In order to improve and develop as a leader, whether at work or at home, you need to develop your leadership styles.

We all have a default style, the one that we find easiest to use, but the best leaders can use any style, and move between them easily.

What is A Leader?

Many people struggle to define leadership, and particularly to identify the difference between leadership and management.

Leadership may be both formal and informal. When we think of a ‘leader’, we often mean someone who holds a formal leadership position, which is recognised in their job title, or in how others regard them. But it is also possible to be a leader because of how you behave, or because of the position into which you are pushed by circumstances.

The other difficult issue for many people is to identify the difference between leadership and management. One distinction is that leaders use vision, while managers plan.

Theories of Leadership

There are a number of theories of leadership that have been developed over the years.

Leadership Trait Theory was one of the earliest theories developed. The original form of the theory suggests that leaders require certain traits that are inborn. In essence, it says that leaders are born, not made.

Modern trait theory is rather more nuanced, and suggests that leaders are more likely to have certain traits than other people.

There are also many theories about Leadership Styles.

Take the quiz! What type of leader are you?

Six Steps to Developing your Leadership Styles

Step 1: Identify your Default Leadership Style

  • What is your preferred leadership style?
  • How do you behave when under stress?
  • Do you find yourself asking others for their opinions, or telling everyone what to do and expecting them to do it? Leading from the front, or worrying about where you are all going and whether there is a clear vision?

Stopping to think about this next time you find yourself in a stressful situation will give you great insights into your preferred style.

Step 2: Identify and Develop your Strengths

Playing to your strengths is important, so make sure that you know what you’re good at.

This may be your default style, but you also have other leadership skills. Others may feel that these are even more valuable. 

To develop your strengths still further, you might also make a list each week of three to five things that worked really well that week, then make sure you do them again the next week.

Step 3: Work on your Weaknesses

Having identified your strengths, you now need to think about, and develop, the styles that you are less good at.

After all, the best leaders can draw on all six of Goleman’s Leadership Styles. Some of them won’t feel natural, so you need to find a way to use them that feels right to you.

Watching and learning from others is a very good way to learn new leadership styles, although you need to remember to try them out too.

At first, when you try something that you have watched another do, it will feel like ‘copying’ and may well feel unnatural, but do persevere. Like an actor, you will need to rehearse your new role until it comes naturally.

Step 4: Draw on Others

You may not have all the necessary leadership styles yourself, but as you work on their development, you can draw on others in your team to step up when necessary.

Note which of your team has the skills and styles that you find particularly hard, and encourage them to take the lead when their style is more appropriate than yours.

Do you have trouble creating bonds, and developing team harmony, but have noticed that one of your colleagues can always smooth situations?

Use that skill: step back and allow that person to lead whenever the situation calls for affiliate leadership. After all, the best leaders create other leaders, not followers.

Step 5: Do Something Different

Identify the character that is most unlike you, and that you find it hardest to ‘channel’. Then think of an activity that seems to you to best represent that character or potential. 

You may be cynical about whether there is a genuine connection between your physical activity and your leadership style.

Being able to use a particular leadership style is not necessarily about having a specific set of skills, although each style definitely uses a certain skill set. It is also about adopting a particular mindset, and this does seem to be influenced by environment and activity.

Think about which style you find hardest, which we’ll call your ‘stretch style’, and remember its one phrase summary and characteristics.

Think about how you would say things if you were working in that stretch style and practice saying them that way. Find ways which still sound like you, but in that style.

For example, some people find it easier to give commands if they make them sound humorous. Others find that they can work together if they acknowledge their difficulties publicly before starting to discuss feelings. It is about recognising your starting point, as well as where you want to end up.

Step 6: Hold Up A Mirror

It’s really important to seek feedback when you’re trying to develop your leadership styles. We said before that you should ask what you’re already good at, but you can also ask others to give you feedback about how it felt when you behaved in different ways. It may be difficult to hear some of what they say, so don’t ask unless you really want to know. And while giving and receiving feedback is a whole other skill, remember not to take it personally. Accept it generously, in the spirit in which it is offered, and decide whether you want to act on it or not. Then move on.

Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. 

When you are developing new skills, remember that insincerity will stick out like a sore thumb. You always need to be honest about what you are, as well as about how you want to change.

People will usually see if you are putting on an act, which is why being honest about what you’re trying, and practising is so important. But if you do practice, rehearse as actors do, in ‘safe’ situations, then when you really need the new style, it will come naturally and sincerely.