Why the Best Leaders Hack Their Leadership Styles

UPDATED: October 9, 2015
PUBLISHED: April 29, 2015

Do you know your boss’s leadership style? Your own? Experts say there are three traditional leadership styles:

1. Autocratic—where the leader makes business decisions without referring to the others. This style allows quick decision-making and effective and close supervision of the team, but may lead to team dissatisfaction.

2. Transactional—where both leaders and team members agree to work on mutual preplanned goals and the leader has the autonomy to reward people. This helps to clearly outline the responsibilities of both parties and ensures fair practice of work, but inhibits creativity in the lower levels.

3. Transformational—where the leader seeks to motivate team members via high levels of communication and productivity. Team members are made responsible and are expected to deliver the best results. This helps boost business morale and team satisfaction.

Think you know where you fall? Well, narrowing yourself into one category might not be ideal. Instead, an effective leader may have to “bait the hook to suit the fish,” or assess each situation to be flexible enough to meet certain goals.

Here’s the thing: Leadership is a discipline that is never static. In order to remain effective, you must evolve—and if you don’t hack your leadership style, your approach, whatever it might be, might not work anymore. The leadership paradigm has shifted in its entirety—what you have been doing may very well have worked well in the past, but without reshaping how you lead along with the dynamic nature of the business environment, your approach is likely to backfire moving forward.

A good leader will be one who adopts different leadership styles according to the condition and characteristics of their subordinates. For example, an employee who has low morale but high skill will require the manager to adopt a creative leadership style, one that seeks to inspire and motivate the worker. An employee with low skill and low motivation will require a more authoritarian leadership approach.

You also need to take into consideration your business model. For instance, do you need to exercise a slightly less democratic leadership style compared to another profession, where strong communication and interpersonal skills are of importance? Failure to understand the context of the business can result in ineffective leadership.

In the long term, a leader might have to develop qualities that complement a participative style of leading—because a lot of team members want to be trusted to get things done. For this to take effect, managers need to foster a culture of openness and team leadership and minimize bureaucratic approaches to handling their subordinates.

The one-size-fits-all leadership approach is a thing of the past—flexibility and adaptability are key. Emerging leaders have to learn how to take the right elements from each leadership style and develop a fresh approach. That’s how you hack your leadership style.

Jim Rohn says great leaders share 7 personality traits. Find out if you have the right qualities.

Simon T. Bailey is an international speaker, writer and personal transformation strategist. He is the author of Shift Your Brilliance: Harness the Power of You, Inc., and Be the SPARK: Five Platinum Service Principles for Creating Customers for Life. When he’s not working, he enjoys rooting for the Buffalo Bills (his hometown team).