Exploring Different Leadership Styles

It is true that deploying a range of styles as a leader is vital to your impact and crucial to the development of your team. Matching your leadership style to each person and the situation is a great first step in developing your approach.  In this blog we will explore four key leadership styles and provide some practical ways of applying these for you to try out. 

Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey describe four leadership styles. It is useful as it encourages us to consider the situation, the stage of development of the direct report and then apply an appropriate style – i.e. flexing your style to different needs at different moments. 

A Directive Leadership Style

This style is useful when the person does not know how to perform the task or is new into the role. Examples will include being clear about what to do and how to do it, i.e. telling the person how to do it.  I encourage us to be careful not to overuse this approach, as it can feel controlling at its worst and feel like the only way to perform the task is in the way the line manager describes. As we know, there are many ways to go about a task so what is useful to remember here is to only explain in a directive way the part of the task that is unclear and then deploy other leadership styles to encourage the person to think about how they do it in their own way. 

A Supportive Leadership Style

This is a mentoring approach where the leader encourages the person to learn through them, i.e. the leader provides the person with examples, hints and tips from their own expertise whilst also enabling the person to make sense of it for themselves. Mentoring, at its best, allows the person to think through their own approach based on wise advice, examples, stories and questions from the mentor. However, I caution over using storytelling as a mentor, as the conversation could become more about the mentor rather than what the person is learning. 

A Delegating Leadership Style

Delegating is where we hand over a task to the other person. This may involve the other styles as we may “tell” the person about the task and then mentor and/or coach them as part of the handover. True delegation happens when we enable the person to think for themselves about how they will approach the task rather than telling them exactly how to do every part of it. This is an extremely useful style for the leader and can be used as soon as you see evidence that the person is capable of doing the work you delegate. 

A Coaching Leadership Style

Using a coaching approach can be widely used at many stages of a person’s development and in most situations too. Coaching conversations encourage the person to move forward and have new insights by the leader asking questions and listening at a deeper level. It encourages a more developmentally focused conversation, as the person is learning about themselves not just the task. This approach is most useful when you believe the person is resourceful and able to think for themselves. It works well when the situation centres around ideas of both the line manager and the person rather than just the line manager sharing their approach. 

Some simple skills can make a big difference to a coaching style conversation. Let’s explore these further:

1. Listening

Active listening takes practice and can be mastered by practising it every day. How often do we ask a question and then “zone out” on what is being said whilst we form what we are about to say next? Coaching conversations are about truly listening for the essence of what the person is expressing.

2. Playing back

This skill is to summarise succinctly what you think you heard, so that the other person can hear their words and add or amend. In the play back we need to ensure there are no judgments placed on what we heard, just simply and cleanly playing back what we heard. 

3. Offering observations

I encourage us to “offer” up observations rather than stating them as fact. This allows the other person to make their own meaning. For example, you might say “I notice you used the word “reassure” several times today, I wonder whether this is significant? This allows the person to decide rather than you telling them. 

Skills to use in all Leadership Styles

Building trust and non-judgmental

In any of the above approaches, there will need to be high enough levels of trust, particularly in the delegating, supporting and coaching approaches. Psychological safety is about building a safe environment for people to truly express themselves without fear of judgment. The mindset of “positive intent” is assuming people are doing their best. 

Structuring the conversation

I believe that we can learn a lot from the coaching conversation structure. At the beginning it has a strong focus on establishing “what are we focusing on in the next 30 minutes?”. This ensures that the person has an opportunity to choose the direction that is most useful to them. During the conversation, we are regularly checking in relating to the progress of the conversation by asking “How are we doing?” “What are we learning?”. We can then change the direction of the conversation in partnership with the other person if we feel we need to and this saves valuable time, particularly when most of us are in a lot of meetings. Towards the end we can also manage the conversation by stating “We have ten minutes left, what else needs to be discussed before we finish?”. And at the end we can ask “What is the key insight/action/learning today?”. 

Key points 

  • Each leadership style has a purpose – learning to adjust your approach based on the person and situation is useful. 
  • Practicing active listening can elevate your presence in all leadership styles.
  • Trust and safety are crucial to all approaches.
  • Consider adopting a mindset of assuming positive intent.
  • Structure your conversations using a coaching approach.

In Summary

As you start to reflect on your own leadership style, I encourage you to go to your learning edge, i.e. try out some of the styles that you are less comfortable with. In particular developing a coaching approach as a leader can have a huge benefits to each person in the team as it encourages them to grow and develop rather than simply being told what to do. 

I’d love to hear how you get on with the different approaches. If you would like support building your leadership style and to see how 1:1 executive coaching might help, please get in touch.

Leave a Comment