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Determine Your Leadership Style

As an entrepreneur, you are the leader of your company. And to become a great leader, you'll have to look within yourself. Start by examining the different types of leadership styles.
September 27, 2005
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/80104

Editor's note: This article was excerpted fromLeadership Made Easy, which identifies 15 essential leadership skills and teaches you how to develop and use them.

An important point of this introduction to leadership styles is that effective leaders can be true to their own nature and not have to assume radically different personae when in a leadership position. A person's mannerisms and personality typically don't have to change when assuming a leadership role. This doesn't mean that great leaders don't make some changes in their leadership presence and style, especially when changes are needed. These changes occur primarily after self-study, evaluation sessions with superiors or subordinates, or on-the-job experience. Develop your own leadership style, therefore, based upon your own set of beliefs and personality traits, as well as what you learn from studying leadership.

Theories of Leadership
There are scores of leadership theories, models and studies available for you to examine, if you choose. Although developed primarily in the 20th century by scholars, leadership ideas have existed at least since A.D. 100. Thanks to these great men and women, the curious have been able to analyze leaders on the basis of personality, situations, interaction with others, psychology, politics, humanism and perception, to name a few factors. In addition to the theories, there are countless leadership surveys, tests and aptitude indicators that are available to determine a leader's style and interests.

What can you do when faced with this complexity of leadership information? Most leaders don't study the many theories of leadership in detail. Some general knowledge is helpful, however, to know what the relevant major issues are so that you can use that knowledge in your specific situation. These issues will be explained in this article. Then you can choose to study in more detail those areas that are of most interest to you.

Leadership Orientations
To help prepare you for your leadership role, we'll briefly examine five leadership orientations. Since every leader has a distinct style made up of combinations of these orientations, it's impossible to accurately predict your style without a thorough analysis. As with most leaders, you'll tend to use different styles when faced with different situations. Each orientation presents two extremes between which leaders have to determine the right balance for themselves, based upon their personality and specific leadership challenges. For example, there are effective leaders who have high orientation scores in both relationship and task; others score high in relationship and low in task. By understanding the following five leadership orientations, you'll be better able to understand the framework within which most leaders operate.

Democracy or Autocracy Orientation
These two orientations are the first classification because they encompass attributes of the other four orientations. It makes sense that leaders tend to lean naturally toward one or the other because followers will do either one of two things. They will do what they're asked to do, thus requiring the supervision of a teaching and facilitating type of democratic leader, or they'll do what they're made to do, which requires a more punishing and coercing autocrat.

There's no conclusive proof as to which type of orientation is more effective at getting bottom-line results. One may be more effective in different organizations or situations than the other. A person's style of leadership, however, does affect employee job satisfaction, although the effects vary among employees. A higher degree of satisfaction in an organization will encourage loyalty, teamwork and sharing of the leader's goals; each of these can lead to higher levels of personal and organizational productivity.

Democratic leaders focus on their followers because they feel the welfare of their team is of great importance. They tend to be easily approachable, relationship-oriented and considerate of others' feelings. They prefer to lead their teammates by collaboration and empowerment. They're convinced that tasks will be better accomplished if they consider their subordinates' needs. These teammates tend to have high job satisfaction.

Autocrats primarily are concerned with tasks for which they're responsible. They believe the key is to focus less on subordinates and their needs and more on the work-related issues. In doing so, they use their position to prescribe solutions and direct others to comply. This type of leader usually has more subordinates with low levels of job satisfaction than does the democratic leader.

Participation or Direction Orientation

Leadership can also be analyzed in terms of how much contribution the leader obtains from subordinates before solving a problem or making a decision. As previously discussed, most leaders are situational and they use both styles on different occasions.

A popular leadership trend since the 1980s has been to encourage employee participation in problem solving and decision making. By obtaining and considering the suggestions of subordinates, a leader has access to more data, experience and opinions.

Participation can occur when the leader either delegates total responsibility for tasks or allows subordinates to participate in problem-solving and decision-making processes. A more restrictive form of participation is used when a leader discusses the task with subordinates but ultimately makes the decision as to what will be done. By using a participative style of leadership, a leader doesn't relinquish the responsibility to get the job done, but gives subordinates the authority to help arrive at the right decision to get the job done correctly. Participation is particularly effective in less structured or rapidly changing work environments.

Leaders who have a direction orientation decide what needs to be done and communicate this to subordinates. They may or may not explain why they chose a course of action and they may use persuasion techniques to bolster their directives. These leaders autocratically assume that, since they know the right answer, seeking input from subordinates is unnecessary. They may rationalize the use of a directive style by citing organizational problems, such as low employee educational levels and competence, even though this may not be applicable. The degree to which a leader may be directive depends upon a number of factors.

For example, leaders tend to be more directive when there's high uncertainty in the situation, little time is available, a short-term increase in productivity is needed, or they exercise a high degree of positional or organizational power. Directive leadership tends to be used more than participative leadership in slow-changing situations or where less employee input is needed.

Relationship or Task Orientation
The best leaders concern themselves both with people relationships and the tasks for which they are responsible because tasks usually are accomplished more effectively when human factors are considered. The degree of integration of task and relationship varies considerably with each leader; the exact mix partly depends upon task urgency, subordinates' work performance and ability, organizational climate, and the leader's natural inclination toward one orientation or the other.

Leaders who set relationships as a priority recognize the synergistic effects of attending to the human side of work. This doesn't mean they're less concerned with accomplishing tasks but that they know the best way to achieve high-quality success is to make sure they consider subordinates' and team members' needs. They do this by maintaining warm, close and friendly relationships with their followers and co-workers and by openly trusting and supporting them.

A complete task orientation means that a leader has foremost in mind the job that must get done. Without seeking input from subordinates, the leaders structure the work, define the goals, allocate resources, and focus on achieving production quotas or delivery of services. People are of concern, but only because they're necessary to get the work done. This leader uses an inflexible, no-nonsense approach with subordinates.

Consideration or Initiation Orientation
Considerate leaders do what any considerate person would do, but in the context of leadership. Since they concern themselves with subordinates' interests and well-being, they're sensitive toward their feelings, needs and goals. Before making decisions, they seek suggestions from subordinates and consider what effects these decisions will have on the team. By openly praising and privately correcting subordinates, they establish a working environment in which people trust, respect and follow them.

Initiation refers to a leader's ability to start activities and organize work. Strong initiators prefer not to let the group completely structure its work or make all of the on-the-job decisions. They prefer not only to determine what must be done but also who does it and how it is to be done. Consequently, they focus on tasks: most of their daily initiatives occur simply to facilitate achievement of work-related goals. Since there can be overlap in these two orientations, a leader could be both highly considerate and initiating and still be effective.

Action or Inaction Orientation
Action-oriented leaders involve themselves with fulfilling work responsibilities. They take charge of these responsibilities by using the leadership and management principles discussed in Leadership Made Easy and by realizing that subordinates perform better when their leaders are aware of work-related issues, interested in seeing goals achieved, and actively monitoring performance.

Active leaders establish and communicate their subordinates' authority, responsibilities and work parameters. Having this knowledge of what is expected of them and the encouragement to perform well, employees will gain the autonomy that most of them crave. There are distinctions between action and inaction. By asking a subordinate to complete a task, for example, the leader is actively delegating an assignment, not avoiding taking action.

Leaders who are inactive are much less engaged in their work than active leaders. On a spectrum of reasons for such inactivity, you will find leaders who consciously shirk their responsibilities and those who do not realize they're less active than they need to be. Inactive leaders tend to react to a daily work challenge after someone tells them about it, whereas the active leader proactively seeks out impending obstacles. In addition to the risk that inactive leaders pose to their organization's ability to achieve goals, the leaders themselves risk being perceived as irrelevant or ineffective by their subordinates.

Personality, Psychology and Leadership

The previous discussion of leadership orientations shows you there's much room for leaders who have various combinations of leadership styles. Most leaders take a situational approach and use different styles under different conditions, depending upon the urgency and nature of the task, experience and expectations of subordinates, and the degree of trust and rapport in the work relationship.

A central concept in leadership study is that to better understand the behaviors of leaders and subordinates, it's useful to understand the psychological nature of the people involved. One popular and extensively used resource is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. After individuals respond to questions based upon how they usually would feel or act in different situations, this survey classifies them into one of 16 types, based on four continua: extraversion-introversion, sensing-intuition, thinking-feeling and judging-perceiving.

These types will provide insight into a test-taker's work preferences and decision-making patterns. A leader can use this as a tool to gain insight into his or her subordinates or team members; it can be a useful way to increase understanding.

Although such resources will give you a quick profile of yourself or your subordinates, it's important to be careful when using them and never completely rely upon them. They should be used only in conjunction with skill development tools and other resources. There are several reasons for this.

First, though many companies use the tests, experts disagree considerably as to their reliability. Unfortunately, there's no magic formula for what test is best. It's up to you to examine those that are available and make the best choice for you and your organization. Second, these resources are sometimes misunderstood. People often make major style changes based upon the results of one survey, without realizing the extent to which those results were due to bad testing conditions or the person's mood at the time of the survey. Third, some people are skeptical of tests or resentful of being arbitrarily typecast. You can avoid this reaction if you take the time to explain the process and results to them.

Qualities of a Leader
As scholars have studied leaders over the years, they have attempted numerous times to identify leadership qualities. There are certain recurring qualities that seem to surface in the best leaders. To give you an idea of what makes a great leader, here are some of the best qualities.

While these sample qualities provide great insight into leadership behavior and help you understand why some leaders are more effective than others, it's difficult to conclude the degree to which these 18 qualities help people become great leaders; therefore, it is important to understand three points about leadership qualities. First, there is no complete list of leadership qualities.

If you attempted to list every possible quality of a leader using published studies since the early 1900s, you would have hundreds of qualities. Second, very few, if any, leaders have all the qualities on any given list. It isn't necessary nor is it possible for a successful leader to completely fit a leadership mold that someone suggests is best for him or her or for his or her organization. Leaders, like their subordinates and team members, are individuals who are alike and different in many respects and can be successful without radically altering their inherent qualities. Third, a person can possess many leadership qualities and still not be a leader.

Randall J. Ponder, a consultant focusing on leadership development, has extensive leadership experience as an Army officer, the owner of a small business and a manager in a Fortune 100 company.