Leadership styles and when to use them

When you are on a family trip and are lost, you are frequently told to turn left by one person in the car, turn right by another, a third person reminding you that you should have asked for directions at a gas station 20 miles behind you, and children asking if you’re there yet, it is difficult to decide which way to go.

This is the scenario faced by leaders in all parts of life, whether it be a CEO, military leader, or captain of the little league team because there is so much information about which leadership style you are, which to use in which situation, and which ones have different effects with those you are leading. One article I found in a search for how to determine which leadership style to use in different situations lists 10 different styles with pros and cons for each and another article has a more exhaustive explanation and continues with determining which style you are most like. Both articles are good to read for more information, but sometimes we want to know in a little more concise manner.

The first note is that there really isn’t a best fit, but what works for you and that you are comfortable with, because you are the one responsible for whatever task you’re assigned to accomplish. Some rules of thumb do apply and a good first step is knowing which style you feel the most comfortable with and then branch out to learning those most closely related to it. Referring to a previous post, mistakes will be made, but learning from the mistakes is how you grow and learn.

The first thing to do is find the time frame or sense of urgency. If you are trying to get everyone out of a burning building, the urgency is high and the goal is to get everyone out, so you start telling people to walk out and concern yourself less with hurt feelings, which is a more autocratic style. More leader driven styles work in time of crises and this applies to economic downturns, downsizing of the organization, or a game you’re losing in the ninth inning-all having the need for quick results.

At the opposite extreme is having very long term objectives with little needed between now and then. You would benefit by using more creativity and leadership from your followers because they will learn you trust them, but it will make your job easier as well. We ultimately want to build better teamwork, foster communication and innovation from everyone in our teams, but the time frame dictates the style of leadership to the greatest degree. Assess your time frame and then adjust your style to fit it. With practice, you begin learning which style works best for you and under which circumstances, so go out and see what happens.

I challenge you to leave comments, your thoughts about what works best and when, and examples so that others just getting started can learn, and for those with years of experience to continue learning.


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