Good leadership requires a flexible approach, but leaders are increasingly rigid, study shows

Inflexible leadership, which has been on the rise during challenging economic times, is creating a demotivated workforce, according to a UK study by management consultancy Hay Group.

Thirty-eight per cent of UK leaders have mastered none or only one leadership style, according to the study, which analysed data on 14,000 leaders in 400 organisations between 2005 and 2012. The six leadership styles are coercive, authoritative, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting and coaching (see below for full explanations).

The report says good leadership requires a flexible approach but that only 24% of leaders studied were able to adopt four or more leadership styles. Hay Group consultant Melody Moore said more can be done.

“A leader’s behaviour is the single biggest factor influencing the team-working environment,” Moore said in a news release. “Good leadership has the power to energise, engage and motivate staff to go the extra mile for their organisation. Poor leadership will have the opposite effect, creating a demotivating environment and leading, in time, to poor team performance, including high staff turnover and frequent absences.”

Flexibility fosters performance

Only 18% of UK leaders are able to create a high-performance environment for their employees, although the proportion of leaders creating demotivating environments (53%) has fallen by 12% since 2005.

UK leaders who create high-performance climates are set apart by their ability to tailor their leadership style to a situation. Nearly half (48%) of these leaders are comfortable using four or more leadership styles, compared with 9% of leaders who create demotivating environments.

“In the same way a golfer uses a range of clubs, leaders need to utilise multiple approaches, and be able to adjust to each team member or business situation,” Moore said. “UK leaders are inspiring their teams by sharing the big picture, and have a strong focus on people and their development.”

The six leadership styles

Coercive. Coercive leaders tell staff what to do and expect them to do it. They then check over employees’ shoulders and are more likely to criticise what they are getting wrong rather than praise what they are doing right.

Authoritative. The authoritative leader is focused on achieving the long-term direction and vision, ensuring that everyone is motivated and working towards the big picture. Authoritative leaders win people over, convincing them that they want to do the job. They create a positive climate that elicits the best from the team.

Affiliative. The affiliative leader wants everybody to get along. Keen to be seen as “just like one of us”, he or she strives to create harmony within the team by focusing on people rather than tasks. Affiliative leaders trust that if they treat their employees well, they will be rewarded with loyalty and high performance.

Democratic. The democratic leader wants to get the best from his or her team by sharing decisions and responsibility. Keen to achieve commitment and consensus, democratic leaders involve team members in the decision-making process. They reward good team performance rather than the work of any individual.

Pacesetting. With a motto of “my way is always best”, the pacesetting leader assumes that the most effective way to accomplish a complex job is to do it himself or herself. The pacesetter is highly task-orientated, giving detailed instructions to help team members carry out tasks. He or she expects a job to be done to the very highest standard.

Coaching. The coaching leader pushes team members to be the best they can be. He or she invests the time to understand individuals’ strengths and weaknesses, and works with them to achieve their personal development goals. The style focuses on building long-term capability, even at the expense of short-term performance.

Coercive leadership on the rise

The global financial crisis has led to an increased use of coercive leadership, the report found. This type of leader takes control, instructing and managing employees with a critical eye.

Once rarely used in the UK, coercive leadership is frequently adopted by 26% of leaders, representing an increase of 10% since 2005. Between 2008 and 2009, the peak years of the recent economic crisis, coercive leadership increased by five percentage points.

“The coercive style is extremely effective in a crisis, creating clarity about expectation and ensuring the correct actions are taken quickly,” Moore said.

“But a crisis is an event, not a prolonged state. Over-reliance on the coercive leadership style is unsustainable over the long term, eroding innovation and creativity among employees.”

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