Successful managers continue refining their leadership styles | Daily News
Leading your flock into greener pastures – Part 24

Successful managers continue refining their leadership styles

What exactly is meant by “leadership style”? A leadership style is a leader’s method of providing direction, implementing plans, and motivating people. Psychologists have found that leadership styles can have an important impact on how well groups function

In this installment, we look at three basic approaches to leadership –(1) challenging and focused on targets, (2) supportive of individual people and (3) Laissez-Faire or leadership without interference.


Modifying your leadership style helps you to engage your staff. Successfully engaging the people who report to you enables:

(1) You to gain their commitment to work together towards achieving the objectives that contribute to your organisation being successful.

(2) Them to fulfil their needs through working towards achieving those objectives.

(3)To be brilliant at engaging people, you need to be skilled in the following:(a) Relating to and connecting with people by having a genuine interest in them and their needs.(b) Speaking your mind and asking searching questions.(c) Noticing nuances in your own and other people’s emotions, behaviour, enthusiasm and emphasis on words and language. (d) Interpreting information together to create mutual understanding about, and commitment to, acting to achieve objectives, solve problems and so on.

When you’re skilled in engaging people, you can modify your leadership style without undermining your integrity because you’re simultaneously focusing on achieving your team’s objectives, being sensitive and responsive to the needs of each member of the team, and consistently acting authentically in accord with your values.

Exploring leadership styles

All managers have their own individual style, the prevailing leadership style is one major factor that affects the attitudes, behaviors and performance of employees in many organizations. The prevailing leadership styles can range from leaders being “highly challenging” to being “highly supportive” of employees.

The behaviors of leaders who have a challenging approach to working with their colleagues include:

(1) Agreeing (or setting) objectives or targets that stretch people. (2) Holding each person, clearly and consistently, accountable for achieving her objectives and results. (3) Challenging unacceptable behavior, language or performance promptly when it occurs.

The behaviors of leaders who have a supportive approach to working with their colleagues include:

(1) Spending time getting to know people individually and building, (2) a close working relationship with each of them, (3) Praising people for doing a good job, (4) Recognising and helping people to solve any problems they’re experiencing in performing their job.

The above descriptions of leadership styles also reflect a different emphasis that leaders may place on achieving the objectives and results that they and their teams have to achieve compared to how much emphasis they place on people and their needs.


During a typical workday, you may find that you experience situations in which you need to modify your style or approach in order to place: (1) Equal emphasis on achieving objectives and peoples’ needs, (2) More emphasis on achieving objectives, (3) More emphasis on people as individuals and their needs during the situation.

Let us look at two examples showing how you can modify your leadership approach to place different emphasis on achieving objectives and on the people, who report to you in different situations.

Style 1: emphasis on achieving objectives:

Your focus in this situation is on achieving an important objective typically by an urgent deadline; you may be more directive by giving instructions, rather than consulting people about what to do, whilst still treating them with respect.

Style 2: emphasis on people

You are focused on achieving objectives through involving people Who report to, and work with, you to enable them to fulfill their needs through working towards achieving your team’s objectives.

Modification to style No 1- While being interested in achieving objectives take equal interest in the needs of the people who work with you as your uninterested will achieve little and demotivate most people.

Modification to style No 2- Your focus in this situation is on the needs of individuals but not adequate importance, given to progressing the achievement of work objectives You may be building a person’s self-confidence, developing their skills, discussing their concerns etc. about a change in policy or procedure, and so on. It’s good but your focus should also be diverted on achieving the set objectives.

Realising how styles impact on people and performance

Choosing the right leadership style for each situation can be difficult. For example, you need to get the balance correct between putting too much or too little emphasis on achieving objectives and/or the needs of individuals in a given situation, and challenging or supporting an individual too much or too little!

Whatever leadership style you select has an impact on the performance of your staff and work colleagues.

Here’s an exercise that helps you to discover whether you get the right balance in this area.

1. Get a notebook and divide the page into three columns.

2. Write a brief description of a situation in which you placed too much or too little emphasis on achieving an objective.

3. In the second column, briefly describe the action that you took or should have taken, or how you behaved.

4. Describe the effect of your action or inactivity or behavior.

5. Repeat steps 2 to 4 for other situations that you identified.

6. Repeat steps 2 to 5 for situations in which you placed too much or too little emphasis on an individual who reports to you, and on that person’s needs.

7. Reflect on the contents of the last two columns. Note how you want to improve your ability to work better with your colleagues to achieve objectives or to encourage and support them to achieve your standards, and meet their needs. In later installments, we will find out how to lead people towards achieving the standards of behavior and performance that you expect.

Let us take another example

(1) Brief description of the situation

I needed Arosha to stay late to help complete an important job for a client. When asked Arosha hesitated to stay back and said he had other commitments.

(2) Action I took (or hesitated to take

I didn’t explain the importance of the job and wasn’t assertive enough in asking Arosha to stay late.

(3) The effect of my behavior on the team and/or myself

I cut corners to hit the deadline and the job wasn’t completed to the correct standard. I felt that I let the customer, company and myself down.

Here are a couple of examples of leaders putting too much or too little emphasis on achieving results, and on the needs of the people who report to them.

Ruwan is the sort of guy who gets things done. He sets demanding targets for himself and his staff, and he’s totally focused on achieving results. He has a tendency to overlook the feelings of people through being so focused on hitting his targets, and he can rub some people - especially those who have high expectations about how they should be treated - the wrong way. These people comply with Ruwan’s demands, but don’t give him their commitment. People who are target-driven and who aren’t too concerned about how they’re treated respond well to Ruwan’s drive to achieve objectives and aren’t adversely affected by his demanding and brusque manner.

Ayesha is a caring person who likes to get on well with all her colleagues. She gives people a lot of autonomy, and is grateful when anyone does a job for her and tends to than people profusely even when jobs aren’t demanding or difficult to complete. Although everyone thinks well of Ayesha’s good intentions, some of her staff would like her to set more challenging targets and only praise staff when they do a job exceptionally well.

Many of Ayesha’s staff also thinks that she doesn’t challenge certain people enough, and that they take advantage of her caring approach. They think that standards are falling because Ayesha allows certain people to get away with doing work that’s not good enough and they resent having to work harder because she doesn’t challenge those people.

Laissez-Faire Leadership Styles

The laissez-faire style was the third of the three styles observed. This style is characterized by: (1) Little direction from the leader, (2) Lots of freedom for group members, (3) Team members are responsible for making all decisions

Great deal of autonomy

Laissez-faire leaders are sometimes referred to as declarative leaders. Rather than attempt to direct and control the group, they instead hand over the responsibility of leading the group to the team members themselves.

The laissez-faire style can have both advantages and disadvantages, depending upon the characteristics of the situation and the group. When the members of the group are highly skilled and knowledgeable, letting them guide themselves can be a great strategy. In such cases, the leader can still offer support and advice when needed, but followers are mostly able to make their own choices.

This leadership style can be a poor choice in situations that require quick decision-making or where members of the group lack the skills to succeed. In such cases, team members may be left feeling unsure of what they should do. Such situations also lead to a lack of accountability, missed deadlines, and low commitment to the group.

So, what is the best approach? The best approach may depend on factors such as the characteristics of the situation and the group. There is no single leadership style that is best in each and every situation.


(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired company director with over 35 years’ experience in senior business management. Presently he is a business consultant, freelance newspaper columnist and a writer. He could be contacted on [email protected])

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