Volumes have been written on leadership. Some sources discuss whether leaders are born or made, some are written about how to become leaders, and still other sources write about what constitutes good leadership. Good leadership is required in all aspects of our lives, business, community and family. Just as everyone has a different communication and behavioral style, we also have different leadership styles. In fact, while conducting research for this article I found several styles. There were the four basic styles that everyone learns about in school, autocratic, laissez-faire, bureaucratic and democratic. In addition to these, I found information on 18 other leadership styles! No wonder leadership is often thought of as an enigma. Just as it is important to understand your behavioral and communication style, it is important to understand your leadership style. Amazingly, enough, these styles are the same. Using the DISC assessment as a guideline, these styles would translate like this:
D = Dominance = Commanding leadership style
I = Influence = Inspirational leadership style
S = Steadiness = Support leadership style
C = Compliance = Logical leadership style
However, just as we are all a combination of behavioral and communication styles, we have a combination of leadership styles as well. To complicate matters even further, there are many other influences on our leadership styles. While it is important not to over generalize, men and women may exhibit different styles of leadership. Men tend to be more direct and commanding, while women leaders gravitate more to a communal style of leadership. Educational levels can affect leadership styles as well. Studies show that female MBA students will drift from their communal style to a male model of leadership while in school. Ethnicity plays a role as well at least in female leaders. Female leaders from Asia, Hispanic countries and Native Americans tend toward a more docile leadership style; a few other ethnicities are more assertive and aggressive. Finally, the era in which one grows up in will have an affect on leadership style. Leaders, who grew up in the Depression and World War II, tend toward a more direct or male model leadership style. Those from the 1960s, the Vietnam and civil rights eras, may lean more toward an equality type of leadership style. Those from the 1990s might embrace more alternative styles of leadership and as seen above, they certainly have plenty of styles from which to choose.
Just as different styles of leadership have been identified over the years, so have leadership models. In the 1900s, the focus was on leaders who accomplished greatness, like Asa G. Candler, Henry Ford, or John D. Rockefeller. In the 1950s, the focus was on visionary leadership such as that possessed by John Paul Getty, Lillian M. Vernon, or Armand Hammer. In the 2000s, the focus has been on strategic leadership. The reason for this focus is our rapidly changing world.
The dilemma is knowing which leadership style to use when. One size does not fit all, as different situations require different styles of leadership. This is more apparent in times of change than at any other time. Every organization, just like an organism, goes through change. Indeed organizations that are not willing to change will die. Therefore, leaders need to be open-minded, flexible and adaptable. This may be a challenge for some behavioral and leadership styles. In addition to understanding their own style, it is also important for a leader to understand others’ styles and how they react to different leadership models and different change methodologies. This is not to say that every staff member’s needs are catered to or met. However, it will help in communicating the change. Communication is critical in times of change. This can be like walking a tight rope as change is a process and each stage of the process requires a different leadership style. While we do possess a combination of leadership styles, it is far too much for one individual to be expected to meet every nuance of the change process with his or her leadership styles. The good news is that there are change models to follow that will keep leaders on track. However, there is no model for radical change.
Therefore, the type of change and the size of the organization will help dictate what route to take and what leadership style is necessary for a successful change process. A company going through radical change that may have been initiated by the commanding leader will require an inspirational leader to help guide the change process. This helps explain why a diverse executive or leadership team is essential to an organization’s growth. It is easy to see that while we need different personality styles, we also need different leadership styles on executive teams. The organization will not only gain different perspectives, but also have an arsenal of skills and talent at the ready to address change at every step and lead the organization through a successful change process.