What’s your default leadership style?

Whether born or made, the same thing drives every leader: achieving a shared goal. How they pursue and communicate this shared goal varies. If 80 years of research has taught us anything, it’s that leadership is a combination of both style and substance. In 1939 psychologist Kurt Lewin led the way in this line of study by defining three styles of leadership: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire.

Over the next thirty years, research focused more on identifying the traits that leaders share—decisiveness, accountability, optimism, the ability to inspire—rather than on what makes them different. By the 1970s researchers began recognizing that leadership is situational. The best leaders share a high degree of emotional intelligence, but their style can vary.

No doubt every leader has a default style, but the best are able to don another when the situation demands. In the mid-nineties, psychologist Daniel Goleman evolved Lewin’s original three leader archetypes types into six. Which of the six best describe you? Your answers to the following four questions will help you identify your dominant style.

1. Which of the following do you find most satisfying in the workplace?

A. Difficult challenges and exciting goals
B. Mobilizing a team toward your vision
C. Developing a harmonious and loyal team
D. Mentoring team members
E. Turning things around in the midst of crisis
F. Collaboration and the free flow of ideas

2. In working with people toward a goal, you’re more likely to say:

A. “Ok team, how can we do this better – and faster?”
B. “Here’s how I think we should do this – what do you think?”
C. “Are you comfortable with this task—does it feel like a good fit?”
D. “Here’s what I would do. Now you give it a shot”
E. “Just do it, please.”
F. “Let’s decide together if this is the best way to move forward.”

3. In a team meeting, you’re most likely to…

A. Talk about company goals – including timelines
B. Share your expertise on a given situation
C. Give recognition to team members for a job well done
D. Suggest new roles/tasks that are challenging but rewarding
E. Give marching orders and demand compliance
F. Encourage work-sharing and open dialogue

4. To advance my career, I’ve typically done the following…

A. Worked fast and furiously to achieve aggressive goals
B. Maintained and followed a clear vision of where I want to be
C. Cultivated and nurtured relationships (after all, it’s about who you know)
D. Applied learnings from past challenges to get me to the next step
E. Whatever it takes – I’m not here to make friends
F. Immersed myself in different areas of interest to become well-rounded

Find your leadership style by tallying your answers and identifying which letter you picked most often.

Mostly As

You are a pacesetting leader: The pacesetting leader operates under a “Do as I do, now” mentality by identifying challenging and exciting goals for the team. This leadership style is motivated by a desire to achieve initiatives and see results. The pacesetting leader has high expectations and is quick to identify team members who fail to keep up.

Style pros: The ability to lead a high-energy group and quickly and effectively achieve business results.

Style cons: The team may burn out before a long-term objective is reached.

Style icons: Military leaders; Jack Welch, Retired CEO of General Electric and best-selling author


Mostly Bs

You are an authoritative leader: Those who embody an authoritative leader are experts in their fields, can clearly articulate a vision, and excel at offering aimless teams a sense of direction. Authoritative leaders shine brightest when a new vision is needed or the path forward is unclear.

Style pros: Tend to have the most positive overall impact on teams.

Style cons: Style can be off-putting to a team composed of other experts.

Style icons: Bill Gates; John F Kennedy; Martin Luther King Jr.


Mostly Cs

You are an affiliative leader: Affiliative leaders find satisfaction in keeping employees happy and creating harmonious environments. They’re master relationship builders and, in times of stress, master tension resolvers. Affiliative leaders happily embrace a people-first mentality.

Style pros: Have a high positive impact on teams and the self-esteem of individuals

Style cons: Tend to shy away from dealing with under-performers

Style icon: Warren Buffet; Joe Torre, former manager of the New York Yankees; Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India


Mostly Ds

You are a coaching leader:

The team members of a coaching leader know exactly what‘s expected of them and why they’re doing it. Coaching leaders tend to assign roles and tasks based on each member’s unique strengths and personal aspirations. Communication between this leader and the team is two-way—and highly encouraged.

Style pros: Aligns each team member’s personal goals with the organization’s goals

Style cons: The long-term focus doesn’t lend itself well to high-pressure situations

Style icons: Red Holtzman, mentor of NBA coach Phil Jackson; Robert Patterson, mentor of IBM founder Thomas Watson


Mostly Es

You are a coercive leader:

Four words sum up the style of the coercive leader: Do as I say.  It may sound harsh, but this style can be highly effective in crisis situations. And when the pressure is on, some team members appreciate being told exactly what to do. The long-term value of this style is questionable because it wears people down and is easy to abuse.

Style pros: Works equally well for dealing with an unproductive employee or turning around an entire company

Style cons: Over time it can severely impact personal moral and, ultimately, an entire organization’s performance

Style icon: There aren’t any great examples as this type of leadership is best for emergencies only


Mostly Fs

You are a democratic leader

The open, non-competitive style of the democratic leader is all about the free exchange of ideas in service of the best possible outcome. This method of leadership is ideal in fast-paced environments where continual change is the norm. Democratic leaders best serve teams of highly experienced, independent workers.

Style pros: Inspires and empowers team members and leads to creative solutions

Style cons: Collaboration takes time and success is directly tied to the experience of the participants

Style icon: Abraham Lincoln; Thomas Jefferson

Daniel Goleman’s work on the six types of leaders can be found in his 1995 New York Times bestseller, Emotional Intelligence. You can learn more about Goleman’s work on his website: http://www.danielgoleman.info/


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