Running your own business — and the many hats you’ll wear — means how you lead may need to change weekly, daily or even by the hour. Identify your go-to style and learn when to use different ones.
In a three-year study of more than 3,000 business leaders, behavioural scientist Daniel Goleman observed six main leadership styles. Goleman found when leaders used several different leadership styles their businesses performed better than when they used just one or two.
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Goleman sets out more on these leadership styles in this article.
Leadership that gets results (external link) — Harvard Business Review
Find out which leadership style you lean towards:
Self-assessment: Which leadership style is your go-to? (external link) — Skills you need
No leadership style is effective one hundred percent of the time and in all situations. The key is knowing your default setting and being able to adapt it based on what’s needed at the time.
Who am I working with: What are their motivations, personality traits, knowledge and skill?
What’s required: What are my business objectives, what do I want to achieve?
How often do I see them: Do I see them regularly? Am I often away from the workplace? Are they? (For example, coaching someone who works remotely may be hard)
When do I want the work done: Do I have a tight deadline? Is it a crisis, a long-term plan, or somewhere in between?
Next think about which style best suits your situation. Use the case studies and pros and cons of each, below, to decide what would work best for you.
Hallmark: Inspiring people to fulfil a vision.
A Christchurch coffee shop has been losing trade. The menu is dated, service has slipped, and the venue is shabby. New manager Tracy sets about re-energising the café and its team.
Tracy leaves the day-to-day management to staff, while she works on her vision. In the next few weeks, she shares plans with the team.
She creates mood boards of colour palettes and fabric swatches, bringing to life plans for the physical space. When discussing plans to exhibit local art, she invites a local artist to share the inspiration behind her work. Designers present new versions of the menu and signs. And she hosts a menu-sampling evening for staff, with local musicians lined up to boost quiet, weeknight evenings.
Tracy’s enthusiasm is infectious. Staff are motivated by her energy. They’re stoked to be given the chance to contribute to the project, adding their own ideas to the suggestion box she’s set up in the staff room. Before long the café is running with a hum.
Hallmark: Expecting excellence, hard work and self-direction.
DigiTron Games Expo is just three months away. It’s big news for Geoff and his team — make or break. The start-up gamers have been working on Hoki Moki Magic for two years. Geoff’s been the driving force, but the team’s been living and breathing the app, too.
The DigiTron Expo means upping their game. It’s a chance to get the app to a big market. They’ll be competing against hundreds of world class acts. They need to shine.
Geoff’s been putting in extra hours, polishing their presentation. As Managing Director, he’s been clear that over the month, all hands are on deck. Until DigiTron’s in the bag hours will be long, work intense. Professional development, coaching and leave are also on hold.
Geoff’s team want to see the app succeed as much as he does. They don’t mind burning the candle at both ends, and can see their boss does more than his fair share. But Geoff will need to make sure he doesn’t expect this pace for more than a month. His team may become resentful, or simply burn out.
Hallmark: Focusing on relationships and team bonds.
When Priya takes on a Dunedin travel agency morale is at an all-time low. The business has been run into the ground and the five agents have been through a lengthy unfair dismissal case that has affected their trust in the business and its leaders.
Priya has grand plans for the business, but before she gets down to planning and setting KPIs, she knows she needs to rebuild the team.
First, she arranges a team trip to Auckland to visit one of their biggest hotel partners. It’s a great chance to get to know her team, and also great background for selling to customers. She plans fun activities and helps team members discover new things about their colleagues.
Back in the office, she schedules regular morning teas. She asks employees to take it in turns to present on a different travel location to their team mates. She also introduces a buddy system to encourage team mates to help solve each other’s work challenges.
After a couple of months, the agency is a-buzz. Priya knows she can ease off team building and start getting the team involved in working on strategy.
When it comes to leadership, no one size fits all. From affiliative to authoritative, coercive to coaching. Take this quiz to find out which leadership style works best in different situations.
Hallmark: Asking what people think.
Rob runs a scaffolding business with six employees. Rob regularly gets staff together to talk health and safety. He knows it’s not only best practice, but required by law. To keep his workplace safe, he needs staff 100 per cent behind health and safety.
Rob organises regular meetings. He allows plenty of time for staff to discuss safety concerns, and is careful to ask apprentices and new recruits directly what they think— his more experienced team members are quite vocal, and can be intimidating.
Once everyone’s had their say, they come up with ideas to address the safety problems they’ve identified.
He then asks for volunteers to take responsibility for each aspect of their plan — updating the health and safety board, and keeping the risks whiteboard up-to-date.
Giving his team shared responsibility for health and safety means Rob can benefit from their ideas. It also makes them much more likely to consider other people’s workplace safety, than if he’d dictated exactly what they could and couldn’t do.
Hallmark: Helping people develop and grow.
Mike of Mike’s Motors is the face of his business. But after 30 years in the trade, he plans to spend less time fixing cars and more time fly fishing. His junior mechanic, Bryce, is hard working, sociable and keen. It’s time to let him step up and take on more.
Mike asks him to start taking charge of customers when they bring in and pick up their cars. Sometimes Mike watches from a distance, but is careful to make sure Bryce doesn’t feel that he is being checked up on. He chats to Bryce about how certain conversations have gone. He’s available if Bryce ever feels out of his depth, letting him know what sometimes works for him. When Bryce does a great job of handling a tricky customer, he makes sure Bryce knows.
Bryce is pumped Mike trusts him with customers. He takes on Mike’s advice and really grows. Mike notices the standard of Bryce’s work even goes up. In a few months, Mike feels confident leaving his business in Bryce’s hands, while he ducks out to the local river.
Hallmark: Demanding people do what you say.
It’s the morning of a big budget wedding, and Mia is two staff down. Six months in the planning, her company has pulled out all the stops to give the couple exactly what they want.
Mia has a lot to lose if her clients don’t get their dream day. And besides, she’s never yet let a client down — and doesn’t intend to start now.
With two agency staff on board to help, at 7.00am, she pulls the team together for a briefing. She’s revised the run sheet for the day — responsibilities have been rejigged and tasks reassigned, based on the skills available today. No discussion, no negotiation. There’s very little time and a lot to be done.
Armed with clear instructions, the team feels relieved to know exactly what they’re doing. Before the briefing, they’d felt jittery they wouldn’t pull the day off with a skeleton team.
Mia was right to take charge and prescribe what each staff member needed to do, and when. The day ran like clockwork and her, mostly inexperienced, team were grateful she hadn’t dropped them in at the deep end.