Two years ago I came up with a slogan that summed up what great leadership really meant to me. That slogan was “A great leader is a ‘calm in a storm’ (reassuring) and a ‘storm in a calm’ (energising).”

Much has been written about ‘leadership style’ over a great many years and I have contributed my own thoughts on the subject through articles, blogs and tweets many times. Adaptability is certainly the greatest ability that a leader needs in order to be successful and because of this I once attended a training course on Situational Leadership.

The Hersey-Blanchard ‘Situational Leadership Model’, whose theory is that there is no single best style of leadership states that (where effective leadership is task-relevant) the most successful leaders are those that adapt their leadership style to the maturity (level of existing skill & motivation) of the individual or group they are attempting to lead or influence.

My only concern with Situational Leadership is that it assumes the ‘leader’ is already highly competent themselves in the task to be achieved. This is not always the case in business but when I raised the question with the tutor they couldn’t give me an answer!

A good and detailed study on the subject of leadership style is Daniel Goleman’s “Leadership That Gets Results”a landmark 2000 Harvard Business Review study. Goleman did a three-year study with over 3,000 middle-level managers. His aim was to discover specific leadership behaviours and determine their effect on the bottom-line profitability of business.

His research discovered that leadership style was responsible for a massive 30% of bottom-line profit! As I run a sales performance business I use this research often to evidence the real value to a business of effective sales leadership. Here are the six leadership styles Goleman uncovered and a brief analysis of the effects of each on the corporate environment:

The Pacesetting Leader: (expects and models excellence and self-direction) This pacesetting style works best with already motivated and skilled teams, and quick wins are required. Overused though, this style can overwhelm staff and stifle innovation.

The Authoritative Leader: (mobilises the team toward a common vision and focuses on end goals) Works great when a new vision or business direction is required. Authoritative leaders encourage entrepreneurial spirit and energy. As per my gripe about Situational Leadership above, this is not the best style when the leader is working with experienced experts who know more than they do!

The Affiliative Leader: (creates emotional bonds that bring a feeling of togetherness) This style works best after a crisis where staff members need to rebuild trust. This style should only be used for short bursts as a reliance on praise alone can encourage mediocre performance.

The Coaching Leader: (develops people for the future.) The coaching style is for when the leader wants to help team members ‘grow’ in terms of personal development. It only works when both parties want to achieve the same goals and where the leader is proficient at coaching.

The Coercive Leader: (demands immediate compliance) This style is required and effective during times of business, political or environmental crisis or disaster. Can also be used in performance management as part of a disciplinary process. This dictatorial approach rarely works outside of the above circumstances as it is too strict and rapidly leads to ‘disengagement’.

The Democratic Leader: (builds consensus through participation) The democratic style is effective when problem solving or the leader needs the team to take ownership of a key decision, plan, or goal. Democracy is never the best choice in an emergency situation or where a flamboyant and verbose team member stifles the debate for others.

The biggest challenge we face as leaders then, is when to use the right style and for how long? That decision is down to the empathy (EQ) capability of the individual leader and their knowledge and experience of their business and industry.

I’ll finish on a key point about authentic leadership, as Goleman’s study does not mention ‘authenticity’ at all. Authenticity is a key management trait that has become increasingly talked about in recent years. Some might rightly argue that it’s not possible to be ‘adaptable’ and also be ‘authentic’ but they miss the point. For me authenticity is about ‘who you are as a person?’ for example, your attitudes, morals and beliefs. These should be consistent, demonstrable and ‘real’. I call this your ‘substance’. The adaptability refers to the leadership ‘style’ required given the specific circumstances that you face. A great leader must therefore have bucket loads of BOTH ‘style’ and ‘substance’!

Thank you for reading!