THERE ARE VARYING notions about what makes a great leader, but everyone agrees there is no one-size-fits-all formula. Attila the Hun, Napoleon, Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher and Jack Welch are all examples of successful leaders, but as individuals they could hardly be more different.
All strong leaders have their unique style – a distinctive brand of leadership. Whether you are leading a country, company, team or project, it is important to develop a leadership style of your own which people will recognise and respond to.
Your leadership style does not need to be set in stone. In fact, it can and should change over time. You need a high degree of self-awareness and understanding of your surroundings, so that you can implement strategies which maximise your effectiveness as a leader and minimise behaviour that works against you.
Over the years, styles of business leadership have been classified into various categories. Three of the most significant are known as charismatic, transactional and transformational.
Consider the key features of each leadership style of identify the one closest to yours, or the one that you respond to best.
Charismatic The idea of a charismatic leader dates back to the early 20th century and the writings of Max Weber (1864-1920) in Economy and Society. Since then, different perspectives have been developed, but most share the common belief that a charismatic leader can connect personally with his or her followers and motivate them to action.
A charismatic leader has the ability to articulate a vision that touches an emotional chord with an audience.
Most organisations have goals but it takes a leader with charisma to transform these objectives from something that looks good on paper, or sounds interesting in the boardroom, to a dynamic message that captures the hearts and minds of the workforce.
This vision does not have to be tied to a specific time frame, but it must be attainable, desirable and, most importantly, serve to inspire others.
This leadership style involves taking people on an emotional journey. It depends on achieving strong empathy, which is usually created by listening, discussing things openly, and using examples and anecdotes to bring the business to life.
A charismatic leader with the knack of communicating in this manner will be able to connect with each individual.
Transactional A transactional leader is focused on the task at hand and not on outlining a vision as a way of motivating others. Of course, there must still be a strong bond with the team or the followers, but in this instance it is based on a transaction – if you do this, I will make that happen. In effect, a scale exists on which good performance will be rewarded positively and anything not up to the mark will be punished.
Such transactions often need a hands-on approach because only with close involvement can the leader monitor progress, measure output and enforce rules. Initially, that might seem a counterproductive approach, but it does not have to be.
On many occasions in business, transactional leadership is needed to focus the team on the immediate task. When there is a crisis, it is up to the leader to demand action and get the results. This is best done by being in touch with events, asking detailed questions and making on-the-spot decisions.
Project leaders tend to be more transactional in their approach. They manage timelines, negotiate resources and supervise deliverables.
The style was much in evidence during the dotcom era of the early 2000s. Decisions had to be make quickly to stay ahead of competition, though this was often done with limited information.
At the time, however, the business imperative was to move fast. That was the measure of performance and the basis of rewards.
When communicating with the team, a leader with a transactional style tends to take a very logical approach. The focus is generally on the process and the desired outcome.
They still find a way to connect with their audience, but it is on a rational rather than emotional level.
Transformational The third major style of leadership probably works best in most situations. Organisations run by leaders who have mastered the relevant techniques tend to achieve consistently higher levels of performance.
In 1993, C.D. Pielstick set out a number of reasons to explain why. Firstly, the transformational leader is able to create a shared vision – not just communicate his or her vision effectively, as the charismatic leader does. In this way, it becomes something owned by the team – not just by the leader.
Secondly, success derives from the ability to build and sustain teams that repeatedly perform to a high standard. By developing an environment in which differences, diversity and individual thinking are accepted, the leader creates a team whose output is greater than the sum of the individual parts.
Finally, leaders in this category tend to walk the talk. Their actions and personality are an example for the values and behaviour of the team.
By setting high standards and matching expectations, they can inspire others to strive for continuous improvement. By showing honesty, integrity, fairness and passion, a transformational leader is also able to create an atmosphere where success is achieved even in times of adversity.
When it comes to branding your leadership style, remember there is no right or wrong. It is more a matter of establishing what works for you, remaining flexible, and recognising there are many shades of grey.
The world’s most famous leaders are often considered transformational, but if you study their lives in greater detail, you will see they have also displayed many charismatic and transactional traits along the way.
As a leader, you should be ready to adopt the style that will work best in a given situation and remind yourself that the overriding objective is to get the results that you and your stakeholders desire.
Start exploring your own leadership style today. Read widely about famous and lesser-known leaders, and observe the people around you.
The way you lead will be a reflection of your personality, the circumstances and the people in your team.
TIPS TO WIN
Communication The basic objective for any business leader is to direct individuals, teams or organisations to behave and perform in a way that supports corporate goals. This is achieved by communicating with team members so that desired outcomes can be influenced through personal interaction. Take a moment to think about some of the key elements. Influencing includes inspiring, challenging and persuading, whether as a coach, manager or mentor. The process involves give and take. It needs to get a clear, preferred, essential and owned outcome. Personal interaction is vital. Without that, the leader has little chance of getting a message across effectively or achieving business objectives. It can be a direct or indirect form of interaction. Whatever form it takes, communication is the number one skill that a leader needs to develop.
Strategic Leadership The strategic style of leadership is about looking towards the future. Executives who adopt this approach leave the routine management tasks to trusted lieutenants and concentrate on studying the big picture. Their horizon is not two or three years ahead, but perhaps ten or more years down the road. They want to get the right people on board, develop them to their fullest potential and lead them towards new growth opportunities. Leaders who do things in this manner should be flexible. More importantly, they also have to be comfortable with contemplating the unknown. They are not just planning for the future, they are actively creating it.
Clear Vision Leadership is about delivering a message that is aspirational. A core competency for any leader is to inspire and guide the behaviour of other people. When delivering any message in this vein, a number of key elements come into play. The leader should be able to articulate a clear vision about what the organisation can achieve. The company’s purpose and the overarching reason why people should feel enthusiastic about coming to the office every day should be explained. The stated purpose for global consulting firm McKinsey & Company, for example, might be to help leading companies become even more successful. This purpose must then be broken up into short-term objectives that are actionable. If organisations have several strategies to be implemented over the next three to five years, that usually results in a realisation of the long-term vision.