A fine blend of leadership styles

By Mohinish Sinha

Most of you would agree with me when I say that good leadership has the power to energize, engage, and motivate team members to go ‘the extra mile’ for their organization. However, while good leadership is synonymous with flexibly tailoring the leadership style to suit the situation, a rather more modest outlook awaits within the results of Hay Group’s latest research - globally, only a quarter (26 per cent) of leaders are able to adopt a range of four or more leadership styles. In comparison, one third (36 per cent) of leaders have mastered none or only one leadership style!

In my previous post, I have written about the ‘coercive’ and ‘affiliative’ leadership styles. This time around, I hope to share my experiences in the ‘authoritative’ and ‘coaching’ leadership styles.

The ‘authoritative’ leadership style, dominant amongst North American leaders (47 per cent), is focused on communicating the long-term direction, purpose and vision, and ensuring that everyone is motivated and working towards the ‘big picture’. Authoritative leaders win people over by convincing them that they want to do the job. They also give feedback to people on how they are doing relative to their goals, creating a positive climate that elicits the best from the team.

If you’ve ever had an authoritative manager, you, as a team member would understand what you need to do, how you need to do it, and why your role is important to the overall objective - all of which contributes to creating a high performance climate for the team! Of course, this style is most impactful when used regularly, but in a subtle way. It is most effective when a new vision or clear direction is needed, and is particularly valuable when a team is new or looking to its manager for expert guidance. Since it helps to motivate people, it is also a good choice when day-to-day tasks are difficult or unpopular.

But if ‘authoritative’ is your dominant leadership style, I’d advise you to hold back on this style approach when managing an experienced team who know as much - or even more - than you. This style can be counter-productive when trying to develop self-managed work teams, or involve employees in the decision-making process.

I now turn to the ‘coaching’ leadership style - which Hay Group’s research found to be the most dominant leadership style ((81 per cent) in the most high-performing Asian organizations. We find that a coaching leader invests the time to understand individuals’ strengths and weaknesses, and works with them to achieve their personal development goals. He / she delegates assignments based on who will learn most from the experience, not necessarily who is best for the job. The leader focuses on building long-term capability, even at the expense of short-term performance!

Clearly, this style, characterized by pushing team members to be the best they can be, works well closer home. The best use is when managing a group of motivated people with a clear sense of aspiration and a willingness to work towards long-term career goals. The style is also useful when encouraging individuals to innovate, show initiative and take calculated risks; since it helps team members to find their own solutions to work problems.

However, in a crisis situation, steer away from ‘coaching’ - it can do more harm than good; a crisis is a time when the team needs explicit direction, or when a team lacks information or experience. And if a leader is too focused on individual aspirations, the needs of the organization can be neglected. This style also has little effect when dealing with performance issues.

Have you worked with a ‘coaching’ or ‘authoritative’ leader? When, in your experience, do these leadership styles work best?

Mohinish Sinha is the Leadership and Talent practice leader, Hay Group India

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