6 Executive Leadership Styles, And When To Apply Them

Executive Leadership

When it comes to executive leadership, no one style works all the time. It depends on the challenges you face.

A recent study of 3,871 executives by consulting firm Hay/McBer looked at six styles. The study, reported in the Harvard Business Review, concluded that a leader should use various styles according to need. The study reported that:

  • The Coercive style, in which the leader demands immediate compliance and typically belittles staff, is the least effective. It should be used only when absolutely needed, such as in a turnaround or in the face of a hostile takeover.
  • The Authoritative style, which mobilizes people by giving them a clear long-term vision, works well in most situations but is best used when a business is adrift.
  • The Affiliative style, in which a leader creates emotional bonds and harmony, works well when a leader needs to increase morale or repair broken trust. But if used alone it can leave poor performances uncorrected and people rudderless.
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  • The Democratic style, in which a leader creates consensus through participation, can build trust and commitment, but can lead to endless meetings and delayed decisions. It works best when employees are competent enough to offer sound advice.
  • The Pacesetting style is one in which leaders expect excellence and self-direction, setting high performance standards. They use themselves as a model and quickly pinpoint poor performers. The style can sap morale because employees feel they are not trusted. It works best when staff are self-motivated, highly competent and need little direction.
  • The Coaching style, in which a leader develops people for the future and gives them challenging assignments, works when employees are aware of their weaknesses. It doesn’t work when they resist change.

Although it may be true that executive leadership styles change with the times and circumstances, what doesn’t change is the need for leaders to model the behaviors they expect from their people. Intended or not, your actions become the model for your people’s performance.