You’ve Got (Leadership) Style

Leaders, you’ve got a style all your own. It’s something uniquely you. It’s shaped by your values, skills, experience, and individual personality. Your leadership style influences how you inspire, motivate, mentor, and direct your teams. 

While over time you may become adept at incorporating elements of several different leadership styles, there’s one style that’s innately yours. It’s the style that you default to when you're on a tight deadline and don’t have time to think about trying something different. It’s the style you’ll fall back into when managing a crisis or when you’re feeling overwhelmed. It’s the style that fits like a glove and that you rely on when you’re running on autopilot. 

Here's the good news: there is no right or wrong style. Here’s the better news: understanding what your natural style is can help you be a better leader. Recognizing what elements of your style resonate with each of your team members, and which don’t, can help you better adapt your approach to be a more effective leader that brings the best out of her team. 

Google “leadership styles” and you’ll find a lot of different opinions about how many labeled styles exist. We’re going to take a look at three of them today. (You can find additional information on leadership styles here: 4 Leadership Styles to Try on for Size.)

Adaptive Leadership

Defined by Harvard professors and authors Marty Linsky and Ronald Heifetz, adaptive leadership is well suited to managing challenging and changing business environments. Adaptive leaders don’t just identify problems and solutions, they are also skilled at anticipating future challenges, needs, and trends. More importantly, they facilitate organizational learning and adjustment to adapt to meet the evolving business climate. They look for systematic change that moves beyond management into every level of the organization. 

Adaptive leaders embrace experimentation. It’s not that they’re willing to throw caution to the wind and try anything – they encourage risk/reward assessment of new ideas, followed by the implementation of creative new initiatives and solutions on a trial basis. They take failed experiments in stride, looking to glean lessons and input from them before adapting and trying another experiment. They may be comfortable with change, but they are empathetic to those that aren’t and manage the process of organizational adaptation in a way that gives those who feel more insecure with change some confidence. 

These leaders are able to fairly assess the success or failure of their organization’s experimentation. However, they may be a little soft of structure and not quite as thorough with their due diligence if an idea excites them. 

Delegative Leadership 

Sometimes referred to as laissez-faire leadership, this style is fairly hands-off when it comes to the daily function of the team. The success of this style begins with assembling the right team. These leaders trust their staff to get the job done. They delegate responsibility and then step back to let each team member do their thing. Delegative leaders don’t micromanage or provide much in the way of feedback or guidance. They rely on their staff to tap into their own creativity and experience. 

This style makes each individual team member accountable for their own work. It may be well-suited for remote teams, creative teams, and teams of highly-skilled, experienced professionals. Good delegative leaders can nurture growth, independence, and confidence in their teams. However, this style can also contribute to siloed work environments and a lack of cohesive structure if you’re not careful.

Servant Leadership 

You’ve probably heard this term before. There’s no shortage of articles written on the topic of servant leadership. In fact, we’ve got two of them for you here: 4 Traits of an Effective Servant Leader and Embrace a Servant Leadership Approach. The short version, however, is this: this style puts the needs of others first. 

Servant leaders focus on relationships. They focus on understanding the people that work for them and the people they work for and with. They make decisions based on what’s good for their team, their clients, and their company. They value transparency and communication throughout the organization. They value the opinions of the front line worker as much as their fellow senior executives. These leaders may struggle to maintain their foothold in highly-competitive corporate cultures. They may also be more prone to burnout.