We now know that there’s not one path to be a great leader. We’ve learned about many different styles of leadership, all of which have the potential to be effective. What’s discussed less often is how different people respond to different types of leadership. What brings out the best in one person may be completely ineffective, even detrimental, to another.
Leaders attract different types of followers, but they can also shape the way people follow them. In my experience, good leadership give people the space to become star followers, while bad leadership can make people take on a distrustful alienated role.
Being open-minded and laid back is useful when leading a team that requires creative space and a looser structure. In this case, being too strict about rules and specific constraints would be limiting and detrimental to the team’s innovation and growth. However, being too laissez-faire and not enforcing deadlines or scheduling could keep this team from finishing projects or achieving goals.
On the other hand, some people respond better to a stricter leadership style, with high expectations to meet and rules that are enforced. They need outside motivation to stay on track and thrive under pressure. This style could crush some peoples’ creativity, while enhancing others.
Sometimes a leader needs to adapt to changing situations, while others need to alter their leadership style when interacting with individual members of their team. For example, some athletes need praise and encouragement to achieve greatness. They do best when their coach builds up their confidence and reminds them they are capable of winning. Others find this to be a weak, uninspiring form of coaching. They need to feel like they have to prove themselves, to fight back against those who don’t believe in them. They need to feel challenged, while this kind of coaching would crush the athlete who needs praise. A good coach knows when to employ each method. They need to know how to encourage their athletes without being too negative or insulting, while keeping high standards and not settling for anything less than what they know their followers can achieve.
This requires a leader to be in tune with the needs of their followers. They should be aware of who is responding well to what type of leadership and use the appropriate style when addressing each individual. This can become complicated, but if a leader has a good relationship with their followers, it is easier to discern what type of leadership works for each team member. Of course, the leader should stay true to their values and remain authentic so as to not come across as hypocritical or untrustworthy when altering their leadership style. If, after trying different styles and tactics, a leader is unable to connect with a member of the organization, there’s a chance that person doesn’t fit with the organizational culture and may be happier and more successful elsewhere. Leadership is a balancing act of knowing how to connect with a diverse group of followers while staying true to a set of guiding values.