June 19, 2024

Styles Of Leadership

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Why Traditional Leadership Styles May Become Irrelevant With The Rise Of The Coaching Leadership Style

5 min read

Regardless of your career field, you’ve likely been in an interview (or conducted one yourself) in which the question of management or leadership style is posed: What is your preferred leadership style? Or, you may currently have the opportunity of becoming a leader yourself, which requires some self-reflection about the kind of leadership style you’d like to adapt.

Because leading an entire team can be challenging, there have been countless studies done to explore different and evolving approaches to management. The most classic example of a leadership style, for instance, is the transactional one: the leader sets goals, his or her team meets them, and employees are rewarded for their follow-through. This is a simple, clear-cut system that can motivate certain professionals, but unfortunately, transactional leadership doesn’t allow for much innovation. Transactional leadership keeps employees working, but doesn’t empower people to become leaders themselves.

Other Kinds of Leadership Styles

Let’s start with the least popular leadership style: the authoritarian leader. Of course, the word “authoritarian” doesn’t come with many positive associations, and as a management style, it’s pretty self-explanatory. The manager here is the most knowledgeable one on the team, and as such, will define the expectations and outcomes with little input from the team. Sometimes, this approach can be effective, mainly in time-sensitive and urgent projects when employees just need someone to tell them quickly how to get the job done. However, implementing this strategy for the long run, or adapting this as your permanent style, is ill-advised. Authoritarian leadership is the best way to eliminate any chance of creativity and collaboration. Most importantly, it’s one of the biggest factors of high turnover rates.

Another not-so-effective style is delegative leadership, also known as the “laissez-faire” approach. For many leaders and managers, adopting this style is highly tempting, as it demonstrates to the team that you can be hands-off, relaxed, and amenable. Like other styles, delegative leadership has its own benefits. Innovation, creativity, and collaboration are encouraged and valued; and it empowers team members to feel autonomous in making their own decisions. However, this style also relies on the assumption that your entire team is highly competent, skilled, experienced, and knowledgeable. And, because every professional is unique, it could lead to disagreements, and ultimately low morale, among team members. When the leader is “hands-off,” it can be difficult to define boundaries and responsibility.

Participative leadership, on the other hand, has become increasingly popular due to its basis in democratic theory. In essence, the leader is clearly defined as being the ultimate authority, but team members are highly involved and engaged in the decision-making process. As you can imagine, a participative approach is great for building and maintaining a creative team of people who feel seen, heard, and valued. As such, this can help boost morale and motivation. As with the other styles, however, it has its pitfalls. Because everyone’s input is taken into consideration, decision-making can take a lot of valuable time. Additionally, you should be realistic about who you are relying on to come up with solutions, and whether or not their skill sets meet the project’s needs. Communication can start to break down, and the question of transparency will almost always arise with this approach. In short, things can get messy.

Transformational leaders, like participative leaders, work to inspire their team by engaging in the critical thinking skills of their staff and take it one step further by seeking to satisfy the needs of their workers. This style of management is very much vision-based, which is beneficial for implementing the bigger picture of the corporate vision. What’s attractive about this style is that it’s not coercive, and relies heavily on healthy work relationships. This can also lead to lower turnover rates, but a lot of work must be done on the part of the manager to keep up consistent feedback and motivation. And, because this style is transformational, you need to be willing to deviate from important protocols that may have been rigid in the past.

There’s no use in looking for the “perfect” leadership style. No one is perfect, and that means any strategy can have its own disadvantages depending on the situation. As a leader, you can combine any of the strategies defined above. Or, you might consider a kind of leadership style that is becoming increasingly popular and utilized: coaching leadership. Ultimately, most traditional leadership styles do not allow for employee growth, which is key in building a strong team and keeping employee turnover rates low. 

Coaching Leadership: Attributes and Benefits

The Coaching Leadership Style (CLS) is closest to the transformational leadership style in that it strives to help employees grow within a team and develop personally and professionally, all while having a shared goal, or vision, in mind. The easiest way to understand CLS is to think of an actual sports coach: they have the commanding whistle, but they are extremely focused on making their players better and stronger.

This leadership theory “supports and challenges colleagues,” thereby prioritizing personal and professional goals of the individual team member. In this approach, managers should be genuinely invested in the growth of their employees, and employees should be genuinely invested in the feedback they receive. It’s truly a give-and-take relationship in which everyone is communicating effectively and is committed to true partnership.

CLS engages in 360-degree feedback, in which both the managers and the team members are open and receptive to feedback. This makes teams much less hierarchical (“I say, you do”), and allows for both employee and leadership growth. In other words, all staff, and not just those deemed subordinate, are subject to constructive critique.

With coaching leadership, micro-management is highly discouraged. CLS leaders enable their colleagues to act upon the unique and valuable skill sets they each bring to the team, allowing for more innovative and creative solutions to be explored. That means that, rather than the top-down approach of autocratic leadership, managers are interested in bringing out the best in their teams. 

That also means that CLS leaders should be highly aware. As a leader, how well do you know the individual players on your team? How well do you know each person’s strengths and weaknesses? How well do you know their goals? To become a coaching leader, one should invest in their colleagues in this way; observe the team first in a non-judgmental way so that you know how to coach them when it comes time to provide feedback. Likewise, leaders should know themselves, taking time to reflect on their professional and personal goals for development and taking stock of their own strengths and weaknesses. 

The important takeaway is that CLS is particularly beneficial for today’s workplace, with more modern structures in place: remote working, varied and empathetic work hours, and hot-desking (where workers don’t have just one assigned space and may use whichever space is available). With increasingly more flexible work cultures and the future of work changing, the more traditional leadership styles have not only become outdated, but ineffective. Coaching leadership is a method that facilitates change, keeping up with, and maintaining, the fertile work environments we now see today.


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