A leader’s role can very simply be explained as driving a certain group of people towards the attainment of a pre-set goal. How they choose to do this is what defines their leadership style.
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Our history is dotted with numerous leaders, each very different from another, all known to have brought landmark changes in their respective times – whether social, cultural, or political. From Martin Luther King Jr to Abraham Lincoln, from Mahatma Gandhi to Adolf Hitler, from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg – we might not always agree with the means chosen by many of them, but that doesn't dilute the fact that they were all impactful leaders who each initiated changes and won followers for their work, creating a legacy for themselves for centuries to come.
What are these leadership styles that differentiate one leader from another? How can you critique each one and know which category you fall into? We've tried to streamline the research for you:
My way or the highway! The most infamous leadership style but also known for being the most reliable and result-oriented, especially in times of crisis. An autocratic leader works alone. The communication in this system is mainly downward, wherein the leader sets tasks and deadlines, highlights means to achieve them, and then expects them to be done in a timely manner as required. Such leaders are courageous; they know what they want, are assertive, and find it difficult to surrender authority or delegate. Such a leadership style can be rather inflexible and sometimes too choking for your team. So if you think you're an autocrat, it could be wise to learn how to differentiate between being aggressive and being assertive.
These are the participative ones, the democrats. They work hand-in-hand with their team, learning as much in the process as they shell out. Even while the leadership leans on equal participation from the team, the final responsibility for the tasks is borne by the leader themselves – and this is what makes their leadership even more crucial. This style is very team-friendly and a good way to develop a healthy team culture, where employees feel like they have an equal say in the working of the organisation and don't feel bullied by their bosses.
Thought leaders inspire their team to think out of the box. Mediocrity, or even the best work done on a regular job, does not amuse them as much as a new idea – no matter how whacky it might be! Being led by a thought innovator allows the team to believe the sky is the limit. They're not bound by restrictions of creativity or counsel and take motivation from the fact that their initiative and creativity will be rewarded well by their leader!
Focused on developing an independent and self-reliant team for the future, in this leadership style the managers personally hone the skills of their team members. Such leaders are known for their motivation skills, inspiring, lead-from-the-front attitude, and encouragement.
This leadership style works when you have a highly skilled, self-motivated team at your disposal. It involves minimal or no direction or control from the leader. The leader merely plays the role of an intermediary between his team and the client. This is easily the least applauded leadership style because it hardly requires any leadership.
Having pointed these out, we would also like to add, a leader is only as strong as his team. An autocrat will not be able to make much impact with a team of independent, creative thinkers. Similarly, a democrat will have little or no success trying to pull out initiative and resourcefulness if their team is built of inflexible followers. It is also important to note that a sensible leader should learn to adapt his style based on the situation he is faced in. While a participative way of leadership might be working best in your everyday working style, quick and urgent decisions might need a more inspired and courageous move. Learn, adapt, and excel is the mantra for every aspiring leader!