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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Leadership Styles

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #104
"The Level 5 leader is described as possessing both indomitable will, but also humility and is often self-effacing and shy, the opposite of what we might have previously described as leadership traits!"

- Good to Great by Collins

Back in the 70s, everyone seemed to write about different leadership styles. I was intrigued by the thought that a person could be labeled with a leadership style aligned with their personality, values, and method of operation. After a short-lived passion surrounding becoming a transformational leader, I let go of the notion that a leader must be identified and slotted into a particular leadership style.

Recently I've been engaged in several conversations about leadership styles again. Then I read Liz Hilton Segel's article in the McKinsey & Company newsletter, Leading Off, which explored theories of solid leadership. This invoked me to look further into the subject, so I read a piece called, What is Leadership? In Issue# 101 of Leadership Thoughts, I shared my thoughts about learning that could be segmented into three parts: learning, re-learning, and extended learning. This time, we'll look back at leadership styles (for re-learning) and explore further (extended learning).

What is a leadership style?

Based on my study, a leadership style characterizes a person's traits, techniques, and actions that involve leading. A leader's preferred style affects the organization and how they create and execute strategies.

Why is knowing your leadership style important?

Being aware of your dominant leadership style can assist you in understanding your behavior and ideas. This understanding can help you avoid conduct that may be detrimental to achieving your vision.

How many leadership styles are there?

In 1939, the leadership scholar Kurt Lewin first identified three leadership styles: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire.

Over the past decades, the list has grown in size. We have more than a dozen leadership styles, such as transformational, pacesetting, coaching, affiliative, delegation, strategic, transactional, bureaucratic, visionary, contingent, participative, directing, situational, charismatic, and servant. I will reframe from describing these styles; instead, I invite you to extend your learning by defining each style.

What is the difference between leadership traits and styles?

For centuries it was thought that only those with innate characteristics could be leaders. Bravery, vigor, honor, and intellect were thought to be the sole traits of successful leaders. But research showed that leaders are determined by their characteristics and how they act and interact in certain situations. Successful leaders must have a combination of traits, behaviors, and context to be effective.

A theoretical framework.

Many people assume that a leader only has one leadership style, but that's not true. Leaders must be able to use different styles to fit different situations. Leaders must also analyze other theoretical frameworks and evaluate what works best. You can learn to apply and combine different styles by studying them and reflecting on your experiences.

If leaders wish to be successful, they must be self-aware of the impact of their leadership on others and their ability to accept feedback so they can adapt to situations. To switch between the various leadership styles, one must first understand the natural predispositions and biases that make them default to one style. It is valuable for leaders to develop different leadership styles further and combine them into their theory of leadership.


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