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Brownlee: How do you lead - a choice of style

Recently I was teaching a class that was in part centered on organizational leadership. Of course, we had the all familiar discussions that an organization is only as good as its leaders’ vision and direction must trickle down from the top, great leaders are made not born, etc.

We then went on to discuss different leadership styles, and I asked the participants to raise their hands when they felt a style described them.

Depending on what theory you choose to follow, there are many types of leadership styles and widely varying descriptions of each. For the purpose of the class, I used six styles. Here they are in their most simplified versions:

• The Visionary Leader shares the dream but not necessarily the road map and allows teams to create their own paths to accomplish the dream or vision.

• The Coaching Leader encourages everyone to build on their personal strengths to make themselves and the organization more effective.

• The Affiliative Leader creates harmony, increases morale and encourages teamwork to reach a common goal.

• The Democratic Leader encourages participation and gets a group commitment by using the knowledge and skills of the individual team members to build a consensus.

• The Pacesetting Leader sets high standards and expects everyone to perform at that level.

• The Commanding Leader uses the classic “military” style.

As I expected, most participants raised their hands for more than one style. In fact, this was taking the class where I wanted them to go without telling them where it was.

I am a firm believer in situational leadership. Individuals may have a dominant leadership style or two, but great leaders choose the right style at the right time depending on the situation. They make adjustments that are largely dictated by the people they are leading.

Situational leadership means that no one style fits all.

The situational leadership model was created by professor and author Paul Hersey and writer Ken Blanchard. The model uses different combinations of directive and supportive behavior that is chosen not only by the task but largely by the maturity level of the person being led. Maturity is defined as the individual’s knowledge and ability to perform the task and their willingness to do so.

The Telling (Directing) Style specifically instructs people on what to do and how to do it. This is used when dealing with people who have a low maturity level for both ability and willingness. When the followers cannot do the job and are unwilling or afraid to try, the leader must take a highly directive role.

The Selling (Supporting) Style provides information and direction but also incorporates two way communication. Leaders use the information to get people on board and persuade them to work toward the common goal. The followers have low willingness but high ability for the task at hand. Supportive leadership works when the follower can do the job but is refusing to do it or showing a lack of commitment.

The Participating (Coaching) Style focuses more on relationships rather than direction. Leaders work closely with the team and encourage group decision making. Coaching still requires leaders to define roles and tasks clearly, but the leader seeks ideas and suggestions from the follower .This leadership approach is most appropriate when the followers have high willingness but low ability for the task at hand.

The Delegating Style passes much of the responsibility for the execution and completion of the established goals onto the individual or the team. The leader is still in charge but takes on more of a monitoring role. This is most effective when dealing with high maturity levels for both ability and willingness.

Leaders should rely on delegating when the follower can do the job and is motivated to do it. There is a high amount of trust that the follower will do well, and the follower requires little supervision or support.

Take some time this week to look at your employees or team members and see if you are using the most effective leadership style to manage them based on their individual maturity level.


Becky Brownlee is a business consultant with The University of Georgia Small Business Development Center at Georgia Southern University and can be reached at


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