There is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. Every person and every situation is different, so it stands to reason that each individual leader would attack leadership with a different approach.
Think back to great leaders throughout history. Think of Martin Luther King Jr., with his awe-inspiring speeches; think of Winston Churchill who commanded a nation amidst global turmoil; think of Margaret Thatcher, the first female prime minister of Great Britain. Throughout history, great leaders have demonstrated a number of different leadership styles that have proven effective for the given time. There will be periods that require a soft hand and a gentle voice to lead you; there will also be times when a stern discipline and firm hand are necessary to elicit change. There are no “right” and “wrong” ways to lead. Rather, there are effective methods and ineffective methods for tackling a certain problem.
Let’s break down the fundamental differences between these different leadership philosophies.
- This leadership philosophy is characterized by allowing input from all levels of team members across the company or group. There are four subsets of participative leadership: autocratic, collective, consensus, and democratic. The authority for making the final decision lands differently for each style as these each have their own characteristics and nuances.
- Also called authoritarian leadership, this participative philosophy of leadership has a single figure in charge who is solely responsible for all decision-making for themselves and for the group. While typically severe, this style is most effective when order needs to be restored in the face of chaos. This includes completing important tasks with urgency and navigating situations that do not allow for the time necessary to discuss moving forward.
- Collective leadership, as the name suggests, is a style of participative leadership in which a number of individuals convene in order to bring about a certain result. Because of the necessity of input from every demographic, the very nature of this philosophy style is inclusive to all people. There are four principles of collective leadership that help guide groups in their decision making processes. They are 1) preparing, 2) planning, 3) implementing, and 4) sustaining.
- In consensus leadership, the leader relinquishes all power and control, leaving all responsibility and decision-making on the group. Then, as a whole, the group must consider the input and opinions of each member and then come to a majority decision. While consensus leadership can be great for placing accountability directly on workers, it can often marginalize part of the group and lead to discontent. Since the decisions are made by the majority, the minority can feel as though their opinions and contributions aren’t valued.
- This final style of participative leadership is one that is great for keeping your whole team engaged and active. Here, the idea of involvement on every level is crucial. The inputs of individuals are all considered and valued, and influence the ultimate goals of the organization as a whole. Demographic leadership is excellent for completing day-to-day tasks, but on the whole can be less effective than some other styles when the pressure is on and quick decisions need to be made. Since the emphasis is placed on discussion to reach a common agreement, when it comes down to the wire there can be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding.
- Also known as laissez-faire leadership, the delegative philosophy involves a very hands-off approach and is generally found to have the lowest rates of productivity among members of the team. Here, the leader has very little to do with the decision-making of the team, and rather provides the resources necessary for the group to make its own decisions. While it can be effective with a strong, well-built team, the reasons delegative leadership typically fails is a lack of clear instruction to an inexperienced group and a lack of cohesion among the members.
- Servant leadership is perhaps the oldest philosophy of leadership, dating back more than two millennia. This style is one that cannot be easily taught but rather comes from within. In his iconic essay, The Servant as Leader, he describes a servant leader as one who feels compelled within his or her being to serve others, and serve them first. The best test, of course, is to look at what the leader and team both are getting out of the relationship. Do those lead by the servant leader gain knowledge and understanding and grow as individuals? Is the leader him or herself better for having served others? Greenleaf writes about how the servant leader, a servant by nature, is bestowed with the powers of leadership. The servant leader has a desire to serve and a calling to lead.
- The charismatic leader is one who whose focus is typically more holistic. While other leaders want to induce change within a particular group or team, the charismatic leader seeks to make change on a large scale. Think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he strove to improve the status quo with his moving rhetoric. Here, the leader holds a lot of power in influencing their audience and followers.
- Transformational leaders are also called quiet leaders, because they lead by drawing out the best in others. They lead others by connecting with them and engaging with them through empathy and compassion. Rather than pushing their team to excel, they guide their team along a path to excellence, helping them develop internally to perform their best externally.
- The Situational Leadership model teaches leaders the importance of flexibility and adaptability when it comes to handling stressful situations. It operates through four core leadership competencies: diagnose, adapt, communicate, and advance.