Do You Have Leadership Deficit Disorder?


It takes a leader to be boss.

Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada

So you think you’re a good leader? Ten points for confidence, but maybe it’s time to put the back-patting on pause: a worldwide Harvard study revealed that most workers don’t feel respected by their bosses, and in the US, half of employees have quit a job to get the heck away from their higher-up.

That makes for a mammoth cohort of disengaged and disgruntled staffers (some of whom might be grumbling away on your payroll) and a whole lot of leaders who would do well to take a good hard look at their style.

The idea of ‘leadership styles’ came to light in the ’30s when psychologists identified three predominant breeds of boss: autocratic (scarily personified by Hitler), democratic (the Miss Congeniality of leaders) and laissez-faire (does little more than roll about in their cash).

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Come the noughties, a Harvard Business Review study of more than 3,000 managers fattened this list to six types of top dog. The research was led (one would hope, well) by author and psychologist Daniel Goleman who, in addition to discovering that leadership style was responsible for a not-to-be-sniffed-at 30 per cent of a business’ bottom-line profitability, identified his six classifications of leader as so, each with its own catchphrase:

Coercive leaders say: “Do as I say”
Coercives pull rank with an iron fist, using the application of force (threatening pay cuts, demotions, lay offs and the like) in demanding immediate compliance. For obvious reasons, this method of managing doesn’t make for a likeable leader, but there is a time and a place for this style and that’s in a crisis situation, such as a company restructure, takeover attempt, managing difficult employees or an actual, raging tornado.

Authoritative leaders say: “Come with me”
This superior marshals people toward a shared vision (think Martin Luther King and his ‘dream’). They’re focused squarely on an end goal, preferring the finer details of getting there to be figured out by their team members, which works when employees would otherwise be ambling around without a clear idea of why they’re clocking in and out, or when a business is changing direction, but might not fly for those stepping into an established company (warm them up a little, first).

Affiliative leaders say: “People come first”
A true team player, this kind of leader is all about the feels and throws their weight behind nurturing emotional bonds and harmony within their company – which is great for when an employee is sobbing in the ladies toilet (bring on the personal leave days) and for building trust from a team. Dealing with underperformers, however, is not the strong suit of an affiliative leader (there’s just no way to sugar-coat someone’s marching orders).

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Democratic leaders say: “What do you think?”
Two (or 20) heads are better than one for this boss, who builds consensus through participation. They create a culture of collaboration – and because their employees are a vital part of decision-making, they’re all the more committed to seeing outcomes achieved. Which is fantastic, assuming you have a competent team, but a total flop if you’re dealing with urgent business. Brainstorms take time, you know.

Pacesetting leaders say: “Do as I do, now”
This leader makes an example of themselves and sets the bar sky high, expecting nothing less than excellence and self-direction from their team. They’ll never make an employee do something that they wouldn’t – which is great – but a pacesetter doesn’t dole out much positive reinforcement (no time for niceties) and brushes right on past potential innovation from staff who veer even slightly off track.

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Coaching leaders say: “Try this”
A coacher is big on providing feedback, and takes a keen interest in helping their employees develop and reach professional and personal long-term goals. They’re not going to hold your hand through challenges, but they’ll teach you how to tackle them – and genuinely want to see you triumph. It’s a good approach when a team is welcoming of some jostling and self-growth, not so good for those stick-in-the-mud, set-in-their-ways types.

See yourself in one or more of these? The trick to being a good leader, Daniel found, lies in striking a happy balance between all of these leadership styles (hint: go easy on the coercive) and learning which ones to roll out in any given business situation. With practice, he promises, you’ll be able to swiftly switch from authoritative to coacher to pacesetter and back again – just watch how this draws out the very best from your team.

Image courtesy of Fox 2000.

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