or your staff need leadership training, the Baker Tilly Staples Rodway HR teams are here to help: Call the Taranaki office on 06 757 3155, Hawke’s Bay on +64 6 878 7004 or Auckland on +64 9 309 0463, and ask to speak to someone from the external HR team.

DISCLAIMER No liability is assumed by Baker Tilly Staples Rodway for any losses suffered by any person relying directly or indirectly upon any article within this website. It is recommended that you consult your advisor before acting on this information.

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