Every leader takes a different approach to his or her work, connecting with subordinates in varied yet distinct ways. But while they might believe their method to be the most effective, chances are they can learn from others as well. Each style of leadership has its own benefits and disadvantages, and the most successful managers look for what is most effective and tailor it to what works best for them. With that in mind, here is a rundown of the four major types of leadership styles. See which one most closely matches your approach - and what you can learn from the others.
Leadership Style 1: Authoritative
Authoritarian or autocratic leadership is practiced by those who are dictatorial about what they want their employees to do and exactly how they want it done. There is not a lot of flexibility for practitioners of and subordinates to this style, which falls into the classifications outlines below.
Bureaucratic. The high levels of control exerted by this style of leadership can demoralize staff and diminish the organization's ability to react to changing external circumstances. For example, when the accounts payable team becomes boxed in by strict parameters, it tends to focus only on the process at hand and not on the larger pay-to-play connection or the relationships the team has throughout the company.
Task-oriented. A highly task-oriented leader focuses only on getting the job done. Such a leader will actively define the work, designate the roles, plan, organize and monitor. However, as task-oriented leaders spare little thought for the well-being of their employees, they may have great difficulty motivating and retaining staff. We have all used the term "taskmaster" to describe someone like this, yet task-oriented leaders can be excellent managers as long as they consider the well-being of the project team.
Transactional. Also highly authoritative, transactional leaders operate with the premise that, upon taking on a job, team members agree to obey their leader unquestioningly. Usually, the "transaction" is payment, in return for effort and compliance. As such, the leader has the right to "punish" team members if their work does not meet predetermined standards.
Leadership Style 2: Participative
Participative leadership comes into play when a leader has part of the information required to achieve a goal, and various employees have other parts. This style establishes the foundation for a cohesive team. Using the example of an accounts-payable department, it is especially effective when the leader asks for the staff's ideas and input for creating a new AP procedure, and works with appropriate subject-matter experts to obtain system- or process-related information to address a vendor issue, initiate a project or address a system issue. Two main categories of this practice are relevant here, as shown below.
Servant leadership. Robert Greenleaf, whose writings have significantly influenced leadership studies, coined the term "servant leadership" in the 1970s. This phrase describes the style of someone who, while not formally recognized as a leader, nevertheless assumes such a role by working to meet the needs of his or her team and involving team members in the decision-making process. Servant leadership emphasizes the de facto leader's role as the steward of the organization's resources, including human and financial, and calls on him/her to serve others while staying focused on achieving results in line with the organization's values and integrity.
People and relations-oriented leadership. The antithesis of task-oriented leadership, this style is focused on organizing, supporting and developing the people in the team. Although extroverts tend to thrive under such a leader because the workplace becomes a "fun" place to be, introverted team members can consider this style intrusive. In practice, most leaders use a mix of both task-oriented and people-oriented styles of leadership to fulfill their responsibility to make performance meaningful.
Leadership Style 3: Delegative
As the term implies, this style fully empowers staff members to play significant roles on the team. Although delegating allows employees to make decisions, it is important to note that the leader is still responsible for the decisions made. Delegative leadership can be especially effective when the team is highly trained and experienced, is competent to analyze the situation and determine needs, and understands how to do it. This style was popular when the concept of self-managed work teams was in vogue in the 1990s.
Leadership Style 4: Transformational, the best of all worlds
A person with this style is a leader who inspires his or her team with a shared vision of the future. A transformational leader often will use all styles of leadership as outlined above or will ensure members of the team possess any missing styles required.
Charismatic. Another leadership nuance is the charismatic leader who demonstrates traits similar to those used in transformational leadership, in that the leader injects huge doses of enthusiasm into his or her team, and is very energetic in driving others forward. Such leaders can communicate on an emotional level that draws others to them - always a good thing for team building.
In sum, a good leader is adept at integrating the strengths of authoritarian, participative and delegative leadership styles and nuances depending on the situation. Find an approach and balance of styles that best fits who you are, and you'll be sure to lead with great impact and effectiveness.
Chris Doxey, CAPP, CCSA, CICA is an independent management consultant providing internal controls and business-process best-practice solutions for Nvoicepay.