With regards to interior design you have a preference – you like contemporary to traditional or perhaps country over Asian. Concerning fashion you have tastes there too.  You gravitate towards sporty, tailored, classic or maybe haute couture.  Even with cuisine, your palate values certain dining experiences over others.  Are you in the mood for comfort food, French, or BBQ with outdoor seating?  However, when it comes to leadership most individuals are unaware that there are different styles from which you can choose.

Leadership is often a go-with-your-gut endeavor.  Frequently, leaders receive no formal training.  Rather, they go on instinct.  Alternatively, leaders model the person who came before them.  If that person was a good leader, he is copied.  If that person was a bad leader, she serves as a model for what not to do.  Moreover, more often than not it is go-it-alone activity.  There are no interior designers informing your style outlook, no sales personnel shaping your look, and no master chefs preparing your meal.

A Conscious Choice: What is Your Leadership Style?

It is astounding to most leaders (whether it is in their practice or workplace settings, their communities, the state and nation, and society more generally) that there are clearly defined leadership styles from which you can choose.  In the course of his work, Daniel Goleman identified six leadership styles.  An easy way to understand the styles is mapped below:

Commanding: “Do what I tell you.”
Visionary: “Come with me.”
Affiliative: “People come first.”
Democratic: “What do you think?”
Pacesetting: “Do as I do, now.”
Coaching: “Try this.”

Not only do the different styles have names, but they have each been studied and measured for their impact on morale.  Through the course of his research, Goleman determined that Visionary, Affiliative, Democratic, and Coaching all have a positive impact on the climate of an organization.  Ironically, while Commanding and Pacesetting often are a leader’s go-to styles, they have a negative effect on the team.

You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Most people struggle with accepting this fact.  Even when they learn that Commanding and Pacesetting will not get them the results they desire, they cling to these styles nonetheless.  Imagine learning that you have high cholesterol, but insisting on eating bacon every morning for breakfast.

Well, relentlessly clutching on to negative leadership approaches is something like that.  Continually using your default style is like trying to fix a leaky faucet with just one tool – a hammer.  When you are able to access multiple styles, it is akin to doing the repair with a fully stocked toolbox at your fingertips.  Which plumber is likely to be more successful?  Which repairperson would you hire to fix your sink?

It is inconceivable that an attorney would practice without a law degree, a CEO would run an organization without business acumen, or a finance professional would build financial models without Excel.  So, why then is it permissible for a leader to lead without any formal leadership training or even a modicum of knowledge about leadership studies?

Desperately clinging to your old leadership style, the one that flies in the face of management science, organizational development, and human engineering is at best limiting and at worst ultimately a dead-end proposition.  I suggest that this pry-it-from-my-cold-dead-hands approach may not be working.

This Is Your Pop Quiz

It often is true that seeing really is believing.  Sometimes people have to feel it on their skin before they can buy into it (the little kid who has to touch the stove burner before believing it really is hot).  If that’s true of you, I encourage you to run a test.  Try on each of the six styles for a week and gauge the crowd response.  Quantify your results.

Maybe your team is impervious to your Commanding or Pacesetting style.  Perhaps they respond better, make fewer mistakes, move faster, and think more creatively when in a state of panic, quaking in fear, and with someone breathing down their necks.   If so, they are the exception to the rule.  Science, history, and experience reveal that leaders get more bang for their buck when they are able to inspire the masses to come willingly and with gusto.