Your leadership directly affects the way people feel about working for you. You create the environment for your team to work in, by the manner you provide direction, feedback and coach your team.  We call the critical aspects of this environment ‘organisational climate’. This climate has a significant impact on the amount of effort that people in your team will contribute and their overall performance.

We have identified the six styles of leadership that have the biggest impact on climate. They are:

A leader uses this style to provide long term direction and vision. Use of this style provides clarity on the vision and what they need to do and how they need to do it. And – most importantly – it enables team members to understand why their work matters.

A leader uses the affiliative style to generate a warm and friendly atmosphere – to create harmony. It makes team members feel valued as individuals, not just workers.

A leader uses this style to generate commitment and consensus among employees and generate new ideas. It enables a team to build a shared accountability to a decision or new way of working. And to discuss ideas, make decisions and share responsibility – together.

A leader uses the coaching style to build long term capability. It involves understanding team members’ strengths, weaknesses and aspirations.

Leaders using this style, lead by example, to show others how to get tasks done to a high standard of excellence. When team members don’t know what to do, or how to do it, the leader who steps in and rescues the performance when using this style.

A leader uses this style to direct a task – and to demand immediate compliance in its completion. It gives the team clarity on what needs to be done, now. When using this style the why is not explained.  

Would your team agree that you are a great leader?

Your team’s feedback on your leadership styles helps you to challenge your habits and assumptions. Developing your styles makes you more flexible in the way you lead. And you will get more out of your team by choosing the most appropriate style for each situation you face.

But what makes great leaders do what they do? Why do leaders behave in a certain way?

Behaviour is driven by our motives and values. Understanding these inner drivers allows us to predict, monitor and manage our behaviour. And developing our ability to manage our natural responses gives us time to choose the right leadership style, at the right time, with the right person.

A bit of self-awareness goes a long way in understanding our behaviours. When we know our strengths, we understand our choices. We can see how to apply a familiar skill to strengthen an under-used style. Understanding our emotional intelligence makes our choices clearer to us.

Your emotional intelligence is the mix of personal abilities that make you an effective leader. Pioneer Daniel Goleman captured the essence of EI by stressing the importance of these four areas:

  1. Self-awareness: Knowing your emotions and their effects. Being confident in your abilities– and knowing their limits.
  2. Self-management: Knowing how to manage your emotions, how to keep disruptive impulses in check and stay poised and positive, even in difficult situations.
  3. Social awareness: Being sensitive – and responsive – to other people’s feelings, needs and requirements. Reading the mood of a group.
  4. Relationship management: An ability to influence others, handle conflict, develop, lead and work with others.

These are the attitudes and behaviours that great leaders use to drive personal and team performance. They go beyond academic qualifications, technical skills and experience. And they support and sustain your use of the full range of leadership styles.

Bringing us back to the world of work – a story

It is impossible to think about leading others without understanding the demands of your own job. What are the expectations of your boss, your team members, your peers, your customers? What does your role deliver to the team that no other role does? What does fulfilment of your role look like? Let’s look at Paul’s story.

Paul was the head teacher/principal of the most successful school in his area. Then he took on – in addition – the leadership of a failing school nearby. Using climate, leadership styles and competency assessments we collected feedback from both schools.

The data from the failing school painted a picture of a motivating climate. The data from the successful school pointed to low morale. Yet Paul’s leadership style was the same in both schools. He was pacesetting and coercive. So why were the climates so different?

When we looked at what Paul enjoyed doing, it became clear that his strengths were in dealing with crises, rolling his sleeves up and setting very clear directives. To the staff at the failing school this was a real benefit. They were glad to be told what to do and how to sort out problems. But the people in the successful school were tired of being told what to do – they were ready to take responsibility for their own improvement.

So Paul had a choice. Should he develop leadership styles that would be good for a school that had achieved success? Or should he move regularly and be the person who helped failing schools to turn around?

There isn’t a right answer. But the feedback offered Paul insights into his behaviour and choices about change, when the circumstances changed around him.

Gain insights through feedback

To understand your own leadership styles, get some feedback from your direct reports. How we think we lead is often very different from the experience of our direct reports.  Feedback provides critical insights on the impact we have as leaders. From this feedback, focus on what kind of leader you want to be and the best styles for the context you are working in.  Become mindful of the style you are using in different situations and consider how effective they are for your team.  At the end of a year, and then re-assess your leadership styles and your impact on climate. A fresh look at the data can help you to track your progress, build on your strengths and measure the positive impact you’ve had on your team’s performance.

About Korn Ferry research

Our leadership styles and climate has been used by over 200,000 leaders across the globe and their organisations use it because it helps their leaders to deliver results. We know in the work we do with our clients that employees who operate in positive organisational climates create better results, adding up to 30 per cent or more to the bottom line thanks to their extra discretionary effort. See here if you would like to learn more.

And if you want to get an overview of the state of leadership in Australia and New Zealand, read our latest report: Raising the Bar. This report is based on our work with more than 20,000 professionals, including over 5,000 leaders, across Australia and New Zealand. It summarises this group’s leadership styles and the resulting implications for organisational climates.  The findings have led us to five recommendations to help companies strengthen their leaders.


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