When it comes to leadership, “leadership styles” is one of the top searches online. Many want to know about leadership styles so they can be a better leader.
But this begs the question, “What is the best leadership style”?
Which leadership style is best?
The answer is this: There is no best leadership style. In fact, the idea that you or only one style or another is a misnomer. Leadership is about principles, not styles. If you don’t practice the principles of leadership, including the ones you can learn from the different styles, you will do poorly as a leader, no matter your leadership style.
Not the answer you were looking for?
That’s okay. Because once you realize this fact, you can take a closer look at what really makes you a better leader.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at why there isn’t one “best” one and what you should do to be your best.
We will cover:
- A quick review of leadership styles
- Why there is no best leadership style
- How we should think about leadership styles
- Principles we can follow to be better leaders
Let’s dive in.
A quick review of leadership styles
Multiple studies have been conducted on leadership styles, and there are various theories about styles. One most commonly seen on articles throughout the web states, in summary, this:
There are multiple leadership styles. You are one specific style, and you need to discover your style so you can be the “authentic” you. All styles are equal and effective, all have their ups and downs, so find what is yours and be you.
Different articles may vary, but that is the basics. Most also include that different situations may call for a different style, so you will need to “switch” styles when doing something else (which, as we’ve discussed, is kind of a silly notion).
Some of the common leadership styles include (it varies by article and person):
And some list these as styles even though they could be considered differently:
The leadership styles that we discuss mostly in this article are related to this particular idea, or theory, of leadership styles.
Other research has been done on leadership styles, and many divide it between concern for results/task and concern for people. A common one used is the Leadership Grid®. In the grid, a leader ranges from 1-9 on their concern for production and 1-9 on their concern for people.
Depending on where you are at with each number determines what style of leader you are (at that time).
Even with that theory, however, studies have not concluded that there is one style that is effective in all cases.
Why there is no best leadership style
The reason there is not a best leadership style is for a couple of reasons:
First, the mentality of leadership styles (as presented in most articles) is completely off.
The idea often given is that you are one particular style and you should live that particular style because it is you. All styles are equal; you just have to find yours.
That is just false. It feels good in our world where we want everyone to be unique and special, but it doesn’t hold water with regard to leadership.
The fact is, not every style is equal. While many of the styles have principles we can use, some can be downright dangerous if used wrong (or just used in general).
As we’ll dive into a little deeper in a minute, if you are just one style, you will fail. You can’t just be one style. You need to embody the principles that many of them teach and use them as the situation needs.
Second, situations are fluid and not every situation needs the same actions.
If you respond to each situation the same way, then you will fail at times because different situations need different responses.
If you are always responding the same way with one particular leadership style, you will fail at times because that “style” doesn’t work in that situation.
Even with the Leadership Grid® with the research they have done, even high-person high-task orientation people (which means the leader is focused on high productivity/results and high focus on people and relationships at the same time) didn’t always result as the best (which could be for different reasons, such as it could be that particular situation needs something different or there are other factors of leadership that the researchers didn’t account for).
How we should think about leadership styles
Instead of seeing leadership styles as an embodiment of who we are as leaders and try to “live” that style, we should instead look at the principles of leadership we can pull from them.
Let’s look at them a little deeper.
For example, let’s take the autocratic, or commanding, style. There are times, such as in a crisis, when you just have to decide. You don’t have time to deliberate or be diplomatic. As a leader, you make a decision.
With a new employee, you may need to be more micromanaging in ways to help the person learn, and then let go as they grow and learn.
However, if you are always commanding and always micromanaging, you will not reach the level of success you could have reached otherwise (and may just fail).
Principles we can follow to be better leaders
What matters in leadership is not what style you are but what principles you follow. If you follow the right principles of leadership, then you may have your own “style” of how you do things based on your personality, but if you don’t have the right principles, it doesn’t matter at all what “style” you are.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the common leadership styles and what principles we can learn from them:
- Authoritarian/Command – There are times as a leader you need to decide and decide quickly. There are times when you may need to “micromanage” certain employees for a period of time and let go as they grow.
- Delegative/laissez-faire – As a leader, your job is to lead people toward a common goal. If you don’t ever delegate and always do it all yourself, you aren’t leading because you are doing it all! Part of leadership is delegating tasks and projects to people (though not abdicating) and providing oversight as they do it.
- Diplomatic- It’s wise to gather input from others about decisions, especially when you are not the one facing the problem directly. Remember, though, as the leader, you are ultimately responsible for the decision, no matter how it is made.
- Visionary – Part of leadership is casting vision and guiding others toward that vision.
- Coaching – As a leader, you should coach your people (when able) to help them grow as people and be more productive.
- Affirming – You should build relationships with your team. Leadership is based on influence, not position.
- Pacesetting – You should set goals and lead your team toward those goals (it should not be overbearing though).
- Bureaucratic – The only rules you should create are those that help people be more effective and efficient. If it’s a passive-aggressive way to deal with people’s problems (or with poor hiring policies) or just rules for the sake of rules, don’t do it.
- Situational leadership– You should adjust and use different strategies as the situation calls for.
- Transformational leadership– You should be about your people’s growth, the results they produce, and the good and growth of the organization as well.
- Servant leadership– As leaders, we should set the vision and goals and then enable and serve our people to help them accomplish those vision and goals.
Other principles to remember:
- Integrity – Without it, you aren’t getting far as a leader.
- Empowerment – You should empower your people to make decisions, innovate and take risks, and grow.
- Reproduction – As you grow as a leader, you should grow other leaders as well.
- Ownership – As a leader, you are responsible for all you do and all that happens under you. You must take responsibility. Blaming only makes you weak as a leader.
- Personal growth – Great leaders are always learning and growing. They never feel like they have arrived.
- “Prioritize and execute” – This exact phrase is from Jocko WIllink and Leif Babin in their leadership books. What it means is that instead of trying to focus on all the tasks at once, focus on the most important, prioritize, and take care of it (execute). Then, focus on the next. Trying to do it all causes overwhelm and what is done is often not done well.
While there are other principles and actions you can take, these are a good start that, if you follow, you are well on the way to being a great leader.
Which leadership style is best?
As you’ve seen, there is no one best style. Different situations call for different responses. What matters most are the principles you follow.
If you follow those, even in situations where you may not know what to do, they will be a good guide to you to point you in the right direction.
I hope this article has been helpful to you and helped answer that question. If you have any other questions, please let us know!
Now to you: what is the biggest takeaway you got from this article? Please let us know in the comments below.