When we think of great leaders, sometimes we can imagine that they were just born to the task and inspire people to line up behind them. Take Michael Jordan, for example. Many people who knew Jordan during his basketball career thought of him as, “a leader that inspired his people to push forward when faced with obstacles.” However, Jason Zhu from Centre for Leadership Advantage (CLA) also notes, “it would seem that the same traits that led him to become a transformational leader also derailed his path to truly embody best leadership practices, and his teammates were worse off for it.” Some leadership styles are effective and others are not. Some thrive under the pressure of a demanding boss, others require someone who knows when to give praise where praise is due. No matter what your leadership style is, you have a unique superpower to bring to the professional world and if you are looking to hone and develop that superpower you should speak to your professional coach. For now, let’s look at three leadership styles and how they might be your superpower.
Psychologist Kurt Lewin and a full team of researchers defined three distinct leadership styles in 1939. A lot was going on in the world in 1939: “Germany and the Soviet Union attacked Poland and Britain, France, India, Australia and New Zealand declared war on Germany on September 3, the United States decided to remain neutral but did begin rearming for war, which helped end the great depression.” People were looking for leaders more than ever, and perhaps that’s why Lewin’s research into leaderships styles still helps to define us today. Those three styles are authoritarian, democratic, or laissez-faire.
Large and In Charge!
Authoritarian leaders are autocratic, meaning he or she “understands the strength of authority. Autocratic leaders are not interested in opening up the decision-making process to the entire group. Instead, they choose to bear the leadership completely alone. They expect those who fall under their authority to follow orders.” Examples of authoritarian leaders range from Adolf Hitler to Queen Elizabeth I as well as Martha Stewart and Elon Musk. There are ranges between dictators in business and those who have the tenacity and drive to simply get things done. The benefits of an authoritarian leadership style lie in the “streamlined work that improves efficiency and productivity. They create firm deadlines and have a very clear set of expectations. This is ideal in a time of crisis or when last-minute decisions are needed. This leadership style allows for fewer misunderstandings as directions are passed down.” If you have this superpower your ability to provide structure for your subordinates is vital. However, with such a rigid outlook you might find it difficult to inspire loyalty in any workers unwilling to be simple sheep. A business environment should be a balance between firm structure and fresh, new ideas so you might want to remember to be empathetic and listen to your employees when they introduce a new perspective.
Firm Yet Fair!
A democratic leadership style is almost the exact opposite of an autocratic leadership style. In the original Lewin research, a democratic leader was defined by those leaders who ruled by majority decision and found these leaders produced the most ideas in both quantity and creativity. Democratic leadership produces higher employee satisfaction and therefore lowers the percentage of employee turnover. Famously, General Dwight Eisenhower and Nelson Mandela both had democratic leadership styles. Starting Business compares a democratic leadership style to jazz music, recognizing how when all the “instruments” work together it creates a creative and enjoyable experience for all. If you have this superpower you inspire great loyalty and dynamic employee relationships as you challenge and embolden your subordinates. Teamwork is highly valued in your ideal workplace and the team you’ve curated works hard for the good of the team. However, sometimes you or your team might struggle to make decisions since the majority rule isn’t always so simple. As VeryWellMind says, “Democratic leadership works best in situations where group members are skilled and eager to share their knowledge. It is also important to have plenty of time to allow people to contribute, develop a plan, then vote on the best course of action. Because so many people are involved, setting deadlines can ensure that you get everyone’s input in enough time to act on it. Providing expectations upfront can be helpful as well, making it clear when the group’s input will be sought and which decisions management will make on its own.”
Finally, we have the laissez-faire leadership style, also called the delegative leadership style. These leaders largely leave the work to the employees with very little to no instruction. This can sound like the opposite of a superpower, especially as it often leads to undisciplined and unmotivated employees. However, with a curated team of experts, a laissez-faire leadership style allows those experts to function autonomously towards the greater goals of the team. For example, Herbert Hoover and Queen Victoria trusted their workers so much that they were able to take a step back when necessary and yet be certain that the important work would carry on. However, “some employees thrive off having a less structured work environment, others may feel like they need more guidance. As a delegative leader, you still need to be mindful of what support and resources your team members need. Unless you find a team of determined and focused individuals, laissez-faire leadership can lead to less productivity and personal responsibility.” If a laissez-faire leadership style is your superpower, remember that you need to have the wisdom to know when to step back and when to step up.
Back to Michael Jordan, the CLA concludes, “Jordan’s leadership style did eventually lead his team to the ultimate success in his field. But did it justify the way he treated his teammates? In other words, does your end justify the means, or is the means by which you achieve your end the priority?” Your leadership style is important to tailor to your job, professional aspirations, and even your employees. Remember that your superpower is unique to you and that taking the time to discover what it is can benefit you professionally for years to come.