6 Leadership Styles

George Litwin and Robert Stringer of Harvard Business School studied the behavior of managers as leaders in various settings. They concluded that managers exhibit a variety of patterned behaviors that can be described generally by one or more of 6 fundamental managerial styles.

According to what I've read, managers often mistakenly assume that leadership style is a function of their personality rather than a strategic choice. As a result, they choose one style that suits their temperament when instead they should select a style that best addresses the demands of a particular situation. Of course, this is much easier said than done.

The research goes on to show that the most successful leaders have strengths in several emotional intelligence competencies including self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. Furthermore, there are six basic styles of leadership with each making use of the key components of emotional intelligence in different combinations. Finally, the best leaders are familiar with not just one style of leadership, but rather they make use of several and have the flexibility to switch between styles as the circumstances dictate.

Why is leadership style important? Because it directly impacts the organizational climate which in turn accounts for nearly a third of financial performance. That's a large enough percentage that it warrants becoming familiar with the styles that Litwin and Stringer identified. Here they are:

The Coercive Style

From my experience in the corporate world, this is the most common style. It is the “do what I tell you to do” technique that many people rely on because it seems easy. It's also the style that junior managers or those that are frustrated will fall back on. The unfortunate result is that in most situations, coercive leadership inhibits the organization's flexibility and dampens employee's motivation. I would argue that this is a good technique for leaders and managers to use with junior personnel who simply don't have the knowledge to make informed decisions.

The Authoritative Style

I don't like the name of this style. The term has negative connotations for me and yet it is a style that is effective in many situations. An authoritative leader uses the “come with me” approach by stating the overall goal, but giving people the freedom to choose their own means of achieving it. This style works especially well when a business is adrift. It is less effective when the leader is working with a team of experts who are more experienced than he is. As my familiarity in a particular area or with a particular business unit increases, I believe I respond well to this form of management.

The Affiliative Style

I'm not too familiar with the pure affiliative style of leading and managing, but I have seen the negatives that such a technique can have. This style believes that “people come first” and is particularly useful for building team harmony or increasing morale. The negative? Its exclusive focus on praise can allow poor performance to go uncorrected. I don't know about you, but having a happy-go-lucky manager who doesn't cut people that aren't pulling their weight doesn't make want to work particularly hard.

The Democratic Style

According to the research, this style's impact on organizational climate is not as high as most people might imagine. There's no question that by giving workers a voice in decisions, democratic leaders build organizational flexibility and responsibility and help generate fresh ideas. The downside is that such a style can lead to endless meetings and confused employees who feel leaderless. I think a lot of managers use this style exclusively when they first start out as they fail to realize that they're not employed to be everyone's friend, but rather to move the business forward.

The Pacesetting Style

On paper the pacesetting style sounds quite exhilarating (to me anyway) since the leader who sets high performance standards and exemplifies them himself has a very positive impact on employees who are self-motivated and highly competent. The problem is that many employees who are just at work because they need to pay their rent tend to feel overwhelmed by such a leader's demands for excellence–and to resent his tendency to take over a situation. I think this style shouldn't be confused with the “just do it” attitude that some managers exhibit without providing any direction, resources, or time.

The Coaching Style

This last style focuses more on personal development than on immediate work-related tasks. It works well when employees are already aware of their weaknesses and want to improve, but not when they are resistant to changing their ways. I'd hazard a guess and say that this style will only be effective with a small percentage of people on any given team.

The good news is that the research indicates the flexibility to switch between different styles can be learned. So what style do you use? What style does your manager use?

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  1. Personally, I like the coaching style best. Define goals for your employees and coach them to get there. This works pretty well. I get done what I want to get done and the employee gets a feeling of success. A classicla win win.

  2. I'm not sure Litwin and Stringer did identify these styles. These are taken straight out of Golemans seminal work on Emotional Intelligence...

    • It's the other way around L & S did their work in the '60s. Goleman is following their work.

  3. Interesting article. Could you please cite your research? You refer to "according to research" but I don't see where you're cited it and I'd like to check on that research. Some of the ideas here are provocative and I wonder about their source...


  4. While this summary is accurate, Hay Group has refined the notion of Leadership Styles and you can purchase proprietary leadership style and emotional intelligence assessment tools from them.

  5. Can you give me an idea of how much it is to buy the assessment material

  6. I would like to take and possibly purchase some leadership assessment forms relating to the (6) styles outlined.

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