Leadership Styles – One Size Does Not Fit All!

Flex your approach

We all have preferred ways of working, and managers and leaders will have preferred ways of managing and leading. If you’re not sure about your preferred style of leadership, it’s usually the one which emerges when you’re under pressure! Not thinking first, just saying and doing, with mixed results! This is where a leader’s ability to be adaptable and flexible when faced with different situations becomes vital.

There are a range of leadership styles at your disposal, and only one Golden Rule: It depends!


The above model is a sliding scale or continuum. It compares the amount of authority a manager might use in certain situations, with the level of freedom to contribute given to the team members. As we move from the left to the right, the manager’s use of their authority recedes, giving the team more freedom to join in and feel more involved in the situation.

Let’s consider the range of leadership styles this presents us with:


A very directive style; the manager’s use of authority is total. This is the one-way flow of instruction – the manager states what, how and when and the team complies. It’s that simple! Many managers are aware of this style but refuse to use it: ‘Oh no, it’s just not me! I could never be like that!’ Well, here’s the hard truth: sometimes, this needs to be you. Telling people what to do can be the best approach, e.g. when time is short, or there is an emergency or crisis and swift, decisive action is needed. Or, you’ve tried the other styles and nothing else has worked! New starters will be happy with this style, as they’re new to the role and need direction. It can be applied in a polite and respectful way, it’s not about shouting at someone, but it is the one-way flow of instruction, no doubt about that!


A similar style to telling, but the manager gives the team not just the what, how and when, but also the why, i.e. the reasons behind the task and the background are explained. This is better because the team now understands more, and can buy-in to the task: ‘Well, I didn’t know that, but now you’ve explained, ok, I’ll do it’. Don’t just tell it, sell it!


‘Hello team, there are a number of jobs that need doing. I do have a few provisional ideas regarding how I’d like them to be completed, but I’d also like to know what you think. What you tell me may or may not change my original thinking, and ultimately I’ll still be making the final decision re-task completion, but I’d still like to know what you think.’


‘Hello team, there are a number of jobs that need doing and I don’t really have any thoughts re how we’re going to tackle them. Tell you what, let’s decide together.’ A very democratic leadership style!


‘Hello team, here’s a list of jobs which need doing today. Let me know when they’re done. Thanks!’ This style works best with more experienced team members.



Any one of the above styles could be the correct approach in a particular situation. It’s all about your ability to take a step back and then decide on the best style to use to achieve the best result. With some people you’ll be telling, with others you’ll be selling, and with some you’ll be empowering. As long as you’ve thought about it first, there’s never a wrong answer!