Which leadership Approach Is the Most Effective?

Think of someone who you think is an effective leader – whether at work, in a team or group, a social or political movement, a sporting context, a particular situation or event, an organisation or institution.

  • Were they a leader because of their role, their skills, their ideas, personality, the situation?
  • What about them appealed to you as a leader?
  • What results did they achieve that you valued?
  • What did you notice about their relationships with others?

When examining whether workplace leaders are effective or not, we will often consider their leadership style or approach. There are many different approaches to leadership and no one ideal type of leader. Effective leadership cannot be divorced from the systems and individuals around it or from the skills, traits and values of the individual.

The fact is that certain leadership approaches will be effective in some situations and less effective or even harmful in others. Some are based on the leader’s personality and experiences, others are about the relationship between the leader and the followers. Below are some recognised kinds of leadership with their pros and cons.

Coercive leadership

  • Demands immediate compliance
  • “Do what I say”
  • Can be useful in times of crisis or after other methods have failed
  • Can lead to bullying, intimidation, negative workplace culture
  • Effective where there is acceptance of leader and structured tasks

Transformational leadership

  • Mobilises followers towards a vision; to perform beyond their own self interest
    “Come with me”
  • Suitable where a new direction is needed or an improvement in performance
  • Can be destructive where the vison is misguided or unethical
  • The leaders need ability to communicate values, inspire and to “walk the talk”

Authentic leadership

  • Authentic leaders are self-aware, practice their values consistently, and listen to and act on feedback.
  • “I am a genuine and transparent leader”
  • Requires ongoing self-development
  • Can be used as an excuse for poor behaviour if the leader does not accept feedback
  • Motivates and builds strong relationships with followers, sets purpose, achieves long term results

Relationship-based (or relational) leadership

  • Influences others through trust, respect and strong relationships
  • “Work for me because you want to”
  • Requires effort and time on the part of leader to build mature relationships
  • Focuses on the needs and wants of the followers
  • Effective where continuous improvement is required and where followers are diverse

Shared leadership

  • Dynamic form of leadership which emerges through interactions in a group.
  • “Who can take the lead on this”
  • Effectiveness is relative to relationship between team members
  • Individuals are empowered to show leadership behaviours
  • Requires effective conflict management and shared purpose.

Laissez faire or passive leader

  • Hands off leader – delegates decision making to followers
  • “Do what you think best”
  • Suits workplaces where creativity, ideas, and fast decision making is crucial
  • Damaging if the leader reacts badly to mistakes
  • Requires trust, motivated and highly skilled workers

Christa Ludlow is a Principal Consultant with Weir Consulting (National)  and is a lawyer,  qualified coach and mediator.  She provides workplace conflict resolution, investigationcoaching and training services to clients in the public and private sectors.