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Leadership Styles 101
By Scott Morrell






Let’s be honest.  We expect a great deal from our leaders.  We put high expectations on them to get the job done.  And a study conducted by Harvard Business Review in 2000 may explain why we put the pressure on leaders.  After examining 3,000 middle-level managers over a three year time period, the study discovered that a manager’s leadership style was responsible for 30% of a company’s bottom-line profitability. That’s quite a bit of pressure.


No matter what leaders set out to do—whether it’s creating strategy or mobilizing teams to action—their success depends on how they do it. So how is it that a leadership style can have such an effect on the bottom line?  A leadership style is a leader's style of providing direction, implementing plans, and motivating people.



Leadership Styles Defined

Searching on the internet, we find leadership styles grouped and defined in many ways, most of which do fall into the same general categories with different titles. Daniel Goleman (1994), who popularized the notion of “Emotional Intelligence,” describes six different styles of leadership.

Pacesetting Leader

This leader expects and models excellence and self-direction. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Do as I do!” The pacesetting style works best when the team is already motivated and skilled, and the leader needs quick results. Downside:  If used extensively, this style can overwhelm team members and squelch innovation. 


Authoritative Leader

This leader mobilizes the team toward a common vision and focuses on end goals, leaving the means up to each individual. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Come with me.” The authoritative style works best when the team needs a new vision because circumstances have changed, or when explicit guidance is not required.  Downside:  Not the best fit if a leader is working with a team of experts who know more than them.


Affiliative Leader

This leader works to create emotional bonds that bring a feeling of bonding and belonging to the organization. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “People come first.” The affiliative style works best in times of stress, when teammates need to heal from a trauma, or when the team needs to rebuild trust.  Downside: A sole reliance on praise and nurturing can foster mediocre performance and a lack of direction.


Coaching Leader

This leaders develops people for the future. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Try this.” The coaching style works best when the leader wants to help teammates build lasting personal strengths that make them more successful overall.  Downside:  Not effective when teammates are unteachable or unwilling to change.


Coercive Leader

This leader demands immediate compliance. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Do what I tell you.” The coercive style is most effective in times of crisis, such as in a company turnaround or a takeover attempt, or during an actual emergency like a tornado or a fire. This style can also help control a problem teammate when everything else has failed. Downside:  Can alienate people and stifle flexibility and inventiveness.


Democratic Leader

This leaders builds consensus through participation. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “What do you think?” The democratic style is most effective when the leader needs the team to buy into or have ownership of a decision, plan, or goal, or if he or she is uncertain and needs fresh ideas from qualified teammates.  Downside:  Not the best choice when there is an emergency or time is of the essence.



Ask Yourself

  • Which style motivates you as a follower?  Which style motivates you most to perform?
  • Based on your experience, which style is most effective?  Least effective?
  • Based on your leadership frame, how do these style align?



Which One is the Right One?

Bottom line?  All of them!  Leadership styles are not something to be tried on like suits to see which fits. Rather, they should be adapted to the particular demands of the situation, the particular requirements of the people involved and the particular challenges facing the organization.  The most effective leaders can move among these styles, adopting the one that meets the needs of the moment.  Sometimes a teammate needs a hug.  Sometimes a team needs vision.  Sometimes they need a kick in the butt.  Great leaders realize leadership should be situational, depending on the needs of the team.  Therefore, all the styles should become part of the leader’s repertoire.


Are they all a part of yours?