Effective Leadership Styles:
Best Practices and Qualities for
Effective leadership styles include qualities that are most likely to be effective in today's world. 21st century leadership needs to be both similar to leadership of the past and different from leadership of the past. How can that possibly be?!
Let’s think about it for a minute. The basic and fundamental principles of effective leadership skills have remained the same for generations. They are based on timeless human relations principles. But many of the tactics have necessarily changed to meet the demands of the 21st century.
The world has changed dramatically in the last few decades. No surprise there! Some styles may have qualified as very effective leadership in the time of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers. But they are simply less effective today.
For example, some years ago, if the “boss” or “Dad” said jump, the employee’s or kid’s reaction would have been: “Of course. How high? How long? Is this what you meant?”
Not so today. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know at a gut level, but there’s an important reason that you must keep this truth in mind every single day and in every interaction. It means you have to lead differently.
For anyone in the role of leadership today (whether it’s for your job, or you are chairing a community committee), the kick-in-the-pants, Commanding leadership style of yesteryear will simply not enable you to achieve results. And effective leadership styles achieve results.
What Doesn't Work
If the Commanding style ever worked, it does not work in the 21st century! The Command style is NOT a 21st century effective leadership style. It is contrary to best practice. Commanders, even in the military, have learned there are better ways to achieve results with followers in today’s world.
But think about this: issuing orders is the kind of leadership role model many of today’s managers and supervisors have had in their own past. So using the method they have observed most the is logical to them. They may not even realize there is a better way.
If this Commanding model is practically all you’ve seen from the people in charge, you may simply not know how to do it another way. You may try to make this style work by being more demanding—more forceful and more repetitive. But if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and doing more of it won’t change that.
When most of us were kids, being the “leader” was very desirable because it meant we got to have things our way. It often meant we got to “boss” others around. We may have played at this style from the time of childhood. As children we thought it gave us power.
One fairly recent, comprehensive study and classification of leadership was undertaken by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee and published in Primal Leadership in 2002. Their classification of styles may be particularly relevant to 21st century leadership best leadership practice, in contrast to the prior classification systems mentioned here.
The following six styles they identified are listed in order of preference, with the “best” style of leadership first, and on down the list to the least effective style which is listed last.
1. Visionary Leadership – Leader sets direction by creating a vision that engages people. People share the dream. Conclusion from the study authors: this best practice leadership style is probably the overall most effective style, especially the higher in the organization one progresses.
2. Coaching – Leader connects individual needs and wants with the organization’s goals. Coaching explores the person’s life and values beyond just the work. Such leaders help employees forge long-term goals and develop plans to meet those goals. Paradoxically, while this style does not focus specifically on the bottom line, it delivers bottom line results. In their findings, it was the second most effective best practice style in driving results.
3. Affiliative – The leader connects people to each other, thereby creating teamwork and harmony. This style promotes collaboration and relationships which indirectly drive better performance, loyalty, and commitment.
4. Democratic – Inclusion and participation show that each member is valued by this leader. This is particularly effective when the leader is genuinely looking for ideas or seeking to secure buy-in for a potential change. At some point, however, if consensus cannot be reached the leader must make the decision and move ahead.
The two less effective leadership styles in the 21st century (although still common) which these authors identified were:
5. Pacesetting – Leader sets and achieves challenge goals. This style is often executed in a highly competitive way, thus it is less effective in most situations because it promotes the good of one person or department with little regard for the good of the entire organization. It can be useful sometimes with a confident and highly motivated team, but this style should be used sparingly.
6. Commanding – Leader provides clear direction and makes all decisions.. This style is frequently misused and overused, and was shown to be minimally effective in the 21st century organization. It can be useful temporarily in a crisis, to jump-start a new initiative, or with a problem employee, but use of the commanding style should be very limited.
Best practice leadership—the most effective styles for the demands of our present-day world—are: visionary, coaching, affiliative, and democratic. Learn all you can to develop skills that align with these styles. You will greatly improve your effectiveness.
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Conclusion on Effective Styles
Today good leadership skills and effective leadership styles are based more on the principle of servant leadership—serving the needs of others—making their path straight and their way easy. The leader’s role today is to make employees want to follow and to make it easy for them to follow their leader. A leader’s role is to enable the followers to do their jobs.
In our society, everyone from the customer to colleagues to employees wants to believe they are “first.” The leader who can adequately show genuine interest in the welfare of others and make each of them feel as if they are “first” is one the most likely to be successful in leadership.
Effective leadership styles in the 21st Century have the fundamental themes of collaboration and service. Nice guys DON’T finish last in leadership. Remember that.
to read about trustbuilding in leadership, an essential component of all effective styles.
to read about using questions to develop a more effective leadership style.