Spotlight on Your Leadership Style – What works best?

Leaders who get the best results don't practice just one particular style. There is growing recognition that the evolving new workplace is like interactive theatre. It requires leaders to be flexible enough to play many different roles using a variety of leadership styles depending on the situation at hand. Like any great performer on stage or screen, to be effective, relevant and ensure your potency or longevity, as a leader, you need to be flexible. If you are to make your best leadership contribution, you can’t afford to be typecast.

The drama of change, as it plays out on our workplace stages, is a complex psychological, interpersonal and dynamic inter-group process involving peers, cross functional colleagues, internal and external stakeholders, contractors, consultants and others. To meet the challenge of leading in this complex, fast changing 'theatre of business', leaders without empathy, improvisational skills and a well honed repertoire of leadership styles, will struggle to bring about best performance in themselves and in others. This particularly applies to those in senior roles. As Daniel Goleman says “If any group needs to maximize its effectiveness, it’s the team at the top.”

As a framework for effective leadership, Goleman in his book Creating Resonance (2002) identifies 6 leadership styles. He describes these as Visionary, Democratic, Affiliative, Coaching, Pace Setting, and Commanding. The last two he describes as somewhat risky and to be applied to specific situations with caution. 

An effective leader develops the ability to use many of the six styles – seamlessly and in different measures – depending on the situation. Such leaders appraise the situation and choose the appropriate leadership style to suit the circumstances that are unfolding. A good leader, Goleman claims, ‘senses’ the challenge ahead, swiftly applies the right leadership style, and elegantly puts it to work. 

The first four styles are shown through research to have the greatest impact on financial results and profitability. Such leaders also nurture a more positive workplace culture to drive success.

In order to play these multiple roles effectively, leaders need empathetic skills. Empathy lies at the heart of great leadership. As Goleman reminds us good leaders have “the ability to sense how others feel and to understand their perspective.” This means that “a leader can articulate a vision that truly inspires.

As a result, these leaders not only get performance results, but also build commitment and enthusiasm in those they lead. A leader who misreads people, on the other hand, simply can’t inspire them. “ (Goleman, 2002).
But these styles cannot be applied formulaically. Goleman goes on to observe that effective leaders are people who go beyond the mechanical process of matching their styles to a checklist of situations. “They are far more fluid. They scan people individually and in groups, reading cues in the moment that tip them to the right leadership need.”

Just like a great live performer, an effective leader absorbs the feedback emanating from the audience and, as Goleman says, “…they adjust their style on a dime.”... If a leader mis-reads people they "...simply can’t inspire them.” says Goleman (2002).

In our 'theatre of leadership' model, effective leaders draw on these styles applying them through four main stages of interaction - the 'envisioning ' stage where all possibilities are explored to create powerful new vision & strategy; the 'energizing & engaging' stage where visions and plans are socialised to capture the imagination, enlist contribution and achieve the buy-in of all; the 'enabling' stage where bold and effective action is made possible through clear direction, design, collaboration, coaching and learning; and the 'enacting' stage where execution of strategy and plans are carried through to successful outcomes.

And the greatest of these styles is ….a visionary inspirational style
Of the six leadership styles, Goleman’s research suggest that the visionary approach is the most effective, leading to inspired work. Like Goleman, at the Theatre of Leadership, we see an inspirational or visionary style as the heart beat or the pulse that makes all great work possible. Such leaders, as Goleman claims, create resonance – a positive emotional force - as opposed to the dissonant leader whose driving behavior can leave people exhausted, unfulfilled and fearful. 

Effective, inspirational leadership also involves engaging with emotion. John Kotter comments on the importance of emotion in the workplace and the negative impact when they are not appreciated, understood or valued by some leaders who think that logic must rule: “Because of the furious pace of change in business today, difficult-to-manage relationships sabotage more business than anything else – it is not a question of strategy that gets us into trouble; it is a question of emotions.” As Goleman states “When leaders drive emotions positively they bring out everyone’s best... you can read it in people’s eyes: They’re engaged and they light up.” What leader wouldn’t want to be more inspirational? 
But hang on, aren’t some people born with an inspirational gene and the rest of us are fated to play catch-up? 

Of course some people are more easily able to inspire others due to any number of influences, natural talent, inborn characteristics and opportunities. At the Theatre of Leadership we believe an inspirational style can be learned, finessed and executed skillfully by anyone with the desire, discipline and daring. One of the joys we have is to observe this ability being amplified in a diverse range of people as a result of our work together. 

It’s worth remembering that inspiration comes in as many different styles and packages as there are people. As a leader, it is all about identifying and fanning the spark of your own individuality and your desire to make a positive contribution to the world. Finding your inspirational mojo takes courage and the will to experiment with the full range of styles described by Goleman through the four stages of leadership that we describe. It is both an art and craft and as such requires practice and fine-tuning. It takes more than reading the text book, although this we recommend. Above all, it requires the courage and confidence to open the doors that lead beyond any self-imposed personal limits.

To find out more about how we can help you develop your leadership repertoire and take you ability to inspire to the next level contact us anytime on 03 9699 6444 or Email