How to identify and improve your team leadership style

People running in a v formation with a team leader in front

The success of your project relies on your team leadership skills. You are in charge of a group of workers, one that you must guide throughout assignments daily. They also look up to you, so they can become better professionals. And it can be challenging, especially if you are a first-time manager.

To improve yourself, you need to understand your own approach while analyzing what you can learn from experienced leaders’ behavior – they usually follow one or more of these six team leadership styles:

1. Authoritarian leaders

Everyone has met an authoritarian leader at some stage in their life. It might have been a parent, a teacher, a boss or even a friend. Despite being an old-fashioned behavior, it has managed to survive thanks to its positive aspects.

How to identify authoritarian leaders:

  • They tell you to do what you are told
  • Won’t listen to suggestions or any feedback
  • They think they are always right
  • Might become aggressive when frustrated

The good side:

Yes, there is a good side. This team leadership style tends to work well during a crisis, thanks to its confidence and ability to decide quickly. Authoritarian leaders provide reassurance, know how to stop people from wasting time, and have very clear expectations. It also is the natural approach in some lines of work, such as the military.

The bad side:

All that self-reliance can have an opposite effect. The lack of feedback might lead to wrong decisions, especially when made in the heat of the moment. Employees stop being creative and decide only to follow orders. You will also notice a high staff turnover, usually linked to bullying and harassment complaints, plus employees suffering from anxiety disorders.

The lowdown:

Learn to identify the right time to make unilateral decisions. Still, always explain to your team why you are doing it, either before or after the incident. And use the authoritarian style in small doses to avoid creating a toxic work environment.

Authoritative team leadership style tends to work well during a crisis, thanks to its confidence and ability to decide quickly

2. Parental leaders

Sometimes, you don’t get a boss; you get a second mother or father. Some leaders treat their businesses as an extension of their family, turning their employees into their children. They believe they have a duty to nurture young minds but take it far too seriously.

How to identify a parental leader:

  • Their tone of voice is low and slow
  • They smile (a lot)
  • Their requests are patronizing
  • They sit beside you and dictate what you should write

The good side:

Parental leaders can help employees with low confidence or those starting their careers. They know how to boost self-esteem, are patient, and tend to be good teachers. Other positive traits are a great ability to listen and a generous offer of learning opportunities to their staff.

The bad side:

Those capable of working independently might feel overwhelmed by the excessive attention. Others will believe they are being treated like a child or forced to put their professional life always above personal matters. This type of leader is also known for having favorites and for requesting absolute loyalty to the company – the same kind you might choose only offers to a close family member.

The lowdown:

Consider which members of your team would benefit from having a mentor around and try your best never to sound condescending – remember that you are talking to adult professionals, even if they are much younger than you. Accept the fact that most people won’t see your project as more important than their family, no matter what you do to change it.

3. Democratic leaders

Everything is put to the vote when leaders follow the democratic style. They love to hear their collaborators’ opinions and believe that the more it’s discussed, no matter how trivial the topic is, the more chances a project has of being successful.

How to identify democratic leaders:

  • They ask what you think frequently
  • They provide more than one way to give feedback
  • They’re happy to be interrupted any time, even in the middle of a crisis
  • They hold meetings with the entire team constantly

The good side:

The work environment is likely to be enjoyable under this type of team leadership. Employees feel like their ideas are appreciated, trusting they can speak their minds freely. Projects tend to be creative, full of great insights, and mistakes hardly pass unnoticed thanks to the continual evaluation.

The bad side:

Stopping to ask opinions about everything can kill productivity – one might spend more time in meetings than getting tasks done. Also, if the contributions aren’t adding value, it only creates noise. On top of it, employees need to believe that their leaders can think for themselves and make judgment calls during a crisis.

The lowdown:

Be available to listen to your team, but first, decide what type of advice you need and how often. Then choose the best way to ask for it. When holding a meeting, invite the right people and keep the agenda straight to the point. Never request an opinion with the goal of sharing responsibility when things go wrong – you are the leader; therefore, the burden is yours.

Listening to your team's opinions on projects will help get key insight for a leader to make a decision

4. Laissez-faire leaders

The dream of many employees come true when they deal with someone with this team leadership style. Laissez-faire leaders allow their team to work at their own discretion, following what is called a hands-off approach. They provide guidance only when asked and concentrate their time on making resources available or distributing tasks.

How to identify laissez-faire leaders:

  • Employees decide which tasks they will do, when and how
  • Resources are provided upon request
  • Employees are expected to solve issues by themselves

The good side:

These leaders are very able to manage seasoned employees, including remote workers or freelancers, and to bring expertise from multiple sources. They are happy to see their team members grow professionally while allowing them to adapt tasks to their own personalities. They will make the most of any skill set.

The bad side:

Too much freedom can be easily abused. Some collaborators might believe that they can do whatever they want – and end up doing nothing at all. Others might feel unsure of what is expected of them as the goals aren’t clear. Entry-level employees will be completely lost due to the lack of guidance.

The lowdown:

Offer flexibility to whom can handle it. A laissez-faire approach will only be helpful to experienced professionals, those confident enough to work independently. It’s usually best to be closer to people starting the job. But after a few months (or a few projects), you will be able to tell who is ready to make their own decisions.

5. Transactional leaders

A widespread type of team leadership is the Transactional style. Here the rules are as clear as if you were playing a game: there are procedures to follow, targets to meet, and rewards to pursue. Every member of the team knows their role, what they are expected to do, and what happens if they fail.

How to identify transactional leaders:

  • They are very energetic
  • Their presentations are based on numbers
  • They deliver performance evaluations regularly

The good side:

Everybody knows what to do from day one, and how to make a difference. The leader has the goal to ensure that things get done as agreed, so his or her interference is minimal but relevant. Employees are emotionally invested in their jobs and tend to be motivated.

The bad side:

A fierce competition might raise among collaborators, and it might not be because they believe in the importance of the project – but because they have an eye on the prize. If for any reason, the reward can’t be delivered, employees will feel betrayed. There will also be a need for progressively higher bonuses, and too many rules might end up turning into bureaucracy.

The lowdown:

Use work transactions in your favor without creating a state of constant dispute among employees. Conceive the right number of guidelines, realistic targets, and offer rewards you can afford – bonus based on sales is usually a safe choice, along with paid days off. Also, provide reminders about the relevance the project at hand to the company and their own careers regularly.

6. Transformational leaders

Also known as business gurus, Transformational leaders spend most of their time trying to make a change in the way their team deal with work in general. They aren’t particularly concerned with tasks. They care about encouraging their employees in doing their best.   

How to identify transformational leaders:

  • They deliver speeches during meetings
  • Share articles and videos to illustrate their ideas
  • They hold one-to-one conversations to discuss professional development

The good side:

After each meeting, team members are energized, ready to overcome challenges, and sharing a common vision. Their commitment to the company’s goals is noticeable, and the work environment is friendly. The staff turnover is likely to be low – people will mention that the personality of the leader is their top reason to remain on the job.

The bad side:

Not everyone can keep a workplace inspired 24/7. As a result, transformational leaders might have to deal with low productivity, due to speeches that are too abstract or unable to resonate with some employees. Some of these leaders have also been accused of getting obsessed with their own ego or spending vital resources in the creation of their inspirational pieces.

The lowdown:

Charisma should be in the toolkit of any leader. It’s essential that your team feel motivated and consider working with you as a unique professional opportunity. Still, don’t make it your main purpose. Your inspirational ideas can be delivered along with your tasks. And leave the big speeches to special moments so they can become memorable instead of more of the same.

Knowing what type of boss you are will help you lead your coworkers to success

Improve your team leadership style right now

After reading this, you probably know which leadership style matches yours. And, as you can see, each one of them has a good and a bad side. Now, try to improve your way to lead your team by incorporating the advantages of each one of them, while staying clear of their disadvantages.

Yet, nobody is perfect. Even famous names, such as Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet, have faced criticism, so be prepared for it. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from your mistakes and progress step by step. So, start doing your best today. Your project and team members will thank you for that.

By Lucy Damasceno

August 7, 2018


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