Truth: not everything you read online about leadership styles is accurate.
It’s not necessarily that the authors are intentionally trying to mislead you. It may be what they read or were taught.
But, for whatever reason, there are some simple facts and principles taught in many articles that, if you follow them, you will suffer as a leader.
In this article, we will explore some of the truths of leadership styles. We will dive into how they are often presented incorrectly and explore the correct views so that you can grow and perform as a leader in the best possible way.
First, let’s do a quick review of leadership styles (that is often presented). If you want to skip to the rest of the article, click here.
The leadership styles
Depending on what article you read, there are 3 (5, 7, 11+) leadership styles that you could be. Here is a quick summary of them:
- Authoritative/Autocratic/Commanding (sometimes these are separated or varied) – you give commands and expect others to follow. You don’t listen to others’ input and are often micromanaging.
- Democratic/Participative – you get other people’s input before making decisions and try to come to a consensus.
- Laissez-faire/Delegative – You put the work into people’s hands and trust them to do it.
- Pacesetting -you set high goals and a heavy pace for your employees to get things done.
- Coaching – you are good about mentoring and helping people reach their potential.
- Affiliative – you are good about tending to the emotional needs of your employees focusing on relationships.
- Bureaucratic – you have a set of rules for everyone that they follow.
- Transactional – it’s all about the transaction – employees do work for a specific reward.
- Transformational – you have good emotional intelligence and are focused on company goals as well as employee growth.
- Servant leadership – you seek to serve your employees and help them and empower them to succeed.
- Situational leadership – you adjust according to the situation.
- Visionary – you cast vision for your employees.
- And more.
Often, these are presented with you finding which one you are. Once you discover who you are, then you need to be the best you of that style. (You may notice, too, that the styles are also often presented in extremes).
Let’s dive into the truths now.
1. You aren’t just one style (if you are, you will fail, period)
Many articles discuss that you need to discover “your” leadership style so that you can be authentic and be the best leader who is “you”.
Once you find your style, you should use your style, because, well, it’s you.
This sounds great in theory and follows the common trend of everyone being special and unique (just like everyone else), so it makes sense you have your own special, unique style that is just you.
It doesn’t hold water though (it doesn’t work).
If you are just only one of those “styles”, you will fail as a leader.
If you are just only one of those “styles”, you will fail as a leader. Click To Tweet
You can’t just be one. As we will discuss in another point, all of the styles are just tools to use in situations as needed. If you are always one without the others, you will fail.
If you are always commanding, never getting input, never delegating, always pushing your way, and never do any of the other “styles”, in the long run, you will fail.
If you are always diplomatic, letting everyone make the decision, every time, you will bog down decision making (if ever made) and will hurt yourself as a leader.
Coaching is great! But if you don’t apply other aspects of leadership, then you will fail as a leader.
Does that make sense?
If you are all of one thing and none of the others, then you will fail.
2. You don’t just switch from one style to another
Many articles do say that you may have to switch styles depending on the situation (though it’s often presented as a small sidenote).
That doesn’t make sense either.
Think about it. What is being said is that you are completely one style, and when you need to use another style, you completely switch to another style.
For example, you are diplomatic, but you need to coach, so you switch from the diplomatic style to the coaching style. You are no longer diplomatic but coaching. Then you switch back.
3. You should view learning styles as a toolbelt, a set of strategies, not “who you are” as a leader
You shouldn’t think of leadership styles (as they are often presented) as “who you are”, but as tools and strategies to use when the time arises.
You shouldn’t think of styles as 'who you are', but as tools and strategies to use when the time arises. Click To Tweet
It’s not about what “style” you are, but what strategy or tool you use in that situation.
For example, you may love being diplomatic in decision-making. You may lean that way (we will discuss that later). However, there are times you need to coach. You just coach. It doesn’t mean you stop getting other’s people input for decisions during that time.
As a “diplomatic leader”, there are times when NOT to be diplomatic. There are times as a leader you just need to take command and make a decision. Do it.
You aren’t “switching styles”, you are just using the tools and strategies available to you to be the best leader you can be.
4. Leadership isn’t based on your personality, tendencies, or insecurities – it’s based on principles.
Here’s one of the big truths: leadership isn’t based on your personality, your tendencies, or insecurities. It’s based on principles.
We do all have our own personalities. The way we approach situations is different. The way we view the world may be different.
However, to be an effective leader, what matters is the leadership principles that you use and follow. All the extra is detail.
It doesn’t matter what “style” or personality you have. If you don’t follow sound leadership principles, you will fail as a leader.
As Jocko Willink said in an interview, if you have the principles down, then, yeah, you may approach things differently, and that’s okay. But you have to have the principles first.
Look at the top leadership books
How many of the top leadership books are focused or even mention leadership styles? Very few to none.
How many of the top leadership books are focused or even mention leadership styles? Very few to none. Click To Tweet
Of all the leadership books I’ve read lately, only one even mentioned leadership styles (and they seemed to try really hard to make it fit with what they were trying to say).
Because leadership is about the principles they are trying to teach you, not about what “style” you have.
Make sure you aren’t “leaning” a certain way because of insecurity (or laziness)
Sometimes we lean certain ways because of insecurities. A good example is the diplomatic style.
If you are insecure about making decisions or scared about making a mistake and being wrong, then you may lean toward diplomatic.
Because with diplomatic you don’t have to make the decision. You make it as a group. Then, if it’s a mistake, you can blame the group and not yourself.
Or let’s say you naturally love delegating. That’s great. That’s one of the strategies you should be using as a leader no matter how you naturally “lean”.
However, do you love it because it’s effective and good, or do you love it because you feel you can just pass work on to people and then not have to worry about it anymore (which is not the way to delegate, by the way)?
Just because you lean toward a specific style doesn’t mean you should use it (or focus on it)
You may lean toward a certain style. You may, for example, naturally lean toward being authoritarian and autocratic. However, just because you lean that way doesn’t mean you should follow that style.
In fact, for example, if you follow that style completely, you aren’t going to be a great leader. Yes, there may be times you need to be more commanding, but not all the time.
You may love coaching. It may be “your thing”. If you focus mostly or completely on that and ignore the others, you are going to fail as a leader.
It’s all about principles
Leadership styles aren’t “bad” if you view them the right way. If you see them as a way you naturally lean and a set of tools and strategies to use, then that is good information to have.
However, if you view them as defining the kind of leader you are, then that can lead you into trouble.
All the different leadership styles have tools that you need to use in leadership. There are times to get everyone’s input, and there are times to make quick decisions and act. Delegation and coaching and mentoring should be part of what you are doing.
Building relationships with your employees are just an important part of good business. Setting goals (appropriate) is just smart.
Ultimately, however, it’s about principles. If you are following quality leadership principles, then you may have your own style of leading using those principles. That’s okay.
However, if you aren’t, it doesn’t matter what “style” you are.
Watch the Jocko Willink Interview here:
(Side note: I personally see servant leadership (and some of the others) as types of leadership, not styles. To me, it’s in a different category. Semantics, I know.)