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The Question Every Leader Should Answer Regardless of Style

If you spend much time studying leadership, you know there are many different leadership styles. Indeed, most academics come up with at least five – some as many as 13.

One list includes transformational, charismatic, servant, transactional and symbolic. Another classifies them as commanding, visionary, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting and coaching. Another uses innovator, developer, activator, maximizer and stabilizer.

You get the idea.

And, so, the question most experts challenge you to answer is this: Which styles are best for me?

I think I have a better question: How do I want people to respond to my leadership?

If you answer that question and keep the answer in mind as you lead, you will naturally develop strengths in the most appropriate and effective styles.

I believe the way people respond to a leader falls somewhere on a spectrum with fear on one end and trust on the other.

Fear-driven leaders usually produce followers who respond in fear. This results in what I call Shadow Cultures, those dark places within a culture where people operate counter to what everyone publicly acknowledges is right.

In these cultures, people work in silos, withhold information and insights, mislead others for personal gain, and seldom take risks for the greater good. Even very good people find themselves in shadow cultures when they lead or respond in fear.

Clearly that’s not the response you want as a leader.

On the other end of the spectrum you find followers who are responding with trust. They are following a leader who recognizes the importance of key shared values and who consistently leads with transparency. When they trust the leader, they follow the leader. Over time, they witness and help create positive changes at all levels, both inside and outside the organization.

Most leaders have dominant leadership styles – the style they’re drawn to because it fits their personality and experiences. But over time, all leaders will need to use different styles. Situations change and the people you lead respond in different ways to different approaches. So as you study all the different styles, never stray from the underlying key question: How do I want people to respond to my leadership?

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