Leadership Style: Is There “One Best,” Or Is Flexibility Worth Developing?
By Carol Zervas & David Lassiter
·Do different situations and populations call for different kinds of leadership? · Should one lead differently in different cultural settings? And, is there a “best” kind of leader for specific populations? ·What is the best kind of leader to select to start up a new division, manage people, take over a new group, or after a merger, in another part of the world? ·Will handling a crisis or a highly specialized workforce in your usual style get you the results you want?
These are important questions for any business leader attempting to optimize the performance of his/her organization’s workforce. What is implied by the questions is the possibility that there is not only one kind of good leadership but that what constitutes “good” leadership may vary with important situations an organization faces and the demographic groups of which it is composed. This article will consider some of the questions in light of available research and suggest that the extraordinarily good leader may have to move outside the style which is most comfortable for or characteristic of him/herself, in order to get desired results.
Getting the most from this article requires that the reader set aside a prejudice or two. More than one of the leadership styles described have gone out of fashion or are considered “bad form” in our day. However, change of situation demands flexibility of approach. Possibly, not every problem or group can be successfully approached through a single style of leadership.
To provide a framework for discussion, stereotypical leadership styles will be used. These styles may or may not represent any specific, individual people; however, people do tend to adopt one or two styles as their default mode of operation. The styles sketched below are ones whose impacts on workers, groups, productivity, staff retention and satisfaction, and organizational climate have been the most researched. Certain styles tend to work well under some circumstances but are contraindicated in others. Some styles may have excellent short-term effects while being counterproductive in the long term.
THE LEADERSHIP STYLES
COERCIVE – The fundamental element of the Coercer’s leadership style is control – control of jobs, of rewards, and of people’s actions to the extent the Coercer can achieve it. Results are obtained through direct, explicit instructions on expectations of a job and how the work is to be performed. This style of leadership demands obedience and requires a good deal of reporting back to the leader. Negative, personalized feedback and punishment or threats of discipline are the most common methods the Coercer uses to achieve results.
TASK-ORIENTED – Getting a job done dominates the concern of this kind of leader, to the complete exclusion of other concerns, such as subordinates’ satisfaction or well being.Job outcome is what matters, and the leader may employ authoritarian, coercive, or democratic means to achieve that end. The Task-oriented leader actively defines structure, the work to be done, and the roles of subordinates in getting it accomplished. Task-oriented leaders put structures in place, plan, organize, and monitor. If the Task-Oriented leader is to be effective over an extended period of time, it is probably necessary for him/her to learn to employ skills embodied in the Affiliative and/or Democratic styles in order to sustain motivation and retain staff , particularly in the American culture. Task-orientation has been shown to be an effective method of leadership in some Asian cultures (Fernando).
AUTHORITARIAN/AUTHORITATIVE – Central to the operation of the Authoritarian’s style is the leader’s responsibility for outcomes. While some input is sought from subordinates, the leader regards his/her influence as the key element in any major decision or job outcome. The Authoritative leader accomplishes ends through imparting a clear, compelling vision, sees to it that the vision is built into strategic planning, and that it guides action throughout the organization. The Authoritarian provides clear directions, monitors progress closely, and convinces subordinates of the position s/he wishes them to adopt by explaining why certain things are expected, done, or required and how individual actions fit into the larger picture. The feedback an Authoritarian offers may be positive or negative but clear, and treatment of subordinates tends to be firm but fair. This kind of leadership is the most common one in Asia. It may shade over into a Directive style when subordinates are given very little power or decisionmaking authority.
BUREAUCRATIC – Bureaucrat leadership may be similar to Authoritarian, although what is central are rules. The Bureaucrat operates “by the book” and requires subordinates to follow procedures and rules to the letter. If rules and regulations do not cover a situation, the Bureaucratic leader looks to superiors for guidance. The style can be effective if staff must repeat the same tasks over and over, are required to fully understand procedures and standards, are working with dangerous or delicate equipment, or are engaged in situations that involve significant hazard to themselves or the public. The means of achieving staff compliance with rules may borrow from the Coercive through the Affiliative or Democratic styles. The Bureaucratic style has negative effects on flexibility, initiative, relationships between staff, and motivation. However, it also provides consistency of approach.
AFFILIATIVE – An Affiliator’s primary concern is the well being of his/her workforce and, probably, his/her own popularity. Task outcome may even be placed at a lower level of priority to that of subordinates’ job satisfaction. The style can inspire deep loyalty within the work group. It can also foster free, open communication that inspires trust, a free flow of ideas, innovation, and risk taking. The Affiliator’s positive feedback for accomplishment gives subordinates a great sense of having been recognized, which is excellent motivation for even greater achievement. The Affiliator may not give clear directions or set specific goals. S/he may avoid hard discussions that can cause bad feeling and may reward personal characteristics rather than job performance and attainment of outcomes. Affiliators can become serious negative factors in the work situation if their inaction takes them into the Laissez-Faire style. Most highly Affiliative leaders need to learn to use some skills of the Task-Oriented or Authoritative styles to ensure that their organization remains productive and on track.
LAISSEZ-FAIRE – It is difficult to think of a Laissez-Faire leader as a leader, since his/her objective is to avoid influencing subordinates. Thus, subordinates have a great deal of autonomy and authority. The Laissez-Faire style of leadership can lead to organizational ineffectiveness if there is, in addition, no control over processes or weak or absent organization. Desired outcomes may not be achieved if there is no systematic approach to problem solving. Individual’s goals and agendas can come to replace those of the organization or workgroup. However, under the right circumstances, such as when a workforce is highly educated, skilled, and experienced, and when the goals of the organization are clear to everyone, or when outside consultants are often used, the approach can foster creativity, independent thinking, and personal responsibility. Laissez-Faire may be the style of choice when the workforce is considerably more technically knowledgeable than the leader is.
EMPOWERING – A new, possibly more effective kind of Laissez-Faire leadership is Empowering leadership which relies on delegation of responsibility to subordinates. When well practiced, it is built on clear lines of authority, responsibility, and roles and well-developed structures for work flow and problem solving. This is a relatively new style and is used in American companies having autonomous, possibly geographically dispersed, divisions. A few younger Asian business leaders have adopted the Empowering style (Quinn).
DEMOCRATIC/PARTICIPATIVE – A Democratic leader “believes in” people and relies on the functioning of a group or team to achieve results. Subordinates take part in the decisionmaking process, and decisions result from a group consensus. There are frequent meetings, and subordinates are listened to by the leader. The style tends to foster responsibility, flexibility, and high morale. Because staff are engaged in decisionmaking and planning, there is a tendency for them to be more realistic about what is and is not possible. The Democratic leader considers close supervision unnecessary after trust has been established, and negative feedback is offered sparingly.Participative leadership is more common in Europe and is sometimes required by law (as in northern Europe, especially Germany). A variant of Participative leadership with cultural overtones is common in Japan as well as some other Asian countries.
PACESETTER/CHARISMATIC – Pacesetters are star performers who lay sole claim to the limelight and seek it as a core goal.A Pacesetter would rather do a job him/herself and is so good at what s/he does that s/he is reluctant to delegate.Leadership is achieved through setting an example, rather than through instruction or intentional staff development, establishment of high standards, and through imparting enthusiasm. People follow the Pacesetter because of who s/he is and/or what s/he can do, rather than because of his/her leadership skill. The Pacesetter tends to become coercive when a subordinate fails to live up to expectations or when there is trouble. What succeeds as a Charismatic leader in one country may be an entirely different kind of person from the one who succeeds as a Pacesetter in another. Who “looks like” a leader depends heavily on culture.
COACHING – The Coach rests success on development of subordinates’ and his/her own capabilities. “Coaching leaders help employees identify their unique strengths and weaknesses and tie them to their personal and career aspirations. . . They make agreements with their employees about their role and responsibilities in enacting development plans, and they give plentiful instruction and feedback” (Goleman). Coaches are good at delegating, build skills by varying staff’s assignments, and tolerate short-term failure in the interest of long- term learning. Goals and expectations may not be clearly set; rather the Coach encourages subordinates to set their own goals and develop their own work plans. While the Coach’s expectations tend to be high, the Coach may have difficulty communicating expectations or motivating through inspiration, but results tend to improve due to the highly positive effects on climate and staff competence and knowledge.The ongoing dialogue with the Coaching leader keeps staff informed of the direction in which the organization is moving and the role the staff members’ job plays in reaching objectives. Staff often respond to the Coaching style with high commitment.
THE LEADERSHIP METHODS
TRANSACTIONAL – Transactional leadership cuts across the leadership styles described above. It is a method of leadership, as opposed to a true, personal leadership style. Its fundamental assumption is that subordinates work in order to receive compensation. Thus, Transactional leaders motivate through the use of contingent rewards or negative consequences. The Transactional leader’s main focus is on setting goals and clarifying the relationship between performance and rewards. The leader tells his subordinates what they are to do to receive rewards. Constructive feedback is offered in terms of progress toward or away from rewards. The Transactional leader can punish subordinates for performance that does not meet a pre-determined standard. Often it is assumed that a clear chain of command is necessary to achieve results and that the concentration of authority and power are at the top of the chain. It is assumed that subordinates agree to cede their own authority to the top leadership. Subordinates may have little opportunity to improve their job satisfaction or influence decisionmaking, since there may not be any allowance for “managing up.”
When the Transactional leader allocates work to subordinates, they are considered to be fully responsible for it. The Transactional leader often uses management by exception, working on the principle that if something is operating to defined (and hence expected) performance, then it does not need attention. Exceptions to expectation require praise and reward for exceeding expectation, while some kind of corrective action is applied for performance below expectation. Some Transactional leaders only give attention to what is not meeting performance standards. In some work (Tarpett), the functioning of the Transactional leader is associated with “management,” and Transformational functioning is considered “leadership.”
TRANSFORMATIONAL – Transformational leadership is also a method which cuts across leaders’ styles. Transformational leaders assume that subordinates will follow a person who inspires them and that to inspire, the leader must be a person with vision and passion. They achieve this through being highly visible, in constant communication with their teams, and by infusing their actions and communications with enthusiasm and energy. Relationships are built between leadership and subordinates. Many Transformational leaders delegate freely and may rely upon the talent and expertise of members of their team to achieve results. They tend to give recognition of accomplishment.
Since the success of the Transformational leader’s organization depends upon his/her vision and the successful promotion of that vision among his/her subordinates, the leader must first perfect his vision of the future and must work on his/her own integrity and trustworthiness, because the leader is always selling him/herself as well as the vision, and flaws in him/herself will impact subordinates’ buy-in to the total package.
Cross-cultural research indicates that characteristics of the Transformation leader are recognized as “leadership” in many cultures around the world. Thus, independent of how effective a person is, he/she is more likely to be recognized as having leadership qualities if he/she exhibits aspects of the Transformational method.
Planning and Budgeting - Developing a plan – a detailed map of how to achieve results
Establishing Directions - Developing direction – a vision which describes a future state and strategy
Organizing and Staffing - Which individual best fits each job and what part of the plan fits each individual
Aligning People - A major communication challenge getting people to understand and accept the vision
Controlling and Problem Solving - Monitoring results; identifying deviations from the plan, and solving the “problems”
Motivating and Inspiring - Satisfying basic human needs for achievement, belonging, recognition, self-esteem, a sense of control
Produces a degree of predictability and structure
Produces change – often to a dramatic degree
Comparison of Leadership Methods Adapted from John Kotter (Tarpett)
Transactional and Transformational leadership have undergone a great deal of study since they were first described about 20 years ago. Their current definitions are much more inclusive than were the earlier definitions. The more current definitions include many of the aspects of what have been described as leadership styles in this paper. We are using the older definitions here in order to maximize distinctions between leadership practices and the results they tend to produce. Our aim is to make the material useful to the reader, not merely theoretically comprehensive.
IMPACTS OF THE STYLES & METHODS (EI = "Emotional Intelligence")
Every style of leadership offers benefits for the handling of specific situations or populations. Some styles are best utilized for short-term solutions and should be abandoned when the situation no longer exists or the workgroup changes, since their long-term effects are harmful to the organization or work group.
EFFECTS OF THE COERCIVE STYLE - TheCoercerisespecially effective in some military situations, when an organization comes under attack, when draconian pruning of dead wood or obsolete procedures is needed, or when a workgroup is performing far below capacity and needs to be “whipped into shape.” Coercive leadership can have some negative effects if a workgroup is performing well. Subordinates respond negatively to therepeateduseofthreatsunder normal working conditions, and over time staff motivation is likely to decline under the influence of this type of leadership. Staff will quit both in terms of engagement and leaving the organization. The greatest negative effect of the Coercive style is on flexibility and generation of new ideas.
EFFECTS OF THE TASK-ORIENTED STYLE – Although Task-Oriented leadership was a favored approach in the past, current research and practice seems to favor its use as a means of strengthening and improving the relationship-oriented styles, Affiliative, Democratic, and Pacesetter.
EFFECTS OF THE AUTHORITATARIAN/AUTHORITATIVE STYLE – The Authoritative leader can be invaluable in getting an organization back on track or over a significant hurdle. He/she can be an exceptional problem solver and handler of challenges and can also get subordinates to help find solutions to problems and alternative approaches to situations. According to the research studied, this style has the greatest beneficial effect of all the styles on productivity and overall organizational health. Through effectivelyimparting the organization’s goals and vision, Authoritative leaders maximize subordinate’s commitment to goals and strategy.Flexibility is enhanced by the leader’s clear definition of end results but the permitting of freedom in the selection of the means to achieve them.
Authoritative leadership is effective in most, but not all, business situations, particularly when it is coupled with clear definitions of roles, responsibilities, and procedures. Authoritarian leaders tend to do better than other kinds of leader in situations wherein directive leadership is expected, such as the military. Situations wherein the style is less effective are those in which the leader is less skilled or knowledgeable than his/her peers or subordinates or if his/her style becomes overbearing or domineering, in which case, it may “undermine the egalitarian spirit of an effective team” (Goleman). The style becomes less effective if the Authoritative leader ceases to listen and take into account his subordinates’ input or staff turnover is high.
EFFECTS OF THE BUREAUCRATIC STYLE – The Bureaucratic style is of considerable value in situations where staff are working with either hazardous material (such as nuclear plants), extremely delicate machinery, or extremely valuable commodities (such as cash or diamonds). The focus on rules and procedures safeguards the worker or the interests of the organization or the public. In other situations, the inflexibility and high levels of control exerted can demoralize staff and can diminish the organization’s ability to react to changing external circumstances.
EFFECTS OF THE AFFILIATIVE STYLE – The Affiliative leadership style can be highly effective in the early stages of building a workforce or group, when there is a need to build morale, or when teambuilding is important. The Affiliative leader establishes him/herself as one of the group, in close communication with subordinates, and affirms their importance and value. Affiliative leadership can be highly effective in situations wherein one is “trying to build team harmony, increase morale, improve communication, or repair broken trust” (Goleman). It is not an effective style when a workgroup is performing below acceptable standards, because the Affiliator tends not to give negative feedback, and used over an extended period, the tendency to give positive feedback may lead staff to conclude that mediocre performance is tolerated. Used in combination with the Authoritative or Task-Oriented styles, which offer clear guidelines for performance and objectives, the Affiliative style can be very potent and beneficial.
EFFECTS OF THE LAISSEZ-FAIRE STYLE – Laissez-faire leadership tends to be effective only under the very specialized situation when team members are highly skilled and/or knowledgeable in a specific area of expertise and when the goals of the organization are clear to and accepted by everyone. The style tends to result in the least production, motivation, and independent initiative on the part of subordinates of all the leadership styles. Research shows it to have more negative effects on productivity, satisfaction, and cohesiveness than any of the active forms of leadership. EFFECTS OF THE DEMOCRATIC/PARTICIPATIVE STYLE – This style tends to build the responsibility and flexibility of a workforce and can elicit subordinates’ creativity and flow of fresh ideas. Use of the Democratic style tends to increase staff’s ambition and motivation as well as foster staff retention. This style also tends to improve staff’s acceptance ofexecutive decisions (Bass). Since Democratic leadership involves so much subordinate involvement and consensus building, it can be very time-consuming and is probably not advisable when fast turn-around time is important. If the Democratic leader uses the group process to avoid making hard decisions, the group may feel leaderless and lose momentum. The Democratic style of leadership does not work well in situations wherein the workforce is not competent or well educated or when the organization is in crisis.
EFFECTS OF THE PACESETTER/CHARISMATIC STYLE – The Pacesetter is often the darling of boards of directors and can have a beneficial effect on the organization when an important goal is the establishment of a brand in the public mind or the promotion of products’ or organizational image. There are uses for the Pacesetting style in kicking off a new project, since Pacesetters create enthusiasm and set high standards. One necessary precondition for the effective use of the Pacesetting style is that subordinates be self-motivated and highly skilled. Over time, the Pacesetter does not tend to develop subordinates’ abilities, since he/she often takes responsibility away from them to assert his/her own authority. Pacesetting tends to undermine organizational climate over time:1) by producing burn-out in subordinates because of the demanding pace required; 2) by the absence of clearly stated guidelines for performance; and 3) by the failure of the Pacesetter to allow people to work in their own way which tends to make work boring and routine.
EFFECTS OF THE COACHING STYLE – Although it is a powerful tool for building a strong organization with a healthy climate, the Coaching style is probably the least used of the styles mentioned because it takes a good deal of time to employ and because many leaders do not have the requisite skills of giving ongoing performance feedback in a way that is motivating. Many have trouble keeping in mind individual staff member’s development while simultaneously keeping organizational goals in view. The Coaching style tends to work best when staff are receptive to Coaching, either because they are aware of a need to receive help or because they see the advantage to themselves and the organization.
EFFECTS OF THE TRANSACTIONAL METHOD – The consulted research indicated that the Transactional method of leadership benefited certain types of work group; whereas the Transformational method benefited other types. As mentioned, the definitions of the two methods is changing. One finding has been that Transactional leadership benefits creativity (the generation of ideas) when the workforce is made up of “individualists” (considered more like Americans) (Jung). Transactional leadership also seems to have a beneficial effect on the speed with which new products are developed (McDonough). Other research suggests that Transactional leadership may be redundant in a highly standardized, routinized environment (such as banking), where the performance-reward relationships are already very evident to staff (Awamleh).
EFFECTS OF THE TRANSFORMATIONAL METHOD – The consulted research showed a beneficial effect of the Transformational method of leadership on creative work. However, the effect tended to vary with the kind of people with whom the Transformational leader was working, i.e., the effect was significant when staff were “collectivists” (considered more like Asians), not “individualists” (Jung). In research on Japanese(Yokochi) and Chinese companies (Koh), Transformational leaders’ subordinates were rated more effective than those of Transactional leaders (Jung). The Transformational leader seems to have a kinship with an Empowering leadership style and tends to result in greater shared commitment and mutual values among staff.It was found to be the most effective method for use in a customer-service setting (hotels) (Clark).
The leader’s modus operandi
Demands immediate compliance
Mobilizes people toward a vision
Creates harmony and builds emotional bonds
Forges consensus through participation
Sets high standards for performance
Develops people for the future
The style in a phrase
“Do what I tell you.”
“Come with me.”
“People come first.”
“What do you think?”
“Do as I do, now.”
Underlying emotional intelligence competencies
Drive to achieve, initiative, self-control
Self-confidence, empathy, change catalyst
Empathy, building relationships, communication
Collaboration, team leadership, communication
Conscientious, drive to achieve, initiative
Developing others, empathy, self-awareness
When the style works best
In a crisis, to jump-start a turnaround, or to deal with problem employees
When changes require a new vision or where a clear direction is needed
To heal rifts in a team or to motivate people during stressful circumstances
To build buy-in or consensus or to get input from valuable employees; valuable when teamwork is essential
To get quick results from a highly motivated and competent team
To help employees improve performance or develop long-term strengths
Overall impact on climate
Most strongly positive
THE SIX LEADERSHIP STYLES
Based on Goleman (2000)
The leader’s modus operandi
Demands compliance with rules
Maximizes staff freedom, power, and decision-making authority
Clarifies relationship between quality/type of performance and receipt of rewards
Inspires with vision; high levels of communication; high commitment to self-observation and development
The style in a phrase
“Do it by the book.”
“Get it done.”
“What’s in it for you.”
“Do you see what I see?”
Underlying emotional intelligence competencies
When the style works best
To handle situations wherein staff or equipment safety, potential public hazard, or value of product are of uppermost concern
Most effective use is to amplify the benefits of the more relationship-oriented styles
When staff is highly skilled, self-motivated, trustworthy, and experienced
When staff are motivated by reward-based/contingent exchanges. Achieves results through setting goals and clarifying the link between performance and rewards and outcomes.
When the primary goals are to elevate staff’s performance to a higher level and to align staff’s and organizational goals and vision
Overall impact on climate
Most strongly negative
Positive or negative depending upon workforce
Positive or negative depending upon workforce
THE OTHER LEADERSHIP STYLES
Based on a variety of sources
CULTURE & LEADERSHIP
People of different cultures perceive and respond differently to the various attributes of leadership. The prevailing literature on the subject tends to characterize "leadership" in mostly North American terms, i.e., "based on assumptions of individualism as opposed to collectivism, rationality rather than ascetics, hedonistic rather than altruistic motivation, centrality of work, and democratic value orientation." (Ardichvili) Other than North American cultures have different assumptions. For example, one study (Elenkov) shows clear evidence that the American assumption that staff should participate in managerial decisions and that staff may negotiate with its leadership could not succeed in the Russian culture, where there is great emotional distance, large possession of power distinctions between leadership and staff, and a strong collective mentality. In the Russian culture, authoritarian leadership is the prevailingly successful type.
RECOMMENDED USE OF DIFFERENT STYLES OF LEADERSHIP
“New research suggests that the most effective executives use a collection of distinct leadership styles – each in the right measure, at just the right time. Such flexibility is tough to put into action, but it pays off in performance. And better yet, it can be learned.” Daniel Goleman, 2000
Chances are, one or two of the styles mentioned in this article tend to characterize your behavior. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of your personal style is a first and very important step in your development as a leader. Beyond that, most current thinking supports the development of flexibility in the use of styles of leadership, to enable you to handle a wide variety of situations and groups. Your ability to shift your style of leadership improves over a period of years, and your more mature experience enables you to recognize situations as they develop or to recognize when some diagnostic measures are in order to pinpoint needed change or redirection.
Goleman’s research suggests that the exceptional leader can master four or more styles of leadership and that mastery of the Democratic, Authoritative, Affiliative, and Coaching styles tends to bring about superior performance from a workforce and promote a healthy climate within the organization. The healthier the climate, according to the research Goleman reported, the better the financial results. There is a measurable effect of climate on profitability.
The bottom-line message from this work is that leaders need to be able to alter their style, despite the fact that doing so may be very difficult for the reasons given by Michael Fullan: “Pacesetters and coercers are terrible listeners. Affiliative and democratic leaders listen too much. This is why leadership is complicated. It requires combining elements that do not comfortably go together” (Korkmaz) It is also apparent that you may not only need to alter your style but also your methods and develop the ability to use both what is inherent in the Transactional and the Transformational methods, depending upon the nature of your workforce in a given location. You also need to know the preferred methods and styles of potential leaders whom you intend to place in new situations, to enable you to “get the right people into the right seats” and assess their effects once they are in place. None of this is easy, but the knowledge you need is now available and worth learning.
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