What Style of Leader Are You?


What style of a leader would you say you are?  I had a couple conversations recently where someone told me I was a servant leader.  Another person told me that my style really impressed him.  When he saw the impact of my leadership expressed at my retirement party in 2019, this impact (expressed by the audience comments) became a vision for his leadership style.  That discussion was very humbling to me.  (It got me thinking about my leadership style, and how many different styles of leadership there are.) 

It had been a long time since I examined my leadership style and tried to categorize it.  The last time I did that was in an MBA class on leadership I had in 2000-2001.  For our individual term paper, the professor required us to write a paper with references and a visual that detailed our leadership model.  I published my term paper as one of my first blog posts (see https://mrhensonllc.com/my-personal-leadership-model/ for the post).

I recently reread Robert Greenleaf’s classic “Servant Leadership.”  This book, which was radical when released, is one of the seminal works on the servant leadership style.  The author lobbies for application of servant leadership to education, business, foundations, and most forms of organizations.  I related to most (if not all) of the author’s positions.  If you haven’t read this book, I recommend it.

I decided to find out how many different styles of leadership exist through an internet search.  This yielded many opinions and lists of leadership styles.  The various websites I visited indicated that there are anywhere from six to twelve leadership styles.  Most had other names for similar styles.  A lot of the articles pull the foundational three leadership styles from a study by psychologist Kurt Lewin in 1939.  Lewin’s study contrasted authoritarian, democratic, or laissez-faire leadership and its effectiveness on children’s art projects.

I was surprised at the different websites that offered opinions or descriptions of different leadership styles.  I expected the Harvard Business Review to have an article on the subject.  They didn’t disappoint.  Not only do they list various styles, but they give good advice on when to use the various styles.  Check it out at https://hbr.org/2024/04/6-common-leadership-styles-and-how-to-decide-which-to-use-when and see for yourself.

I got a lot of information and insight from this review.  While there is no consensus on the number and name of various styles, there seems to be agreement that the most successful leaders flex their style depending on the issue(s) they face.  My experience with good (and not-so-good) leaders validates this thesis.

Many years ago, one of the employees on my team gave me some excellent feedback when they were transferred to another unit.  They told me I was like an umbrella for the team.  I took the rain and other “stuff” that rolls downhill and let the rest of the team carry on without disruption.  I was humbled by this also.

After reviewing both the feedback I’ve received about my performance, my personal leadership model, and my recent internet search, I’ve solidified my thinking around styles of leadership.

There are indeed many different styles.  There are many different humans in leadership roles.  Each will be unique.  They will also apply what they’ve witnessed of others (both good and bad).  I believe it’s both nature and nurture.

I also believe that a leader should be aware of their preferred style of leadership.  Knowing your primary style allows you to share it with your team.  Also, as you are aware of your preferred style of leadership, you can also be aware of when it might not be as effective as it should be.  This will allow you to flex your leadership to best fit the situation facing you as a leader.

According to the Harvard Business Review, “Research suggests that the most effective leaders adapt their style to different circumstances — be it a change in setting, a shift in organizational dynamics, or a turn in the business cycle. That’s why you need to stay attuned to your environment, understand your impact on others, and adjust your approach accordingly.” 

My preferred style of leadership is to be a servant leader.  I recognize there are situations I’ve faced where I needed to flex my style to be more effective.  I’ve also learned from my mistakes where I didn’t adapt and change my leadership style to fit unique issues.

How about you – what type of leader are you?  What type of leadership do you perform best under?  Would you like help in assessing your style of leadership, or in adapting your style?  Drop me a line ([email protected]) if you’d like to discuss further.

As always, please share your thoughts and feedback on this subject.

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