Do good leaders have more than one style?

In this recent HBR blogpost, Herminia Ibarra, professor of organisational behaviour at Insead, commented on the two different "rhetorics" about leadership which have coexisted since the global financial crisis in 2008 one which is decisive and crisis-oriented compared to one which is more collaborative and inclusive. She observes that we seem to have settled on a solution not "either/or" but "yes/and" where the new leader can and must both command and collaborate.

This post prompted me to think about my own experience personally as well as that of developing leaders.

In my view, the requirement to have more than one leadership style is not a new phenomenon. To be effective, good leaders need to have more than one style. Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee explore this in detail in The New Leaders . They put forward six styles: 

Resonant = highly effective styles

  • Visionary Let me tell you where were going as a team
  • Democratic Lets decide  together
  • Coaching What did you learn?  What would you do differently?

Dissonant = low effectiveness

  • Commanding Just do it the way I tell you
  • Pacesetting If you cant do it right, Ill do it myself (a la Kevin Rudd)

The sixth style is Affiliative (People first, task second) which, while I recommend everyone to have it in their repertoire, if it becomes overused, it can create a problem, ie. work doesn’t get done. On the other hand, if a leader doesn’t have any affiliative tendencies, engagement and motivation of team members can be problematic.

As you can probably appreciate, resonant styles are more effective and produce superior bottom line results (as a study of IBM reported in HBR has proven).

For me personally, my natural leadership styles historically have been Commanding and Democratic (similar to those styles noted in the blogpost). In my early career, I needed to work on my Affiliative style (still a work in progress).
My development focus now is to do less Commanding and more Visionary styles.

So, similar to Herminia, I think good leaders do have more than one style. Knowing what those styles are and which ones require development is the key to becoming a great leader.

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