The third management function is leading—providing focus and direction to others and motivating them to achieve organizational goals. [Yes, ORGANIZING was skipped as it has the option of coverage in an additional chapter.] As owner and president of Notes-4-You, you might think of yourself as an orchestra conductor. You have given your musicians (employees) their sheet music (plans). You’ve placed them in sections (departments) and arranged the sections (organizational structure) so the music will sound as good as possible. Now your job is to tap your baton and lead the orchestra so that its members make beautiful music together.
Which characteristics should a leader possess? You might consider a leader you know personally e.g., a boss, team captain, or think of a leader on the larger stage e.g., politics, sports, business. Which attributes make the person an effective leader or capable of leading a team? Google this and you get 50,000,000 hits, but many of the results list common elements. Take a look at a sound representative of the results from Brian Tracey (using this infographic does not endorse him or his product).
7 Leadership Qualities of Great Leaders [infographic] by Brian Tracy International
As a conductor, it’s fairly easy to pick up a baton, cue each section, and strike up the band; but it doesn’t mean the music will sound good. What if your cues are ignored or misinterpreted or ambiguous? Maybe your musicians don’t like your approach to making music and will just walk away. On top of everything else, you don’t simply want to make music: you want to inspire your musicians to make great music. How do you accomplish this goal? How do you become an effective leader, and what style should you use to motivate others to achieve organizational goals?
Unfortunately, there are no definitive answers to questions like these. Over time, every manager refines their own leadership style, or way of interacting with and influencing others. Despite a vast range of personal differences, leadership styles tend to reflect one of the following approaches to leading and motivating people: the autocratic, the democratic (also known as participative), or the free rein.
- Autocratic style. Managers who have developed an autocratic leadership style tend to make decisions without soliciting input from subordinates. They exercise authority and expect subordinates to take responsibility for performing the required tasks without undue explanation.
- Democratic style. Managers who favor a democratic leadership style generally seek input from subordinates while retaining the authority to make the final decisions. They’re also more likely to keep subordinates informed about things that affect their work.
- Free-rein style. In practising a free rein leadership style, managers adopt a “hands-off” approach and provide relatively little direction to subordinates. They may advise employees but usually give them considerable freedom to solve problems and make decisions on their own.
At first glance, you’d probably not want to work for an autocratic leader. After all, most people don’t like to be told what to do without having any input. Many like the idea of working for a democratic leader; it’s flattering to be asked for your input. And though working in a free rein environment might seem a little unsettling at first, the opportunity to make your own decisions is appealing to many people. Each leadership style can be appropriate in certain situations.
To illustrate, let’s say that you’re leading a group of fellow students in a team project for your class. Are there times when it would be best for you to use an autocratic leadership style? What if your team was newly formed, unfamiliar with what needs to be done, under a tight deadline, and looking to you for direction? In this situation, you might find it appropriate to follow an autocratic leadership style (on a temporary basis) and assign tasks to each member of the group. In an emergency situation, such as a fire, or in the final seconds of a close ball game, there is generally not time for debate – the leader or coach must make a split-second decision that demands an autocratic style.
But since most situations are non-emergency and most people prefer the chance to give input, the democratic leadership style is often favored. People are simply more motivated and feel more ownership of decisions (i.e., buy-in) when they have had a chance to offer input. Note that when using this style, the leader will still make the decision in most cases. As long as their input is heard, most people accept that it is the leader’s role to decide in cases where not everyone agrees.
How about free rein leadership? Many people function most effectively when they can set their own schedules and do their work in the manner they prefer. It takes a great deal of trust for a manager to employ this style. Some managers start with an assumption of trust that is up to the employee to maintain through strong performance. In other cases, this trust must be earned over a period of time. Would this approach always work with your study group? Obviously not. It will work if your team members are willing and able to work independently and welcome the chance to make decisions. On the other hand, if people are not ready to work responsibly to the best of their abilities, using the free rein style could cause the team to miss deadlines or do poorly on the project.
The point being made here is that no one leadership style is effective all the time for all people or in all corporate cultures. While the democratic style is often viewed as the most appropriate (with the free rein style a close second), there are times when following an autocratic style is essential. Good leaders learn how to adjust their styles to fit both the situation and the individuals being directed.
Theories on what constitutes effective leadership evolve over time. One theory that has received a lot of attention in the last decade contrasts two leadership styles: transactional and transformational. So-called transactional leaders exercise authority based on their rank in the organization. They let subordinates know what’s expected of them and what they will receive if they meet stated objectives. They focus their attention on identifying mistakes and disciplining employees for poor performance. By contrast, transformational leaders mentor and develop subordinates, providing them with challenging opportunities, working one-on-one to help them meet their professional and personal needs, and encouraging people to approach problems from new perspectives. They stimulate employees to look beyond personal interests to those of the group.
So, which leadership style is more effective? You probably won’t be surprised by the opinion of most experts. In today’s organizations, in which team building and information sharing are important and projects are often collaborative in nature, transformational leadership has proven to be more effective. Modern organizations look for managers who can develop positive relationships with subordinates and motivate employees to focus on the interests of the organization. Leaders who can be both transactional and transformational are rare, and those few who have both capacities are very much in demand.
- Reh, J. (n.d.). Management 101. About Money. Retrieved from: http://management.about.com/cs/generalmanagement/a/Management101.htm ↵
- Brian Tracy International. (n.d.). 7 Leadership qualities of great leaders [infographic]. https://www.briantracy.com/blog/leadership-success/the-seven-leadership-qualities-of-great-leaders-strategic-planning/ ↵
- Burke, S., & Collins, K. M. (2001). Gender differences in leadership styles and management skills. Women in Management Review. ↵