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Some Leadership Styles to Consider

| October 3, 2023

by David Sweetman

Today’s Tuesday Reading is by Dr. David Sweetman, MOR Associates Program Leader and Consultant.  David may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

Think of leaders you have worked for and worked with. These leaders may be described as focused on the task at hand, caring about people as individuals, being accessible, being aloof and inaccessible, being inspirational, being principled, and more. Each of these characteristics are part of the individual’s leadership style. Leaders and their styles have a profound impact on those being led. It can distinguish between a highly effective team and a highly dysfunctional one. Below are five significant styles of leadership to consider in your own repertoire.

Transactional Leadership

Two approaches to leadership have been described for over 100 years and remain relevant today: first, a task-centered approach, where leaders focus on the task to be completed, providing clear roles and goals to enable that task completion. Second, a person-centered approach, focusing on the transaction of human needs such as respect, trust, and relationships for an employee to be successful.

From these styles emerges the idea of transactional leadership, where leaders focus on exchanging rewards and penalties for the completion (or not) of objectives. This exchange includes both job-centered and person-centered areas of focus, often with task-centered accomplishments leading to person-centered rewards.  In transactional leadership, these leader/follower exchanges are the foundation of leader influence.

Transformational Leadership

Thinking of leadership in terms of task-oriented and person-oriented leadership behaviors is useful but incomplete as it focuses on short-term interactions and not long-term change. Transformational leadership creates and facilitates long-term change through empowering, enabling, and inspiring others to accomplish shared objectives. Transformational leadership consists of four components:

o   Idealized Influence. Earns respect, displays power and confidence, models ethical standards, talks optimistically, talks enthusiastically, and goes beyond self-interest.

o   Inspirational Motivation.  Charismatically arouses the desire to act on important issues, emphasizes the collective mission, expresses confidence in others, and inspires others to go beyond self-interest.

o   Individualized Consideration.  Individualized attention, focus on individual’s strengths, coaches, and differentiates team member strengths.

o   Intellectual Stimulation. Reexamine assumptions, seek different views, suggest new ways, and suggest different angles.

Transformational leadership is more than the sum of the parts. The whole produces greater outcomes.

Servant Leadership

Servant leadership focuses on ensuring the needs of others are met. While this could appear to describe many of the forms of leadership, the key differentiator is that servant leadership begins not with the desire to lead but with the desire to serve others. The goals of servant leadership are that those served grow as people, that they become more autonomous, more likely to in turn become servants, and, importantly, the performance this environment then creates.  An environment of servant leadership can take significant time to cultivate, with greater performance seen for those invested in a long-term servant leadership relationship.  This form of leadership can connote the spiritual but is not limited to that context alone.


Ubuntu comes from traditional Southern African philosophy. Its rough translation is “I am, because we are.” Ubuntu is defined as humaneness—a pervasive spirit of caring and community, harmony and hospitality, respect and responsiveness—that individuals and groups display for one another.  It is based on systems of cooperation to ensure all members of a community are included and belong.  As in any form of leadership, for ubuntu to be effective requires the important connection from cooperation, facilitation, and consensus to action and results.

Adaptive Leadership

Leadership depends on the context of time, place, and others involved.  As we say at MOR, “the answer is in the room” and individuals can “lead from where they are.” This leadership style is about emergence of ideas and influence, creating the culture and structures to enable innovations to surface and be amplified from anywhere in the organization.  In adaptive leadership, the focus is the interaction between people and their environment, regardless of title.  Ways to foster adaptive leadership:

o   Enable Emergence – Give space for ideas, workarounds, pushback, and prosocial rule-breaking.

o   Cultivate Connections – Enabling connective fabric in the organization for ideas to build.

o   Cook Conflict – Surfacing differences and explore them while ensuring they don’t boil over into interpersonal conflict.

o   Mute Management – Limit access to “deciders” to build confidence, creativity, and resilience.

Be warned: the Rubber-band effect.  Push these ideas too hard in a culture not ready for them, and the system’s flexibility can snap back to the former status quo or beyond.  Balance this flexibility by providing focusing mechanisms such as deciding direction, shielding, planning, and calming control.

Last week, we asked what best describes your intentionality at work?

  • 21% said always
  • 32% said often
  • 28% said sometimes
  • 9% said seldom
  • 10% said never

When many participants attend the first workshop in the MOR Leaders Program, they realize they are spending more time reacting and often just doing the work. It is encouraging in this poll to see 53% of the respondents are often or always intentional with how they use their time and their talent. Your calendar is your most strategic asset. Ensure your time is devoted to the most important priorities.