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“A Leader Is One Who Knows The Way, Goes The Way And Shows The Way”.. John C. Maxwell.

When we talk about leadership skills, what exactly do we mean? Leadership skills are the tools, behaviors, and capabilities that a person needs in order to be successful at motivating and directing others. Yet true leadership skills involve something more; the ability to help people grow in their own abilities. It can be said that the most successful leaders are those that drive others to achieve their own success.

Are leaders born or made? Early leadership theories espoused the belief that leaders were born with certain traits that set them apart as leaders. Leadership research on traits examined the physical, mental, and social characteristics of individuals. Horner (1997) argues the prevailing thought that if the traits that differentiated leaders from followers could be identified, successful leaders could be assessed and put into positions of leadership. “This research was based on the idea that leaders are born, not made, and the key to success was simply identifying those people who were born to be great leaders”.

These early leadership theories also attributed managerial success to extraordinary abilities, such as tireless energy, intuition, uncanny foresight, and irresistible persuasive powers (Yukl, 2002). According to Yukl (2002), trait studies conducted in the 1930s and 1940s failed to provide traits that would guarantee leadership success. He explains that, “one reason for the failure was the lack of attention to intervening variables in the causal chain that could explain how traits could affect a delayed outcome” (Yukl, 2002, p. 2). Horner (1997) adds that trait studies also proved ineffective because they ignored the situation and the environmental factors that play a role in leadership effectiveness.


your ability to lead can be impacted by your personality style and the personality styles of those on your team. But there will of course be times when you need to lead in a style that is best for getting the particular job done. You can modify it when you can in order to work best with the personality styles on your team. But you should also be able to recognize when you need to change what you are doing, not just how you are doing it, in order to lead the team as a whole towards success.
Just as with personality styles, there are numerous ways to categorize leadership styles. We’ll look at some different frameworks and at some situations in which you might need to apply each one.


The autocratic leader chooses to make the majority of decisions on his or her own. These leaders prefer to keep control and responsibility over the projects that they are assigned. This means that they aren’t very likely to delegate decision making to others. They prefer a clear structure and set rigid expectations. These leaders rarely consult with others and aren’t very interested in developing their own skills or those of their employees. This style of leadership is rather old-fashioned now, but it still exists because there are times when it still works best.
Autocratic leaders like to keep the decision-making power to themselves.

There are several benefits to this type of leadership for the leader, including a reduction of stress for the leader because he or she knows that they are in complete control. Decisions can be made quickly because there is no need to have a long consultation process before moving ahead. When speed is important this is a good choice because not only are decisions made quickly but employees tend to be more productive – as long as the boss is actually there. So for unmotivated employees, this can be a helpful style. Even if this isn’t your normal style, it can be useful for projects that have to be implemented in a hurry.
Autocratic leadership allows for fast decision-making and can be useful for keeping employees motivated.

This kind of decision making isn’t going to be popular for the long-term. Plus, it can have detrimental effects on the workforce as a whole. When decisions are made in their entirety by the leader, team members don’t have the chance to develop their decision-making skills or other leadership skills.
Autocratic leadership isn’t a good option for the long-term. It can de-skill the workforce, making them disheartened and too reliant on the leader.

Although the control it provides can reduce the leader’s stress in the short-term, it will increase it in the long-term because of needing to bear all the responsibility all the time. Employees will stop feeling invested in the company or its services if they feel they aren’t allowed to have any impact on them. This can lead to reduced motivation and morale.
Plus, the team’s ability to function becomes entirely reliant upon the leader. If he or she should leave or be absent, the team’s productivity will suffer because the team will not feel confident enough to make their own decisions.
WHEN TO USE IT: Good times to use this style are:
• Short-term, complex, technical, or urgent projects
• Low-skilled positions with monotonous tasks that can lead to low motivation
• Where there is high turnover in the employees so keeping organizational knowledge in a leader is important


The democratic leadership style is just what you would think – it’s all about making decisions as a group. The team shares the responsibility for making the decisions, making changes, and making deadlines. The leader delegates a great deal of the work, letting others have a say in what portion of the work they take on.
Democratic leaders share the decision-making – as well as the resulting responsibility – with team members. They seek feedback and prioritize team member development.
The leader seeks continual feedback and looks for opportunities for development for both himself and his team. This is a popular style because when it is done well, it creates a harmonious, productive, evolving work force.

In a democratic leadership situation, team members are often more dedicated to their work because they feel that they have had input in not just what was done but how it was done. They take ownership of situations because that ownership is entrusted to them, and they are usually willing to work harder because they know that they will share in the credit. The sharing of credit also goes a long way to reducing the amount of internal politics because there is less need for competition.
Democratic leadership results in dedicated, loyal employees who are willing to work hard to deliver results – and to share the credit for getting those results.
If employees know that the whole team shares responsibility for the work, they are less likely to cover-up mistakes and more likely to be honest about problems they see in the process. Since feedback is given and received continually, in the long-term, decision-making is naturally improved. Overall, the work environment will tend to me more positive and collaborative. There also tends to be less turnover because employees are invested in the outcomes and they know that their employer will invest in their own development.

The fact that everyone is continually consulted in the decision-making process means that decisions cannot be made quickly. If there is a high-pressure, or a need for fast decisions, this style will not work. In fact, the leader may be forced to change to an autocratic style in some cases, which could cause some resentment. This kind of style requires that the leader must work at creating a balance between allowing others to take the lead and keeping control of the overall process.
Since everyone is involved in the decision-making process, decisions can take a long time to make.
WHEN TO USE IT: The democratic style is useful when it’s important that every member of the team contributes their own creativity and knowledge to the process. When you are ready to prioritize training and team development and take the time needed to give everyone a chance to contribute, this style can produce great results. It’s a good way to create a new team of people who have not worked together before and need to get in gear quickly.


In a bureaucratic leadership arrangement, the focus for the leader is on making certain that employees follow the rules with consistency. This style became very popular when the industrial era began because factory work requires specific rules and procedures in order to ensure consistent quality and to protect the health and safety of the workers. In this leadership situation, the leader gains authority more from his position than for other reasons.
Bureaucratic leadership works well in environments where following the rules is more important than creativity or thinking outside the box.
Employees are rewarded for being able to follow the rules and producing consistently rather than for innovation or brainstorming. The environment tends to be more formal, with clear distinctions between the leaders and their employees. It’s commonly found in older, larger organizations or in organizations that have not yet evolved their organizational structure for some reason.

When consistent output is required and quality is of the utmost importance, this style can be very useful. It’s also a good choice when work is repetitive but must be done the exact same way each time. When tasks are highly segregated and dependent on each other, the bureaucratic style can work well. It also helps in situations where cutting costs and improving productivity are priorities or are how you are measured or evaluated.
Bureaucratic leadership helps promote consistent output and quality, can cut costs, and improve productivity in some environments.

When there is no difference in work from day to day and no choice in how the work is performed, the environment can be very de-humanizing to individuals. Employees are expected to perform their duties repetitively and without any personal creativity which can harm an organization in the long run.
Over time, bureaucratic leadership can de-humanize and discourage the work force. With no investment in training, you can also end up without a well-skilled work force.
Due to the usual strict division of labour, there can also be the tendency for bureaucratic leaders to become territorial and to see other leaders as rivals rather than colleagues. Politics and excessive, restrictive policies can result in this work environment. These characteristics also tend to result in communication problems since there are so many distinct segments.
WHEN TO USE IT: If the desire is to produce the image of regulation and control, the bureaucratic leadership style is a good choice. It is also a natural choice for organizations where there need to be rigid controls over health and safety measures.


With this style, the main characteristic is the leader’s ability to inspire others. They do so through commitment to a vision which they are charged with communicating to their team. It is possible that the leader will actually have to create the vision as well, requiring the ability to generate excitement in others about new, possibly risky ideas.
As the name implies, the Charismatic leadership style is based on the leader’s ability to inspire and influence the actions of others.
It takes a great deal of energy to be a charismatic leader because it requires taking advantage of every opportunity to sell the team on the vision and mission of the organization. Some members of the team will be easy to inspire, while others will be ‘sold more slowly or, unfortunately, not at all. This style depends on the leader’s ability to build trust with team members by demonstration personal integrity.

When a charismatic leader is successful, the team is powerful. They are committed, loyal, and willing to deliver above and beyond what is expected of them. This type of leader includes and encourages each member of the team and focuses on the development of each member’s skill set. The team can be wildly creative and generate interesting, forward thinking solutions to existing or new problems. Each team member will tend to become a leader on their own by helping their fellow teammates and encouraging them to remain committed to the vision as well.
This type of leadership is excellent for encouraging creativity and forward-thinking decision making.

As mentioned, this type of leadership requires a great deal of time for the leader. He or she must constantly be responsible for representing the vision of the organization and embodying it in all that they do. It can be stressful to do so, especially when it takes time away from other responsibilities that are required in their position. Plus, since so much relies upon the personal relationships that the leader has with the team members, there is little room for making normal human errors. Mistakes that would go unnoticed in other leadership styles could be detrimental to the function of a charismatic leader.
When commitment to a vision is the most important aspect of a team’s functioning, the charismatic leadership style can work well. Particularly if there is the need to work quickly, work hard, and get a new company, division, or product off the ground. It can also be helpful to rejuvenate an organization where team members have gotten stale or disheartened. When companies seek to recreate their image in the face of the public, they will often put forth a charismatic leader as the representative of the ‘new’ element.


All the leaders and personal traits have pros and cons along with the unique characteristics, but the important point is that organisation should decide and evaluate what type of leader is fit for specific situation or circumstances of the business or any organisation.

However, no one style of leadership fits all situations, so it’s useful to understand different leadership frameworks and styles. You can then adapt your approach to fit your situation.

Source: HBR / Amy Jen Su / Scean McPheat / Dr Jimmy Arther

Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for information only and is not offered as advice. Readers are encouraged to consult a suitably qualified professional adviser to obtain advice tailored to their specific requirements.

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