Leadership Style and Results – What’s the Connection?

Have you ever considered the way that different leadership styles can impact the results in your team or organization?

Leading people is a complex and ever-changing challenge, so it’s great to know that there are some well-researched and sound principles to follow in order to be a really effective leader.

Several years ago, when preparing for a conference session on motivating teams to achieve results, I came across an article that intrigued me.  In Leadership That Gets Results,  by Daniel Goleman (Harvard Business Review, March-April 2000) six leadership styles are identified. I found it interesting that the research was able to demonstrate how each of these six styles impact the working environment of an organization, and the study also found that a positive organizational climate is a driver for productivity and profitability (other drivers include the competitive environment and economic conditions). So this means that your leadership style is truly significant – because it influences not only how people feel at work, but it also impacts the bottom line.

Here’s a short quiz that I developed, based on the article, to help develop your self-awareness as a leader: 

1.  If you could sum it up in a phrase, how would you describe your leadership style?

a) I know where we’re going and I know the best way to get there – I expect the team to do as I say.

b) The relationships in this organization are key to our success – lets work together and let’s take care of each other along the way.

c) Each person on my team has his or her own special talents and I’m here to help them develop to their highest potential.

d) Whenever possible I like to get input from the whole team to ensure we make the best decisions.

e) I start with the organization’s mission and build from there – everything we do each day is driven by the purpose that we’re all working towards.

f) I set the pace for the team – everyone needs to put in the effort to keep up with me as best they can.

2.  As a leader, I achieve the optimum results when I:

a) Take charge and tell people exactly what to do and how to do it.

b) Get to know each team member personally and show that I care about them.

c) Work with each individual to bring out the best in them.

d) Ensure that all team members are in agreement with decisions that are made.

e) Clearly communicate the vision and how each team member fits in to that vision.

f) Work hard and lead by example.

3. My best leadership qualities are:

a) A strong drive to achieve, together with initiative and self-control.

b) Empathy, relationship-building and communication.

c) Self-awareness, empathy and a talent for developing others.

d) Collaboration, team focus and communication.

e) Self-confidence, empathy, and inspiring others.

f) Conscientiousness, drive to achieve and initiative.

Now, tally up your responses. Each letter represents a different style. See the list below to determine which style or styles you tend to use the most.

a… Commanding

b… Affiliative

c… Coaching

d… Democratic

e… Visionary

f… Pacesetting

What’s your preferred style? Do you have the finesse and self-awareness to switch up your style to meet the needs of the situation, or do you rely on one approach for the most part?

In the article referred to above, Daniel Goleman, well known for his work on Emotional Intelligence (EI), also ties in the various competencies of EI to the six leadership styles. The good news here is that we can develop our competencies in order to become better leaders – but first we need to become aware of where we need to improve.

Based on the research, while each of the styles has its pro’s and con’s, four are consistently positive in terms of their effects on the working environment and results, and two are mostly negative. To my mind, this is essential information for managers and I encourage you to take a look at the full article to find out more, beyond the short summary below.

First, the four most positive styles are: Visionary, Democratic, Coaching and Affiliative. 

When leaders use the Visionary style (also known as the Authoritative style), they clearly communicate the vision of the organization and they do so consistently through both words and actions.

An advantage that comes from working with a diverse team is that you can draw on many perspectives and experiences, and a broader base of knowledge, rather than problem-solving and making decisions from a narrow perspective. The Democratic leadership style taps into this.

Coaching is an integral part of leading people, and some leaders are better at this than others The Coaching style of leadership involves working with direct reports to help them identify and build their strengths, as well as to address areas of weakness.

The Affiliative style revolves around building bonds between people, and leaders who use this style focus their energy on developing trust and harmony among team members.

The last two styles – Pacesetting and Commanding –  have a contribution to make in certain circumstances, but the research shows that they have an overall negative effect on organizational climate and results, so should only be used sparingly.

The Pacesetting leader sets high expectations and leads by example, working with great intensity and holding people to standards of excellence.

Leaders using the Commanding style expect people to obey orders immediately, and they have no tolerance for errors, nor are they open to others’ opinions or ideas.

What do you think your ideal combination of leadership styles would be? What types of leadership have you experienced, and how does your experience resonate with the research?

While we are moulded by our experiences in life, we each have our own innate personal style that doesn’t change much – this governs our approach to situations and the way that we relate to people. So, we may be each be inclined towards using one or two leadership styles. However, this does not have to be set in stone – we can always learn to change our behaviour. One of the great things about becoming more self-aware is that it enables us to identify blind spots and unproductive approaches, so that we can learn new ways of doing things.

If you’re interested in developing your skills and expanding the range of styles that you use as a leader, contact me to find out about the leadership development programs that I offer.