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If you want to succeed as a leader, you need to be comfortable with moving around the spectrum of leadership styles. Sticking with just one style means that you become predictable and hence, as a leader, dispensable. It also means that your style of leading may not fit the needs of the team or task. So, learn what the 4 leadership styles are and develop yourself to become skilled in each of them.

<b>1. The Directive Style. </b>The directive leadership style is the style most people equate with "strong" leadership. When people say they want more leadership, they usually mean they want more direction. In military terms, this is leading from the front or by example. Although the directive, — or command-and-tell — style, is out of favour today, it is still the style you must use in new, unfamiliar, or critical situations when the team face a threat.

So, if the directive style is not your natural style, how do you become more effective at it? Here are 7 quick clues:
1. put more effort into planning so that you look ready
2. look the part: dress confidently; make every move count; avoid hesitation
3. rehearse your performance so that you look authoritative in front of others
4. master assertive language: talk clearly and a little louder than normal
5. keep your communication short and to the point; cut out the use of descriptive adjectives.
6. get active; look busy; be a good time manager
7. be decisive; make up your mind and go with it.

One other useful pointer: it is easier to start with a hard impression and soften it later than to start with a soft impression and harden it later.

<b>2. The Consultative Style. </b>If the directive style puts task before team, the consultative style puts team before task. This is the style you’ll use when you need to talk to the team, hear what they have to say, understand them, and take them with you. If the directive style calls for a typically masculine approach, the consultative style calls for a typically feminine approach: hard versus soft.

To master the consultative style, you need to master team meetings. Use the following approaches:
1. get the team together, if necessary, off site
2. avoid too many meetings with individual team members or you will create mistrust and suspicion
3. involve the team in the planning of meetings
4. be prepared to hear things you don’t like
5. decide where on the scale you want to be: at one end, the purely consultative in which you listen and then decide; or at the other end, the consensual where you and the team decide together
6. practise concentrated listening
7. give everyone a chance to talk. Notice who doesn’t speak readily.  Find a balance. Seek contrary views to the loudest.

<b>3. The Problem-Solving Style. </b>The problem-solving style of leadership goes under various names. Ken Blanchard calls it the "selling" style (in contrast to "telling"). Other writers call it the participative style or negotiating style or the win-win style. If the directive style is top-down (ie from you downwards) and the consultative style is bottom-up (ie from them upwards), then the problem-solving style is sideways: us together as equals working things out. The problem-solving style is the right style to use when there is conflict in the team. Here are some techniques to use to make you a better problem-solving leader:

1. believe that in every conflict with the team, there is a solution in which both sides (you and the team) can get what you want
2. state your own position clearly and consistently. Listen carefully to theirs.
3. focus on issues not personalities
4. find the emotional blocks such as their fears and anxieties. These often result in people playing games.  Knock these down by building trust.
5. seek common ground
6. battle on to find a creative solution based on principles
7. summarise frequently.

<b>4. The Delegated Style. </b>For those who are not used to the delegated style of leadership, it first looks like an abdication of leadership. It’s the style where you take a back seat and appear to do nothing. In reality it is one of the hardest of styles to use. It means letting go of control so that the team can make their own decisions. You trust them and first time round that can be hard. Here are some ways to develop your delegating style:

1. Make it safe for the team to try things out.  
2. focus on them: “What would you do?” “What do you think?” “What do you feel we should do?”
3. resist the temptation to jump in and rescue them when things go wrong; they can learn so much more by sorting it out themselves.
4. move gradually. If people aren’t used to this style, they may suspect your intentions.
5. praise every success
6. find the right distance: not too close that you are seen to be checking them, not too far away that they feel abandoned.
7. check back regularly that things are OK.

Your ability to move around these four styles, and the shades in-between, will tell others just how good a leader you really are. You won’t always get it right. Sometimes, you’ll call the team for a chat when they want decisiveness. Sometimes, you’ll try to sell your ideas when what they want is for you to leave them alone. But as you develop your reading of situations, you’ll come to know instinctively just what your best action should be.

© Eric Garner,

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This Management & Personal Skills article was written by Eric Garner on 12/14/2005

Eric Garner runs, the website that will make you a better manager, trainer, and learner.