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CULTURE CACHE |

Learning to Flex Your Leadership Style

Studies have proven that leadership style has a substantial impact on sales, growth and efficiency. Therefore, a careful leadership approach in each situation is vital.

Becoming a flexible leader is increasingly essential to adapt and keep pace in a swiftly transforming social and economic climate. Daniel Goleman states in the Harvard Business Review that “Leaders who used styles that positively affected the climate had decidedly better financial results than those who did not . . . but our analysis strongly suggests that climate accounts for nearly a third of results. And that’s simply too much of an impact to ignore.” For this reason, top-down leadership is rarely effective, as it can clash with individuals and circumstances. Flexible leadership reflects on the fact that there is no single best style to lead, but rather should be completely task relevant.

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Key Takeaways for Flexible Leaders
  • Strive to be a master of four or more leadership styles for best business performance.
  • Recognize that there is no one “perfect” way to approach leadership; rather, a flexible approach is the most effective.
  • Always assess each situation and the team members involved in a new challenge.
  • Take time to listen to the advice of others and try new approaches for problem solving.
  • Pause to check on progress and assess a chosen strategy, making adjustments as needed.
  • Authoritative, coercive and pacesetter leaders are most likely to have a negative impact if used long term.
  • Democratic, affiliative and coaching leaders will provide the most positive impact.

What Is a Flexible Leader?

An effective flexible leader will realize that not all team members react the same to direction. They will accept that challenges change, or the connection with employees needs to shift. Furthermore, a situational leader will acknowledge the differences among individuals and will know how to capitalize on the diversity. Below are six distinct approaches to leadership. It is important to remember that each style can have positive and negative effects in different situations.

  • The Democratic Leader: This leader collaborates, building on consensus with equal participation from all team members by blending the contributed ideas, keeping an open mind and maintaining involvement.
  • The Authoritative Leader: Ultimately, they will mobilize a team toward a goal with a carefully orchestrated vision that inspires enthusiasm.
  • The Coaching Leader: Leaders who coach their team are capable of developing leaders of the future. They facilitate setting an individual or team’s long-term goals to achieve overall success.
  • The Coercive Leader: Demanding immediate compliance, this leadership style requires a team to follow careful guidelines and instructions by controlling all decisions of a project. This strategy may be needed in times of crisis.
  • The Pacesetting Leader: This leader aims to duplicate themselves in the surrounding team. They demonstrate accountability, a drive for excellence and aim to create an atmosphere of infectious ambition.
  • The Affiliative Leader: This leader is capable of forging a sense of belonging using strong skills in emotional intelligence and accountability as learning tools, thereby forming a team that embraces trust, respect and listening skills.

Assessing Flexibility

While all of these styles have their merits, it’s important to adjust styles according to each situation. Considering the following questions is helpful to recognize when modifications may be necessary:

  • Am I too dependent on one style of leading?
  • Do I consider multiple options to solve problems?
  • Am I able to remain open-minded to new suggestions?
  • Am I able to recognize when my behavior needs to shift?
  • Do I encourage others to remain flexible?

Learning to Adapt

The best leaders are the ones who are the most adaptable to a shifting landscape. They can quickly assess the situation at hand and utilize their skills to apply to the people working on the project. These kind of leaders know when they are getting tunnel vision and will adjust their direction. Some core competencies that allow flexible leadership and recognize what leadership style is applicable include:

  • Situational Awareness: A leader who is a master of situational awareness can assess the assets of individuals with differing education, experience, backgrounds and cultures, and know what strategies will work best. Furthermore, they will understand that factors such as company culture and prior events will all play a role in the project and will know how to navigate these internal and external circumstances.
  • Focus: When new challenges and issues begin to pile up on a project, flexible leaders will not allow these situations to distract them from the end objective. The necessary momentum will be maintained by finding the balance between short-term issues and achieving the goal.
  • Cause and Effect: A flexible leader will have the foresight to anticipate that changes will have a ripple effect across an organization. Being one step ahead of these effects will make it easier to manage the impact of interlocking systems.

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Zain JafferZain Jaffer is the founder and CEO of Zain Ventures, a global investment firm that invests in start-ups, real estate, fixed income, stocks, hedge funds and private equity.