Different Leadership Styles and How to Use Them as a Manager
As a manager, one of the most critical components of your work is leadership, as it directly impacts the productivity and morale of your team. Although they overlap in the workplace, management and leadership are actually two distinct concepts, serving different purposes and involving different skill sets.
While management primarily involves the planning, organisation, distribution, and monitoring of resources towards a certain quantifiable objective (including human effort), leadership refers to the capacity of an individual to motivate, inspire, and guide others towards a shared vision or goal, through communication, emotional intelligence, adaptability, and the ability to instil trust in others.
Good managers are not, therefore, automatically good business leaders. An effective leadership methodology cultivates strong connections between you, as the leader, and your teammates, as well as between colleagues within your team.
It is essential to understand the unique needs, skills, and personal strengths of each team member in order to create a thriving and successful work environment, as well as how your own characteristics and skillset intersect with those of your team.
Speaking A Common Language – The Importance Of Clear Communication In Business Leadership
Business leadership rests on unspoken ideas of consent and mutual understanding. When managers and team members communicate using a shared language and within a framework of respect and mutual support, the risk of misunderstandings, micromanagement, and frustration reduces significantly. To establish these shared points of reference, managers must consider their team's diverse backgrounds, cultures, and preferred communication styles.
These workplace communication styles are often grouped under five broad categories – although it must be emphasised that individuals can exhibit multiple communication styles depending on the circumstances and context. For example, a usually measured and assertive person can come across as aggressive when under pressure, while in a supportive environment a passive-aggressive individual can learn to express their feelings and ideas in a more collaborative way:
The assertive communication style is one where individuals are confident in expressing their thoughts and feelings while also respecting others. It is often seen as the ideal communication style as it allows individuals to be honest and direct while also being empathetic towards others.
Individuals with a passive communication style tend to avoid conflict and have difficulty speaking up for themselves. They may have a fear of offending or upsetting others, so they do not express their opinions or feelings openly. This style can lead to misunderstandings and frustration, especially if team members are relying on passive communicators to voice their opinions or concerns.
Colleagues with this style tend to be forceful and confrontational in their approach. They may use tactics like intimidation or threats to get what they want. This style of communication can be effective in some situations, but it is generally seen as negative and unproductive.
People with a passive-aggressive communication style will indirectly express their thoughts and feelings. They may make sarcastic or self-deprecating comments to get their point across. While this style can be less confrontational than aggressive communication, it can still be harmful to effective communication as it can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
The collaborative communication style is one where individuals work together to reach a mutual understanding. Each person expresses their thoughts and feelings, and the group works together to find a solution that benefits everyone. This style is beneficial in a team environment as it helps everyone feel included and valued.
Armed with the knowledge of how team members are likely to engage with certain challenges and experiences based on their communication style, leaders should establish a bespoke management framework to bring out the best in each colleague while minimising the risk of conflict and friction.
From a leadership perspective, this often involves adapting different styles of leadership in response to emerging challenges and to meet the diverse needs of the team, moving beyond the top-down, hierarchical ‘management’ dynamic traditionally used in many organisations.
A Situational Approach to Leadership
One of the most effective leadership models used by modern businesses is SLII, which is a framework designed to enable managers to consciously adapt their leadership style according to their current team objectives and situation.
SLII is a highly effective approach in which managers assess the developmental level of employees and pair it with the appropriate leadership style or behaviour to help them succeed, blending both traditional and service-based models of leadership.
‘Developmental level’ is quantified into four broad categories in SLII, based on the competence of the employee and their level of commitment or motivation. This takes the guesswork out of leadership and makes it easier for leaders to pair the appropriate approach to the right situation.
D1: Enthusiastic Beginner – Low competence and high commitment.
D2: Disillusioned Learner – Low to some competence and low commitment.
D3: Capable But Cautious Contributor – Moderate to high competence and variable commitment.
D4: Self-Reliant Achiever – High competence and high commitment.
The goal of the SLII system is to develop employees from D1 to D4 (at which time they are considered a fully developed team member, working at full productivity and motivation), through a combination of supportive and directive leadership behaviours.
These behaviours are categorised into four leadership styles within the SLII model:
Directive behaviour: high
Supportive behaviour: low
The leader is required to give clear and authoritative instructions and guidance to team members, and the employees are expected to follow them closely. This leadership style is essential during times of crisis when a rapid decision needs to be made and is commonly deployed by team captains during professional sports games. As a developmental strategy, directing is also used to develop D1 and D2 trainees into D3 contributing team members.
Directive behaviour: high
Supportive behaviour: high
In the coaching leadership style, the focus is on the intensive development of team members into independent functioning members of the unit, combining direct management with supportive training to empower the employee to undertake tasks on their own initiative. The manager works closely with individual colleagues to help them grow, develop their skills, overcome low motivation/commitment, and blossom into their roles. All team members require coaching at different times, and this type of leadership style works well when team members are facing a new challenge or when an individual is taking on a new skill or challenge. As part of a developmental programme, coaching also aims to progress D2 learners into more independent D3 colleagues.
Directive behaviour: low
Supportive behaviour: high
Once a team member has reached the D3 developmental level, they should be competent and confident enough in their own role to undertake most tasks with minimal direct supervision. However, as their motivation/commitment is variable and their competence in some areas may need improving, a high level of supportive and nurturing behaviour is usually needed by the leader. The supporting style centres on developing strong interpersonal relationships with direct reports, in order to create a positive work environment in which diverse skills, viewpoints, and ideas are allowed to emerge and thrive. This helps the colleague take ownership of their role and contribute actively and productively to the direction of the team. Successful leadership at this stage should, in developmental terms, cultivate D3 employees over time into fully developed D4 professional members of the team.
Directive behaviour: low
Supportive behaviour: low
The delegating leadership style involves giving the team greater autonomy and creative freedom at an individual and group level, empowering them to make decisions and complete tasks independently within their area of competence and authority, with minimal directive or supportive intervention. For this leadership strategy to succeed, the leader must be confident that the team members have the appropriate level of competence and commitment to take ownership and accountability, so the style works best when colleagues are already highly skilled, self-motivated, and equipped with the knowledge and confidence to provide valuable insights into collective projects. Delegation allows a more collaborative and participative approach to leadership in which highly skilled team members play an active role in shaping the development of the wider team – although it should be noted that D4 colleagues also require supporting, coaching, and directing behaviours at times, and a completely hands-off approach may be detrimental to the colleague’s level of commitment and competence.
Unlocking Team Creativity
By using SLII, managers can accelerate development and unlock the full creative potential of their team, quickly transforming eager novices into competent contributors, and establishing a thriving and successful work environment.
Creative teams are better able to adapt to a fast-paced business environment due to their ability to be innovative and differentiate themselves. For this to happen, creativity must be deliberately nurtured at every level of decision-making, and this process starts with the leader.
Leaders should be able to intuitively recognise the talents of each employee and figure out how to spark their creativity, experimenting with different ways of working to encourage a more forward-looking culture. Here, candid, and transparent feedback from the leader to the team member plays a key role in unlocking creativity. Leaders should be generous with feedback and recognise outstanding work to keep morale and commitment high.
Retaining And Developing Talent Within Teams
Retaining top performers in a team is critical for the long-term success and growth of both the team and the wider organisation. Leaders who adapt their management style to suit their team members are better placed to sustain and support morale, commitment, and engagement among their direct reports long-term, leading to more stable teams. By strategically cultivating a work environment that suits the employee's personality types and aspirations, the organisation reduces turnover and significantly boosts growth.
A Bespoke Approach To Management Development And Leadership
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership that suits all businesses and situations, with the right support, training, and development, managers can combine, adapt, and blend different styles to tackle the demands of the moment. By utilising the SLII framework, each leader can develop a unique and personalised approach to management that suits their business objectives and the skill profile of their team.
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