Leadership Styles: Part 1

There is no such thing as a born leader. Leadership is an acquired attribute that begins early in school and on the playground. Some children develop take-charge attitudes, some make friends fast, while others are happy just to make the team. As time goes on, education, jobs, and life experiences shape a leader’s philosophy and psychology. How best to get the job done and work with others? How to set goals and objectives and manage their results? The answers to these questions become a leader’s winning formula for success.

But over time, a you may find that your winning formula no longer produces the results it used to. New challenges and contexts require different leadership skills, behaviours, and ways of communicating. Would you be able to unlearn familiar leadership approaches, recognise your limitations, and adapt your leadership style to become the leader you need to be?

Louis R. Mobley, the director of IBM’s executive school in the 1950s and 1960s, first alerted executives to the need to “wake up” to the comfortable parameters they worked in so they could better “feel” their leadership potential. His lessons still apply today.

Mobley taught that leadership is based in experience and habit, not intellect, noting that success comes 20 percent from knowledge and 80 percent from behaviour. For Mobley, waking up to leadership meant being responsible for one’s impact on others. He pushed for a “radical revolution in consciousness,” believing that great leaders don’t know different things from everyone else, but they think in utterly different ways. Leadership lives in how we think, not what we think.

  • How aware are you of your own leadership style?
  • What different approaches do you knowingly take depending on the context you are in?
  • If you were being observed, how would that person know that you had changed styles?
  • What contextual influences shape your leadership style of today?
  • Are you brave enough to move to a different context and see if you can deliver the same results?

Read, reflect… and go experiment!


The Icon: Oprah Winfrey

Known all over the word by her first name alone, picks a book to read and makes it a bestseller overnight, runs her own television network, and has more than 14 million Twitter followers. Her word can move the stock market and social issues for the better.


  • Influences others through power of personality
  • Acts energetically, motivating others to move forward
  • Inspires passion
  • May seem to believe more in self than in the team

When to Use It

  • To spur others to action
  • To expand an organization’s position in the marketplace
  • To raise team morale

Impact on Others

  • Can create risk that a project or group will flounder if leader leaves
  • Leader’s feeling of invincibility can ruin a team by taking on too much risk
  • Team success seen as directly connected to the leader’s presence


The Icon: Richard Branson

Launched his first business at 16, founder of Virgin Group, comprising more than 400 companies in fields ranging from music to space tourism. He recently described his philosophy to Inc. magazine: “Dream big by setting yourself seemingly impossible challenges. You then have to catch up with them.”


  • Grasps the entire situation and goes beyond the usual course of action
  • Can see what is not working and brings new thinking and action into play

When to Use It

  • To break open entrenched, intractable issues
  • To create a work climate for others to apply innovative thinking to solve problems, develop new products and services

Impact on Others

  • Risk taking is increased for all
  • Failures don’t impede progress
  • Team gains job satisfaction and enjoyment

Command and Control

The Icon: Tom Coughlin

Controversial head coach of the New York Giants, a stern taskmaster and disciplinarian who learned to adapt his leadership style to improve his relationships with his team but never lost sight of his goal: winning Super Bowls.


  • Follows the rules and expects others to do the same

When to Use It

  • In situations of real urgency with no time for discussion
  • When safety is at stake
  • In critical situations involving financial, legal, or HR issues
  • In meeting inflexible deadlines
  • Demands immediate compliance
  • Engages in top-down interactions
  • Is the sole decision maker

Impact on Others

  • If used too much, feels restrictive and limits others’ ability to develop their own leadership skills
  • Others have little chance to debrief what was learned before next encounter with leader


The Icon: Donna Karan

Founder of DKNY, built an international fashion empire based on wide appeal to both women and men. Although she has spent less time creating her own designs since 2002, her vision lives on in the work of other designers, inspired by her leadership.


  • Knows what is happening but not directly involved in it
  • Trusts others to keep their word
  • Monitors performance, gives feedback regularly

When to Use It

  • When the team is working in multiple locations or remotely
  • When a project, under multiple leaders, must come together by a specific date
  • To get quick results from a highly cohesive team

Impact on Others

  • Effective when team is skilled, experienced, and self-directed in use of time and resources
  • Autonomy of team members leads to high job satisfaction and increased productivity
  • Atmosphere of respect for others’ ideas is present

Which of these styles seems most similar to your own approach to leadership?

Have you seen these traits in other leaders – were the using them at the right time? Did they achieve positive results?

Look out for the next post with the other 4 styles…

Categories Leadership, Professional DevelopmentTags
Create your website at WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close