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How to tap into your leadership style to find professional growth and development

A key attribute of successful leadership is demonstrating the ability to support, encourage and develop others to achieve a shared goal. This is not only relevant for individuals in positions of management, but also for individuals working in teams. 

In its simplest form, leading others might involve understanding emotions, managing tasks or supporting others. However, beyond this your professional development focus is likely to take a more holistic view considering your leadership style, how it affects others, how it can be improved and adapted according to the situation. 

Your professional development journey to date may not have led you to reflect on your own leadership style, however taking the time to do this throughout your career will improve your leadership and management skills, building your skills as a manager and leader. 

What are leadership styles and why do they matter?

A leadership style is a broad approach or attitude that a leader takes to their role. Understanding your own leadership style can help you to identify those situations in which you excel as a leader, and those where you don’t. This increased awareness will support you to build your leadership skills, enabling you to play to your strengths and avoid your weaknesses. 

The 6 main leadership styles:

There is no shared understanding of leadership styles, and different institutions and academics have developed their own models. What follows is a blend of these insights, and the most commonly cited examples to give eight broad styles, although most people are, of course, a blend of different elements or show different traits at different times. 

  1. Autocratic leadership is a style where the leader is the main or only decision-maker. All decisions are made by them, and they expect their decisions to flow through the chain of command to be enacted, unquestioningly, by their team.
  1. A bureaucratic or paternalistic leadership style is where the leader tends to make decisions based on policies and precedent – that is, what has gone before. They generally believe that this is in the best interests of their team to maintain a steady, reliable operation.
  1. A coaching leadership style focuses on supporting others in the team to feel empowered to make decisions and work through problems, with the leader acting as a facilitator to that process.
  1. A democratic leader focuses on reaching group consensus and a shared approach to decision-making. They see the team’s views as having equal merit to their own, and are willing to defer to the team’s collective opinion over their own.
  1. Laissez-faire leadership is a hands-off style of leadership, where the leader essentially delegates decision-making authority out to the individuals in the team. This leads to individuals essentially deciding for themselves what to do, what the priorities are, and how they will work.
  1. A transactional leadership approach focuses on completing the tasks that need to be done, ensuring that resources are available, and ensuring that appropriate rewards are in place for the completion of tasks. There are very clear roles and responsibilities laid out for team members, and individuals are clear on what the expectations are of them.
  1. Transformational leadership focuses on change and discontinuity. The leader is always pushing for things to be done differently or better, and there is little patience for maintaining routines if they could be improved or changed.
  1. A strategic or visionary leader is one who is focused on the big picture of what the team is trying to achieve. This might include thinking about how the team and its work fits into the wider sector and how it relates to the activities of competitors. 

As well as considering which leadership styles you demonstrate when working collaboratively, leading or managing others, it is important also to consider how each style can affect those you are working with (see Leadership, Step 13). 

The strengths and weaknesses of different leadership styles

Highlighted by the effects of each leadership style on others, each has its advantages and disadvantages, and there is no perfect leadership. 

Great leaders are aware of their own tendencies but can adapt this to play to their strengths and build their weaknesses. It is always worth remembering that leaders rarely fall entirely into one style – and the best are able to adapt their approach to be as effective as possible.

Why is it important to take time to reflect on your leadership skills?

Taking the time as part of your professional development to reflect and build your leadership skills will enable you to:

  • Rely on your strengths and avoid your weaknesses
  • Work with teams or individuals who are less familiar or possibly not known to you
  • Positively engage individuals and successfully achieve goals
  • Contribute effectively towards key organisational objectives 
  • Utilise the attributes of the whole team to ensure success and confidence

How can you build your leadership skills?

Whether you’re an individual working with a team, new to management or an experienced leader it is important to reflect on the characteristics of each of the leadership styles listed and consider your own attributes in relation to these. 

Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to reflect on the effects, both positive and negative, on those around you. As part of your professional development, this increased awareness will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses as a leader (Leadership, Step 14) which will enable you to adapt your approach in order to be as effective as possible.