Leadership is a skillset which is distinct from strategic planning, managing or directing. It is the ability to inspire and influence others to work towards a common goal and it consists of both a natural inclination and a number of learned skills. While there are many styles of leadership, and no two leaders are the same, significant research has been done into what makes a leader great and certain common traits have been identified in great leaders. Key among these traits are high cognitive capacities, which includes their intelligence, verbal ability, analytical skills and judgment, and strong determination and drive, which covers initiative, assertiveness, energy and perseverance. When combined with learned speaking, social and motivational skills, these traits create a great leader.
The main styles of leadership
Every leader will have a unique leadership style which reflects their personality, but these can be broken down into 4 main categories:
- Authoritarian leadership: also called ‘autocratic leadership’, with this style the leader assumes all decision making responsibility and does not facilitate group input. The largest benefit offered by this style is that it allows fast, decisive action to be taken, though it can come at the cost of group cohesion and unity - especially if done in a domineering way.
- Democratic leadership: the opposite of authoritarian leadership, democratic leaders seek to engage their teams with the decision making process and come to a shared agreement about the way forward. What is gained in social cohesion and inclusivity is lost in speed and decisiveness.
- Laissez-faire leadership: a laissez-faire leader is an expert in delegation, finding the right people for each role and leaving them to make their own decisions and pursue goals independently. A laissez-faire leader typically believes that left to their own devices people want to succeed and they do not need to have decisions made on their behalf - instead, they need to be given dominion over a certain area and left to do the best job they can, with support from the leadership as required. While this style can be effective, it provides little oversight and therefore may not create the most efficient outcomes or the most unified organisation.
- Task-oriented leadership: is effectively the opposite of laissez-faire leadership, as it attempts to turn all business activities into strict processes, with step-by-step requirements and strict deadlines. When done well, this style of leadership removes the need to micro-manage, by creating certainty for both employees and managers and minimising the possibility of mistakes. The drawback is that the style provides little opportunity for innovation and requires top-down intervention to react to changing or complex circumstances.
Most leaders do not fit squarely in one category, in fact, it may be better thought of as a spectrum where leaders fall between autocratic/democratic and laissez-faire/task-oriented.
Characteristics of good teams
All leaders, regardless of style, must focus on creating good teams. This requires:
- Purpose: a shared sense of what the team is trying to achieve
- Priorities: everyone know what needs to be done, when, and by whom
- Roles: individuals know their role and that of their teammates
- Decisions: the team understands how decisions are made
- Conflict: individuals can have grievances resolved
- Personal traits: individuals feel their unique skills are being utilised and valued
- Norms: individuals understand the expectations of them
- Effectiveness: individuals feel the team is achieving targets
- Success: is clearly defined and celebrated
- Training: is offered to develop individuals further