Leadership styles

So far, we have considered some characteristics that might distinguish a leader from a manager, though it is not a simple case of being either one or the other. This focus on characteristics and traits follows the early research into leadership that was based on the study of people considered great leaders, often heroic leaders such as Wellington, Eisenhower or Churchill.

Such leaders are described as both charismatic and narcissistic. Charismatic leadership reflects the 'great man' theory in that these leaders:

Row of empty desks and chairs
Quote...are thought to differ from mere mortal leaders by their ability to formulate and articulate an inspirational vision, as well as actions that foster the impression that they are extraordinary people.Quote Raelin, 2003, p48

They are described as being able to draw the bigger picture and charm the masses, but they are also described as distrustful and grandiose, portraying themselves as saviours of the organisation.

Narcissistic leaders appear to have similar traits: they tend to keep themselves emotionally distant from others and do not tolerate dissent. They are also poor listeners and can be brutally exploitative. Their excessive promotion of themselves and lack of concern for others can become destructive to their organisations. 'Narcissists have vision but that is not enough. People in mental hospitals also have visions' (Maccoby, 2000). However, productive, narcissistic leaders are risk-takers and charmers who can convert the masses with their rhetoric.

In an environment as complex as 21st-century education, the great leader is likely to fail. School leaders no longer need dependent subordinates who wait for orders from the top. They want colleagues who can act on their own initiative, but who are also members of a well-oiled community. So, as people began to develop awareness of the complexity of organisations, questions have been asked about the characteristics of effective leaders.

Many of the replies came from experts who based their advice on inference, experience and instinct. Hay McBer, however, carried out research based on a random sample of 3,871 executives, drawn from a database of 20,000. They identified six distinct leadership styles, and these are described in the table below.


Six leadership styles

  Modus operandi Style Emotional intelligence competencies When the style works best Overall impact on climate
Coercive Demands immediate compliance Do what I tell you Drive to achieve, initiative, self-control In a crisis, to kick-start a turnaround, or with a problem employee Negative
Authoritative Mobilises people towards a vision Come with me Self-confidence, empathy, change catalyst When changes require a new vision, or when a clear direction is needed Most strongly positive
Affiliative Creates harmony and builds emotional bonds People come first Empathy, building relationships, communication To heal rifts in a team or to motivate people during stressful circumstances Positive
Democratic Forges consensus through participation What do you think? Collaboration, team leadership, communication To build in or buy consensus, or to get input from valuable employees Positive
Pacesetting Sets high standards for performance Do as I do now Conscientiousness, drive to achieve, initiative To get quick results from a highly motivated and competent team Negative
Coaching Develops people for the future Try this Developing others, empathy, self-awareness To help an employee improve performance or develop long-term strengths Positive

Leadership styles — what works when?

The research suggested that two of the styles, coercive and pacesetting, could have a negative impact on the school.

The coercive style is the least effective in most organisational situations because flexibility is hardest hit along with people's sense of responsibility. People therefore lack motivation and think 'How does any of this matter?' This style should be used with extreme caution in situations such as turning around a school or department.

Pacesetting leaders set high performance standards and exemplify these standards themselves, but this approach should also be used sparingly. The high expectations of pacesetting leaders and lack of feedback destroy organisational climate by overwhelming staff, reducing commitment, promoting dependency and reducing morale. However, this approach gets work done on time, especially when all staff are self-motivated, highly competent and need little direction or co-ordination.

The affiliative style is a good all-round approach that should be employed when trying to build team harmony or mend broken trust. It revolves around people, with the leader valuing people and their emotions more than tasks and goals. The leader builds strong emotional bonds, increases loyalty and improves communication. This is the antithesis of the coercive leader because flexibility, trust and responsibility become part of the culture. Because this approach focuses on praise, employees might believe that mediocrity is tolerated, so combining the affiliative style with the coercive style provides a balance.

Democratic leaders build trust, respect and commitment by getting people to share their ideas and buy into the organisation's strategy. Staff in democratic schools tend to be very realistic about what can and cannot be accomplished. This approach works best when the leader is uncertain about the best direction to take and needs guidance from able employees. A drawback of this style is endless meetings because consensus remains elusive and people feel confused and leaderless. At its worst, this approach can escalate conflicts.

Coaching is an appropriate style for schools because it models learning by encouraging staff to establish long-term development goals and to find ways of attaining them. Coaching leaders give plenty of instruction and feedback. They also excel at delegation. This style is used least often, particularly because it is a time-consuming approach. However, when successfully applied, it has a positive effect on climate and performance. This approach works best when employees are already aware of their weaknesses and want to improve, but fails when leaders are inept coaches or staff are resistant to learning. (For more about coaching, see Unit 4.)

Hay McBer suggests that the most effective style is authoritative leadership because this approach would drive up every aspect of a school's climate. The visionary approach and clarity of communication motivate people and help them see how they contribute to the organisation. This approach is particularly useful when an organisation is adrift because the leader charts a new course. It fails, however, if the leader is working with a team of more experienced experts or peers.

Woman seated at a desk with laptop

This study of leadership demonstrated that leaders could adopt more than one style and that:

Leaders who have mastered four or more - especially the authoritative, democratic, affiliative and coaching styles - have the very best climate and performance. The most effective leaders are also able to switch flexibly among the leadership styles as needed.

Goleman, 2000, p87



3: Reflecting on leadership styles

The Hay McBer research provides a typology of different leadership styles that be used to think systematically about other people's (and one's own) leadership behaviours. This builds on the approach that you used in phase 2 of the programme to research your professional competency and leadership skills by using frameworks for analysis.


Consider some of the leaders that you have worked with. Identify one leader who displayed effective leadership, and one who was less effective. Evaluate the behaviours and leadership style that each was exhibiting.

  • How appropriate were their behaviours for the context?

Personal reflection

In phase 2, you also reflected on your own professional competency. Personal reflection is a key element to professional learning and is fundamental to developing leadership qualities and potential. This involves thoughtful appraisal of ourselves in relation to our actions, behaviours, beliefs and values.

Now use the Hay McBer typology of leadership styles to consider your own context and identify the leadership approach most likely to achieve your current goals.

  • How might you need to change your current approach?

Leadership in times of change

More recent research has explored authentic leadership (Goffee and Jones, 2005). It has been suggested that this approach developed in response to the change that leaders face as their organisations adapt to issues such as globalisation, multiculturalism and environmental challenge.

Followers also have increased expectations of their leaders to not only provide vision but also to display passion and build productive relationships. They expect their leaders to earn their trust through integrity and credibility.

Calendar showing days in a month

The more recent factors of economic recession and emerging school models have intensified the pressure on leaders to develop clear, personal leadership. To deal with the resulting dilemmas, leaders need to develop resilience and the ability to maintain sound judgement in the face of constant pressure.

You will only cope if you really know who you are, what you stand for, what you want to achieve and where you are going. Authentic leadership has been designed to meet this need. It explores your own attitudes, beliefs and values to help you know how you can become the really significant leader that you could be. There is no right or wrong way to establish and manage your authenticity, but there are conscious efforts you can make to help others perceive you as an authentic leader.

Deloitte (2010, p9) argue that self-belief and self-awareness are perhaps the most important emotionally intelligent aspects that public-sector leaders need to demonstrate. In doing so they should be able to successfully develop complementary team roles and provide the necessary support in leading teams and individuals through difficult times of change. The menu below describes steps that entail building knowledge about your true self and learning more about others.



4: Determining your approach to authentic leadership

Choose one option from each column in Table 5 and explain why you chose it. If you respond to the challenges suggested by your choices, how would it affect your understanding of yourself as an authentic leader?

Keep a note of your answers to this activity as you will be asked to refer to them during in Activity 5 in the next topic.