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6 Leadership Styles that Get Results

A March 2000 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article revealed the 6 leadership styles that get results. 18 years later, the article remains as a relevant as ever (it is one of HBR’s Top 50 Best Selling articles).

Leadership Styles that Get ResultsDaniel Goleman, best-selling author of Emotional Intelligence, published a groundbreaking article in the March 2000 issue of the Harvard Business Review. He cited research by the consulting firm Hay/McBer which identified 6 distinct leadership styles. The key finding from the study was that leaders with the best results do not rely on only one leadership style. With astonishing clarity, Daniel provided an overview of each style, the impact the research revealed each style has on the work environment, and practical tips on when to use each style. His seminal work provided a leadership framework for Generation X and Y leaders, and I contend it remains one of the most powerful articles on leadership ever written. If a leader’s job is to get results, then having the ability to seamlessly utilize the styles as appropriate is a critical skill for every leader. Here is a brief overview of the 6 styles:

The Coercive Style

People who use this style use an extreme top down decision making approach and often demand immediate compliance. Of the 6 leadership styles, the research revealed this style is the least effective in most situations because of its impact on the work environment.

When to Use It: As ineffective as it is, there are just a few instances where it is appropriate to use. The author cites genuine emergencies or when a hostile takeover is looming as rare occasions to deploy the style. Even then, it should be used with extreme caution. Otherwise it should be avoided.

The Authoritative Style

This style is the most effective of all six. The authoritative leader is extremely adept at stating a vision, identifying the standards that reinforce the vision, and providing performance feedback to move the organization towards the vision.

When to Use It: The style works in almost every situation, and it is particularly effective when the business is directionless.

The Affiliative Style

You can spot leaders who demonstrate this style because their motto is “people come first”. This leader’s focus is on building strong relationships and keeping employees happy.

When to Use It: If you need to build a team, increase morale, improve communication, or repair broken trust, this style is the one to use.

The Democratic Style

People who use this style seek to acquire the input of their employees. By doing so, effective democratic leaders are able to build and maintain trust, develop high levels of morale, and create respectful work environments.

When to Use It: This approach is most effective when the leader is unsure of the direction to take. Seeking employee input and guidance can be very empowering and increase loyalty and employee engagement.

The Pacesetting Style

In most cases, this leadership style should be avoided because it creates a very negative work environment. People who use this style set extremely high performance standards, tend to obsess over details, and focus exclusively on tasks with little interest on the human side of work.

When to Use It: If the team is highly skilled and full of self-motivated team members, this style can be effective. As the author points out, this style should always be used in combination with other styles.

The Coaching Style

Despite being a highly effective leadership style, it is woefully underutilized. The main reason – leaders complain they do not have time to coach. When it is used and used correctly, this approach yields great results because it helps develop the employee while establishing a strong bond between manager and employee.

When to Use It: It’s most effective when the person being coached wants to be coached and wants to grow their skills and abilities.

The results of the Hay/McBer study clearly show leaders who master at least 4 of the styles – particularly the authoritative, democratic, affiliative, and coaching styles – create the very best work environment and business performance. Leaders who master 4 or more of the styles outperform annual targets by 15% – 20%, so it’s clear organizations that invest in leadership development will reap the rewards.

To obtain a free copy of the article, go to the Harvard Business Review to register and the click here to download it.

The Floor is Yours

What other articles on leadership have you found to be the best you’ve ever read? Please share your feedback in the comments below.

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