Leadership styles of the most successful managers

Mariano Rodríguez Colombelli
Apr 24, 2017

Like anything people-related, management is emotional, unscientific, and highly subjective. Becoming a successful manager is something that takes trial and error. But there’s so much pressure to perform off the bat. We tend to emulate top leaders and managers in hopes of “copying” and learning from their success. There’s nothing wrong with learning from the best, but all teams and managers are different. Without knowing the basics of leadership styles and when and how to apply them, it’s difficult to get a grasp on something so arbitrary. Cultivating your own combination of styles will help you quickly become an effective leader and manager.

It’s important to remember:

  • Copying others won’t make you an authentically great leader
  • Your weaknesses can become your team’s strengths
  • Strategically utilise different leadership styles for each situation

Here are three common leadership styles and how to use them to best manage your team:

1. Autocratic Leadership:

You act as an autocratic leader when you individually make all the decisions and only turn to your team to implement them. There’s very little consulting or collaboration on an issue from others. It’s a leadership style typically seen in more bureaucratic and highly structured organizations – where, honestly, it can work well. Wal-Mart’s Sam Walton and Oracle’s Larry Ellison saw it as the best way to streamline processes. However, there are some big downfalls to only using this style of leadership. Without a collaborative relationship with team members, problem solving and innovation will never be your team’s strong point. However, for times of crisis when your team may be driven by fear, an autocratic stance can be beneficial. Avoid using this style of leadership apart from in times of uncertainty.

2. Laissez-faire Leadership:

The exact opposite of the autocratic leadership style, laissez-faire allows your team full control. A lot of the time, this is characteristic of fast-paced and close-knit environments like startups. Studies have shown that giving autonomy to employees for a long time in has a positive effect on productivity and employee happiness. But be careful to recognize if you’re relying on this style too often. Your team can feel like there is little direction or feedback, that they would normally expect from a leader. This type of leadership is best used when really creative work is necessary to solve problems or generate innovative ideas. Paul Allen of Microsoft was famous for using this leadership style to challenge his team and come up with new ideas. It’s also best to take this approach to menial work so employees feel more in control to be productive themselves.

3. Transformational Leadership:

This is somewhere in-between and is usually a style of leadership attributed to top CEOs and visionaries. Even if it makes for a good story, it still has its place, pros, and cons. A transformational leader is one who sets a vision, communicates it, and then delegates tasks to team members that work towards that vision. How they get it done is up to the team. A transformational leader is mainly a visionary rather than autocratic leader, but still provides more direction than a laissez-faire leader. Sounds perfect, right? However, there are still times throughout the rollercoaster journey of business that your team may require other leadership styles, with more or less direction, in order to be at their most productive for the task at hand.
A transformational leadership style best fits where many companies are trying to go now – perpetual change towards a vision. This is why it’s so popular. The most popular “token” transformational leader is Steve Jobs. It’s the best style to use as a base for how you approach your and your team’s work. But we don’t all have the same challenges, company cultures, and people. Learning to use other leadership styles when necessary to guide your team through different challenges is the only way to become an effective leader. These are just a few recognizable leadership styles. The key is to be objectively self-aware and know how to use your own style and others to truly lead your team.

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