Many people emerge as local leaders by accident or because of a natural inclination to want to make a difference to their local community. The reality is that each of us will lead differently at different times.
Learning to be a leader
We also learn to lead in different ways. This could be by jumping in the deep end and learning from experience. It could be observing others lead and modelling their style. It could be by finding a mentor who guides you on your leadership journey. Others learn by taking a course or attending leadership events. For others, reading books about leaders and leadership may be how they learn.
However, what is important to remember is that people who are now successful leaders, once weren’t leaders at all. Everyone is on a unique leadership journey and can learn different ways to lead.
Six leadership styles
The guru of emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman had identified six different styles of leadership. These are a helpful starting point to understand how to expand your leadership potential. Be aware, not all leadership styles result in the same impact!
1. Visionary leader
This style mobilises people toward a vision. Visionary leaders are inspiring and empathetic. They set a vision and encourage people to be autonomous, proactive and have a problem-solving attitude. Visionary leadership can create the most positive results of all the six leadership styles, but it may also be overbearing if you use it too much. It works best when a clear direction or change is needed.
2. Coaching leader
This style develops people for the future. The coaching leadership style connects people’s goals and values with the organisation’s goals. This style is empathic and encouraging. This style has a positive impact. It establishes rapport and trust, and increases motivation. It works best when helping people and building long-term strength.
3. Affiliative leader
This leadership style promotes harmony and emphasises emotional connections. It connects people by encouraging inclusion and resolving conflict. It works best to heal rifts in teams or motivate people in stressful times.
4. Democratic leader
This leadership style focuses on collaboration and builds consensus through participation. Leaders actively seek input from their collaborators, listen and build consensus. It works best to create consensus or get input.
5. Pace setting leader
This style focuses on performance and achieving goals. This style expects excellence and self-direction. This can be a successful style in special situations that require a quick response. However, it should not be used on a daily basis as it will have a negative effect. It works best to get quick results from a highly competent team.
6. Commanding leader
This is the autocratic approach with orders, (often unspoken) threat of disciplinary action, and tight control. This approach demands immediate compliance. This style should only be used when absolutely essential, like in times of great crisis.
Adapting your leadership style to suit the circumstances
Importantly, each leadership style fits a different situation and has a different impact. Daniel Goleman’s research has also shown that a good leader needs to be able to switch styles when the context requires that.
Leaders who have mastered four or more—especially the visionary, democratic, affiliative, and coaching styles—will create the most positive environment for the organisation they are leading. A leadership style is therefore a tool, not a personality trait. It is something that can be learnt with time and experience.