Not all leaders lead the same way. Some immediately fall in lock-step with their employees and create a thriving company culture, while others take time to develop the skills necessary to lead with confidence. While there’s no hardline right or wrong way to approach leadership, some of the worst leadership styles are best avoided.
Thinking back on your career, you can probably point out an employer or two who had leadership styles that you disagreed with. Whether they ignored feedback from their employees, were hands-off in their approach, or micromanaged every single thing that you ever did, their actions made you feel less valued in some way.
Akhila Satish, CEO of Meseekna, tells Ladders that leaders should recognize the importance of utilizing different leadership styles. “The ‘one size fits all’ leadership style dampens innovation in cognitively – and demographically – diverse teams,” she explains. “Some of your employees may work better with a more direct and highly supportive approach, while others might thrive with long term goals and delegated projects. Embracing the diverse needs of your team will enhance your leadership style and your company’s progress.”
To know what type of leader you want to be, it’s also worth taking a look at the leadership styles to avoid. Sometimes knowing what not to do can help you understand what to do. Take care to avoid the pitfalls of these 7 worst leadership styles.
While leaders need to strike a balance between micromanaging and hovering, having a leadership style that is totally hands-off just doesn’t typically work. Simply giving orders and then stepping back doesn’t really do much to encourage your employees to work hard.
“You want your team to view you as a safe and experienced role model, so the ‘drop-in support’ style won’t work,” Satish says. “Even when everything is going according to plan, remember to remain integrated with the daily work life of your employees. Simply being a supportive presence can boost the confidence of your team.”
Slightly different from a hands-off leadership style, leaders who are largely absent simply don’t interact with their employees in any meaningful way. Those who engage in this type of leadership style are often completely detached from what is actually going on within the walls (whether literally or figuratively) of their own company.
Stepping back and allowing employees to execute tasks is one thing, but barely having a presence at all with them and not being available to communicate in meetings, one-on-one, or otherwise is completely different.
Another way to describe a self-serving type of leadership style is one that places making money above all else. This kind of approach to leadership most always means that the people involved in running your business come last.
Through her work with executive management in leadership development, entrepreneur Jamie Joslin King has honed in on exactly what it takes to lead by putting people first. “Avoid ruling with an iron fist and don’t follow the profit first model,” she says. “A successful leader puts people first because people build the company. Nurture the employees who work for you and follow relationships, not data.”
“Leadership is about empathy and treating people like humans. Embrace a leadership style that is people driven, not corporate driven,” King says. “A leadership team needs to ask themselves: What are my employees’ goals? What can I do to ensure that my employees go to bed feeling proud about what they are doing?”
An inflexible leadership style lends itself to a leader who is unwilling to make changes in their technique or approach. They often are averse to accepting feedback because they don’t want to make any adjustments to their mindset or behavior, which can be detrimental to company culture and hinder success.
“Leadership isn’t a set formula,” Kristy Wallace, CEO of Ellevate Network, a community for professional women that fosters equality in the workplace, explains. “It is dynamic and ever changing based on the size of the company, state of economic stability, team culture and strengths.”
“As a whole, I think it’s best to avoid leadership styles that don’t allow you to be collaborative and open to feedback from your employees,” Satish says.
To foster a strong leadership style, having open communication is key. “If leaders are giving feedback, they need to be able to receive feedback as well,” King says. “Leaders go first and need to set the example.”
Asking employees what they need and how you can best serve them as a leader is one way to ensure that you avoid becoming closed minded in your leadership.
“Strong leaders continue to learn and grow every day and part of that development is to solicit feedback,” Wallace explains. “Having a deeper understanding of how your team views your leadership will ensure that you are the best leader.”
Leaders that attempt to control every aspect of their employees’ actions often lose the respect of their subordinates. By telling an employee what to do, when to do it, and exactly how to do it, a micromanaging leader undermines the confidence of their employees. It’s one thing to demonstrate a task or make recommendations, but it is a complete other thing to not allow employees any type of autonomy in their work.
Leaders who trust those who they hire to carry out their daily tasks with minimal oversight can develop a sense of trust within their team that can lead to open and honest communication, as well as a healthy company culture.
Some leaders who have a propensity to be overwhelmingly rigid can come off as authoritarian in their leadership style. By invoking strict rules and forcefully applying them, this type of leader can make their employees feel extremely disrespected.
“In my first job out of college, the leader of the team yelled a lot. You could hear him screaming from down the hallway. That approach doesn’t work, especially in the workplace,” Wallace says. “Respect for others, regardless of their role in the company is critical to strong leadership. If you want to inspire others, start from a place of respect and understanding.”
Additionally, Satish tells Ladders that “adopting a ‘negative-reinforcement’ style causes employee confidence to drop (and therefore decision-making capacity), taking productivity with it.”
How to hone in on a leadership style that works
“It is important that leaders find a leadership style that is authentic to them,” Wallace says. Not every leadership style is for every person, but knowing what your employees need from you is one way to try and find a leadership style that fits.
“Strong leaders ask, ‘what do my employees need from me right now?’ During the pandemic, for example, employees needed reassurance, clarity in the impact of their work, and acknowledgement of the need for boundaries and space. Leaders who were able to convey this helped employees to feel more deeply connected to the company and mission.”
Taking a step back to evaluate your leadership style means that you care about your employees. But this may mean testing out a few different approaches to see what works best for you and best for your company as a whole.
“The key to finding your leadership style is exploration,” Satish says. “Most importantly, the exploration of leadership styles that push you out of your comfort zone or styles you may not entirely agree with. Understanding additional and antithesis leadership styles help you identify potential blindspots, fallouts, or opportunities.”