Stick figure in thought small
Challenging circumstances often cause leaders to revert to their default leadership styles. instead, matching, switching or combining styles can be much more effective.

A senior leader of a corporate client recently expressed frustration  at one of her senior manager’s continued dogmatic, almost autocratic style of leadership, which was beginning to irk a number of people in and around his team. In his defence he was only trying to get everyone else to respond to emergency situations as assertively as he did, but it nevertheless seemed to be heading for real issues, and possibly even a disastrous situation for the manager and organisation.

It seemed that due to his background (para-military) and personality, he was defaulting to using his usual or trained style of leadership in all circumstances.  He was not consciously aware of adapting this style to match the demands of the situation or people he was dealing with.

It reminded me of an article I read some time ago by Daniel Goleman which provided a handy summary of some of these leadership styles and when they could and should be used. He includes a handy table in the article which I have shared with many clients.

Combining and switching leadership styles:

Sometimes it is best to combine these styles. During my time running law firms we were faced with two truly disaster-proportion situations – one when our corporate floor caught fire and burned out every office on that floor – in another case the city electricity supply was interrupted for about 6 weeks from a section of the CBD we occupied. Both situations called for decisive, firm leadership but also extensive consultation and communication. This was a classic case for combining different styles of leadership and also switching between them during the resolution of the crises. It was also a good wake-up call that such disasters do happen and one must be prepared for them as best one can. If anyone is interested in hearing how it all panned out please feel free to email me.

Sean Larkan, Principal, Edge International