The art of leadership: finding the best leadership style
Managers bear a great deal of responsibility. On the one hand, they must ensure the company’s goals are achieved. On the other hand, they also have to make difficult decisions, communicate excellently and fulfil the needs and expectations of employees. The latter in particular is difficult because, as a recent survey by McKinsey shows, almost a third of German employees think about resigning – 36 per cent of them cite poor leadership as the reason for leaving.* This is hardly surprising, as not everyone who attains a management position has a high level of leadership competence. Many managers face the major challenge of finding a leadership style that suits the team, the situation, and the managers themselves. We explain the different leadership styles and how you as a manager can find your own style to lead and motivate your team with confidence.
Why is it so difficult to find the right leadership style?
As a manager, it is often difficult to fulfil all expectations. On the one hand, managers often report to managing directors or higher-ranking managers, to whom they have to achieve set targets. For example, they are measured by sales figures or completed projects. At the same time, however, they are also expected to lead and motivate their team well and retain employees for as long as possible. Depending on their background, area of responsibility and knowledge, employees have very different expectations of their line manager’s behaviour. Some employees want to be taken by the hand and told exactly what to do. In contrast, some individuals require only intermittent assistance and recognition for their efforts. In addition, managers have to make decisions that are not always met with approval. However, hesitant or uncertain behaviour and permanent uncertainty are not qualities you want in a manager. Instead, managers should possess professional expertise, natural authority, persuasiveness, and decisiveness, and employ these qualities judiciously based on the situation, team dynamics, and individual employees. Additionally, the individual’s personality plays a role, in influencing a preference for a particular leadership style. This creates a tension that challenges managers to be convincing in their leadership approach.
Overview of various leadership styles
There is not just one leadership style that always fits. Therefore, successful leaders should understand the diversity of leadership styles and adapt their approach to the specific requirements and dynamics. These are some of the most recognised leadership styles:
1. Authoritarian or autocratic leadership style:
Managers who have an authoritarian leadership style make all decisions themselves without involving their employees. They therefore give clear instructions from the top down. This results in a clear division of roles and command structure, which enables quick decisions to be made. However, an authoritarian leadership style can also quickly lead to resentment, especially if the manager engages in micromanagement.
- Effective in crises or time-critical projects.
- Suitable for clear goals and known work processes.
- Quick decision-making and clear responsibilities.
2. Democratic / cooperative leadership style:
In contrast to the authoritarian leadership style, the democratic leadership style involves employees in decisions and planning processes. There is open communication and ideas are discussed together. As a result, all team members are involved on an equal footing and some of the responsibility for tasks is transferred to them. This can increase employee satisfaction, but can also lead to somewhat longer decision-making processes.
- Well-suited for creative projects and innovative solutions.
- Promotes teamwork and participative decision-making.
- Develops a sense of shared responsibility.
- Strengthens the commitment and motivation of employees.
3. Laissez-Faire leadership style:
In the laissez-faire leadership style, all responsibility is delegated to the employees. The manager only specifies the framework conditions and communicates which goals are to be achieved. As a result, there is only minimal control on the part of the manager and the independence and initiative of the team members is emphasized. This allows the team to fully realise its creativity.
- Suitable for experienced and self-motivated teams.
- Promotes creativity and innovation.
- Works best when employees are highly qualified and work autonomously.
4. Coaching leadership style:
The coaching leadership style is about helping employees to realise their full potential. To this end, their professional and personal development is encouraged. The manager supports and advises employees on how to achieve their goals and provides tips on how to improve performance.
- Promotes the professional and personal development of employees.
- Can increase employee commitment and thus lead to better performance.
- Emphasizes a relationship of partnership and trust between manager and employee.
5. Charismatic leadership style:
Charismatic managers impress with their personality and charisma. As a result, they inspire their employees and motivate them to give their best. The employees trust the manager and there is a great sense of togetherness within the workforce, as all employees are working towards the same goal. However, the charismatic leadership style cannot be consciously chosen or learned. You either have the necessary charisma by nature or you don’t.
- Suitable for promoting corporate culture and values.
- Can be effective in environments with creative or innovative projects.
- Emphasizes the importance of the personal relationship between manager and employee.
Choosing the appropriate leadership style depends on various factors, including the situation, team composition and organisational goals. An effective leader can utilise and flexibly adapt different styles to achieve optimal results.
Self-analysis: the basis for effective leadership
A central key to effective leadership is the ability to self-analyse. An individual’s leadership qualities depend largely on their understanding of their own strengths, weaknesses, values, and personality traits. Therefore, a leader should take the time to conduct a self-analysis, especially if they are new to a leadership position.
- Reflection on values and convictions: Leadership is based on personal values and beliefs. So ask yourself what your fundamental principles are and how these are reflected in your leadership style. This also includes thinking about how you make decisions or how you give your employees feedback – both criticism and praise.
- Recognize strengths and weaknesses: It is also important as a manager to know exactly what your strengths and weaknesses are. To do this, you can observe your own behaviour towards your employees. In this way, you can quickly find out which leadership style suits the manager more and which does not match your own strengths and weaknesses. It is important that you are very honest with yourself during this analysis and admit your weaknesses. This is the only way to ultimately lead your team authentically.
- Obtain feedback: You should also ask colleagues, employees and superiors in order to receive constructive feedback. It often happens that a manager’s behaviour has a completely different effect than was actually intended. Other perspectives therefore help to uncover blind spots and thus understand your own leadership behaviour.
- Develop awareness: In addition, a manager should be aware of their own emotions, motivations, and patterns of behaviour. For example, you should know how you react to stress or great pressure. If you know your own reactions, you can learn, for example, to take a step back and not say or do something rashly that hurts the team. In this way, you can continue to develop and become an excellent leader.
What does the team need?
Many people make assumptions about others. For example, if a manager favours maximum flexibility, they often assume that this must be the same for their team. However, it may be that the team or individual team members prefer clear rules that they can adhere to. A manager should therefore also find out what the team and individual employees want. It can help to talk to individual employees and ask them directly about their expectations of management behaviour. In this way, you can find out what the employee needs from the manager.
However, it is also important to consider the respective activities and skills of the employee. For example, a directive leadership style can work well for routine tasks, whereas this would be more of a hindrance for more complex activities that require creativity. The skills, knowledge, and expertise of employees also influence the right leadership style. For example, a new employee usually needs a different leadership style than someone with years of experience. In addition, the level of motivation of employees can vary significantly, so that some employees fulfil their tasks of their own accord, while others need direct instructions.
Adaptation to the situation
The next step is to combine the leadership personality with the needs of the team, i.e. to find a leadership style which provides the team with the necessary support but also suits the manager’s preferences. However, it should be noted that even if a manager has found an optimal leadership style for a team, it may not work in all situations. The ability to adapt the leadership style to the respective situation is therefore crucial for the long-term success of a manager. It is therefore important that a manager always considers the current circumstances and knows the team dynamics, goals, and individual skills of the employees to be able to react flexibly. This is particularly important in the following situations:
- Crisis situations: In crisis situations, an authoritarian leadership style may be necessary in order to give clear instructions and make quick decisions. For example, if the implementation of a project threatens to fail, intervention must be swift. Even if a democratic or laissez-faire leadership style usually works, it may be out of place in a crisis.
- Encouraging creativity: Even teams that normally carry out routine tasks and are managed in a rather authoritarian style may be confronted with new tasks that require a greater degree of creativity. For example, when work processes need to be optimised. In such creative projects, a democratic leadership style can enable more participation and exchange of ideas.
- Experience in teams: A newly formed team certainly needs significantly more guidance from the manager than a very experienced team, which would tend to be demotivated by too much control. It is therefore necessary to adapt the leadership style. If both the team and the manager remain in the same constellation for a long time, the manager should adapt to the team’s accumulated experience and grant a more experienced team more freedom. This also applies when a new manager joins a self-motivated and experienced team. If this team is too restricted by the new leader, it could become demotivated.
A situational leadership style initially sounds more complicated than it is. If you know your strengths and weaknesses, analyse the current circumstances precisely and take into account the skills and maturity of your employees, you will quickly learn to decide which leadership style is needed and best suited to the situation.
General guidance on leadership
- Communication and feedback: Open and transparent communication is the basis of good leadership, regardless of which leadership style a manager favours. This is the only way to prevent misunderstandings and ensure that the respective tasks are carried out smoothly. This also includes managers listening to their employees and promoting a culture of feedback based on trust.
- Be a role model: As a manager in particular you are always a role model for your employees. Managers should therefore fulfil and exemplify what they demand from their employees. For example, transparent communication, open feedback, keeping promises, but also admitting mistakes. In this way, employees can respect the manager and know where they always stand.
- Empathy: Empathy requires the ability to put oneself in the shoes of others and understand their perspective. Empathic managers are always aware of their own emotions and recognise the emotions of others. This enables them to learn to react appropriately and develop themselves and their leadership style.
- Handover responsibility: An authoritarian leadership style and micromanagement are no longer very popular these days. Even if this type of leadership is justified in times of crisis, for example, very few employees want to feel that everything they do is being closely monitored and judged. However, if the manager hands over some of the work, employee satisfaction and motivation can increase and at the same time the manager has more time for other tasks.
- Tackling conflicts: Conflict or misunderstandings arise in every team at some point. A good manager addresses these conflicts as early as possible and finds solutions to defuse such situations before they become a major problem.
In the multifaceted world of leadership, there is no one right leadership style that always works best. Rather, successful leadership requires a harmonious interplay of different styles that can be adapted to the situation. The key components of communication, empathy, feedback, and continuous development form the foundation for effective leadership that promotes not only individual development but also team success.
To facilitate the implementation of these leadership principles, the myPARM CorporateNavigator leadership software can be a valuable resource. It provides support in planning and implementing the corporate strategy, making decisions and achieving goals. At the same time, the software enables seamless communication. For example, managers can assign tasks to employees and employees can report back on the status of the tasks. In this way, myPARM CorporateNavigator simplifies the overview of employees’ activities.
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