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6 Leadership Styles and How To Choose Yours

Originally published
Originally published: 3/1/2012

Today's teams need diverse leadership to be effective.

All leaders must understand this simple truth: Style does matter. It's not about matching your belt to your shoes, or accessorizing appropriately for the occasion, but rather — understanding the way you go about leading.

The complexity of the marketplace has prompted the importance of knowing your leadership style and discerning the style that a team will respond to. The distinctions of leadership styles could be endless; however, the following six styles are most prominent today.


This is leadership by an infusion of energy. It could encompass a wide swath of personalities, but the common ingredient is that the energy ushered in by the leader is closely connected to the leader himself. Once Elvis leaves the building, so does some of that infectious energy!

Over the years, this style has been both praised and panned, but any study of leadership must recognize that there is value to those who bring energy to an organization through their sheer presence. The downside of this leadership is the reality that some teams don't need to speed things up, but rather, slow things down. The charismatic leader is an excellent vision-caster and can elicit a loyal and passionate following. Where this style often falls short is in the attention to details.


This is leadership by displaying both knowledge and skill. This style is highly valued in cultures where competence commands top dollar in the marketplace. It is leading by simply being the best producer of what your organization produces. These leaders have an impeccable reputation and set the bar for the standard of work quality.

But this style has limits. Some of these leaders can in time be a little like the "Wizard of Oz," hiding behind the curtain, pulling strings, leaving everyone to wonder "how does he do it?" Therefore, it's a style that is hard to replicate and disseminate throughout the organization. Nobody can argue with the value quality plays in any industry. Keep in mind there is a distinction between leading the best, and being the best.


This is leadership by connecting the dots. This style is embodied in people who tend to be global and conceptual thinkers. They not only see the end destination, but they know the path to get there must be identified and paved. Tragically, these leaders can become easily disenchanted because not only can they see what could be, they can see what is not. They can grow impatient if progress is not happening as quickly as they want.

Team Builder

Here, leadership is by roles and unity. This style recognizes that you can't just assemble any group of people and claim you have a team. These leaders look at people individually and find individual roles for them to fill. At the same time, they align these individuals into a cohesive whole.


This is leadership by systems. This style focuses on doing things right. Processes and systems are designed and adhered to so that current operations function consistently. Though some would argue that managers are not leaders, effective managers can have a profound influence on those who surround them. In fact, they have the capacity to lead a culture that prizes management, even at the expense of effectiveness.


Here we have leadership by control. This style was highly valued during the Industrial Revolution. In recent years, it has lost favor. However, organizations in crisis often need a directive leader to bring order out of chaos, so there is still a need for them.

The most important thing to understand when examining the concept of leadership styles is to recognize that there are circumstances where certain styles flourish and others where they flounder. In days of old, the common philosophy was to master all of these styles. "A man for all seasons" was the fantasy of business owners, entrepreneurs, and executives.

Today, the world is too diverse and complex; and truthfully, nobody ever mastered all styles. Most modern coaches encourage leaders to know their individual style, and function in an environment where that style will flourish. This includes knowing the "shadow side" of that style: How does your winning formula undermine your effectiveness?

Typically, a leader's ineffectiveness will not be exposed, even if one of their weaknesses is revealed. Ineffectiveness happens when strength runs amuck. There is an old saying that if the only tool you have is a hammer, than the whole world looks like a nail. Some of the biggest mistakes in leadership come from using a hammer when sand paper is required.

Effective leadership in today's diverse culture will require a team approach, and teams require diverse leadership styles. By not only employing the best leadership style for you, but also knowing when to adapt to other styles, you can effectively lead your team to success.

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