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What’s your leadership style?

How to be your best as a leader to help your employees grow

5-minute read

Effective leadership is one of the most important skills an entrepreneur can bring to a business—and it starts with knowing what kind of leader you are.

“Fifty years ago, people basically thought leadership was just one thing—that there was one way to do it,” says BDC Senior Business Advisor Jivi Cheema. “Today we know there are all kinds of different leaders and different ways to lead, all with their own strengths and weaknesses.”

In fact, as many as 50 different leadership styles have been identified—though these can be grouped broadly into five major types:

  1. Transformational
  2. Laissez-faire
  3. Participatory
  4. Transactional
  5. Autocratic

Determining which best describes you can help you fine-tune your approach and get the most out of your team.

Where do you fit?

Big vision: The transformational leadership style

Transformational leaders often have grand ideas and plans. The sky’s the limit in their world, and change is constant. They want to support a creative environment and don’t have a lot of boundaries. As a result, they expect their teams to bring a high level of critical thinking to their work—and a high degree of accountability.

  • Teams are empowered and often feel more job satisfaction as a result.
  • Under transformational leaders, organizations often show high ingenuity and innovation.
  • There is less pressure on the leader because decision-making and accountability are shared throughout the organization.
  • Transformational leaders can sometimes get lost in their vision: They’re not always strong on execution.
  • Teams can find it hard to translate the vision into action: They can struggle with execution as well.

“It’s all good”: The laissez-faire leadership style

Like their transformational counterparts, laissez-faire leaders don’t impose a lot of discipline or structure on their organizations. They let team members work out their own processes and approaches—entrusting them with a high degree of autonomy.

  • Employees are free to work in ways that suit them best as long as they get the job done.
  • Team members have the opportunity to grow by bringing forward and spearheading their own ideas and projects.
  • Structures, plans, objectives and performance indicators are usually undefined, making it hard to measure success and leaving team members unsure of how they’re performing.
  • Team members need to be highly self-motivated: If they aren’t, key initiatives can be at risk of failure.

All for one and one for all: The participatory leadership style

Participatory leaders work by consensus, seeking input from all team members before moving forward.

  • Some teams—especially in science and research and development organizations—strongly appreciate having a say in the direction of the company and their work.
  • Coming to consensus often takes time: It can be hard to make decisions quickly, limiting the agility of the business.

Think about what might happen if you did something different. It’s not about radically changing who you are, but trying on a different style that can get you different results.

Results first: The transactional leadership style

As the name suggests, transactional leaders see the manager/employee relationship in transactional terms: Workers are paid to do the tasks they’re assigned. This was historically the most common type of leadership but, over the years, the value of building constructive relationships has led to other approaches.

  • This type of leadership is very clear, so team members always know exactly what’s expected of them and how well they’re performing.
  • Team members have little room for personal growth or for making suggestions, which can dampen morale and motivation.
  • Leaders face higher pressure, as they are responsible for all thinking and decision-making

“My way or the highway”: The autocratic leadership style

Cheema cautions that of all the possible leadership styles, this one is the least constructive. Autocratic leaders issue explicit directives and are not interested in input or feedback from their teams. Employees are expected to do as they’re told and not question direction.

  • This type of leadership can be highly effective in the right circumstances—usually situations where precision and uniformity are non-negotiable and independent thought is undesirable, such as in military organizations.
  • Autocratic leadership can be extremely demotivating for team members.
  • Very few businesses thrive under this style of leadership over the long term.

You don’t have to be just one kind of leader

While every leader has an overall style that likely fits the types described above, few people are one way only, all the time. Cheema says that once leaders know their primary style, they can experiment with using other ones at different times to get specific results.

When you understand the different leadership styles and their effects, you can make strategic choices about which to apply when.

“I like to nudge people just beyond the edges of their comfort zones,” she says. “I ask them what they’re doing, and what that’s getting them. And then, think about what might happen if you did something different. It’s not about radically changing who you are, but trying on a different style that can get you different results.”

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