“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” – Mahatma Gandhi
In the IT world, many often forget there are people behind technology. CIOs and CTOs, as leaders, are responsible to make the connection between the human and the digital. However, leadership styles can vary in how to relate and work with others to ensure goals, tasks and expectations are being met.
As an IT leader, the manner you conduct yourself can make or break your team’s success. Your style should be adaptable for the setting. Whether you have built your organization structure or it is one you’ve inherited, you should evaluate how individuals contribute and how groups collaborate in your current environment. All leaders wants an “All-Star” team, but it will require getting to know your people, their skills and their styles to see what fits with your style and flexibility as a leader.
Here are 5 types of leadership styles to consider:
- Autocratic: This style of leadership puts all decision-making power into your hands. There’s no input for others. In a sense, you, as a leader, are at the top. There’s full control of processes, strategy and task. You manage the expectations of projects and tasks to ensure strategy is working as you have designed and issued to be implemented.This style has the potential to be positive and negative. Positively, it can be a time and cost saver with decisions being made quickly by a single person, the leader. Negatively, it can shut out team members whose expertise may help make better decisions. It can also lead to micromanagement and levels of rigidity in the organization structure.Example: Henry Ford, in creating and leading the Ford Motor Company, took the charge in creating the automobile assembly line and creating an entire industry in the United States.
- Participative. Contrary to the autocratic style, participative leadership opens the decision-making process to others. As a leader, you gather input from your team members to determine how strategy is formed and how projects are assigned and delegated. It can be viewed as “democratic.”Having input from others is great. However, it can come at a price. This style can open the door to cannibalization of work, inefficiencies and lack of direction from there being “too many cooks in the kitchen.”On the plus side, a participative leader gains levels of expertise and experience from his team. There’s a bit of reliance on subject-matter experts to help make well-informed decisions. This type of leader needs to balance influence with one’s management.Example: Steve Jobs was known to change his leadership style during his career at Apple, during their best and worst moments. However, what has helped Apple succeed in its current form was by hiring experts in the industry and listening to their input. There was a balance in being a guide and a learner, which made him an effective leader and his team, including current CEO Tim Cook, one too.
- Laissez-faire. This style can be simply stated as “let nature run its course.” This style of leadership leaves decision-making solely to the team member. It may seem like a “hands-off” approach, but it can be empowering to the worker. With that level of autonomy, the worker looks to the leader for guidance and support, when necessary.While some team members can thrive in autonomous work situations, any lack of communication can be viewed as off-putting or uncaring. In this style, the leader will need to be a bit proactive with the team. Regular check-ins with an open-door policy allows both leaders and team members to have fluid conversation and become transparent about projects, tasks and responsibilities.Example: Jack Welch, former CEO and Chairman of General Electric, was an effective yet hands-off leader in business. He allowed his hired experts to make the decisions without guidance, allowing them to use their experience and skills. Being hands-off wouldn’t mean to be ignorant of the business. His style allowed his employees to shine, and in turn his company’s value increased by 4,000%
- Transactional. This style is based on a set of rules and instruction. It employees a rewards/punishment system. It’s a “quid pro quo” style, where employees experience consequences or benefits based on what and how they perform. It can be incentivizing for teams that require a bit more motivation than others.In this style, it’s important to gauge your team member’s motivation and satisfaction levels. Incentives can be a great boost to improve performance. However, it needs to be done in moderation. Incentives should not always be expected, as they can lose their attraction. Alternatively, if goals are not being met, the “punishments” need to not be demoralizing to stop work. They should be set to help rebuild and re-educate team members through communication. Be careful not to micromanage to get the results you want.Example: While there aren’t noted leaders who have taken to this style, some examples are work directives/orders, having “chains of command” and setting persons or self in supervisory roles to oversee lesser performers.
- Transformational. Transformation equates change. As a transformational leader, you seek opportunities to make change for your area and business. Whether it’s implementing new technology across the organization or creating new organization policies, you create the vision, design the strategy and motivate your team to implement.This style works best if you operate in project management, which many IT teams do. Your ability to give directions and develop cross-functional partnerships is essential, as efforts and their much needed support will need to come from other business areas. Communication is critical in giving direction so others can understand and align to your vision for change.
Example: Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, is a transformational leader who not only changed his style over the years, but how he conducts business. He found opportunities to create change using technological innovations from operating systems to hardware. However, he also used this experience to segue into a career in philanthropy, creating the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote initiatives for education, community development and world health.
Author John C. Maxwell said “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” To be an effective leader, you need to have a style that fits with your employees and work environment. In IT, you’re covering a wide range of functional skills and operations from help desk to development. Your ability to work with others and provide guidance and support will be key in how well you all perform as a team
Which leadership style matches you? Which type(s) would you like to adopt? Have you found a way to change styles necessary? Tell us in the comments!