What is your leadership style - and how is it impacting performance?

Simon Thiessen

Simon Thiessen About The Author

29-Jan-2015 10:59:00


The connection between leadership style and results

In previous articles we have looked at the impact that leaders have on organisational climate, the way that flows through to discretionary effort and how that translates into bottom line results.

The connection between these factors can be seen in the leadership chain.


Studies indicate that:

  • Up to 70% of the variance in organisational climate can be attributed to differences in the way leaders lead
  • Up to 30% of the variance in results can be attributed to differences in organisational climate

Clearly, if you want to improve results the most effective way to do that is to work on leadership style. Of course, that can be awkward for many managers because:

  • None of us want to believe our own style could be responsible for lower productivity
  • There are so many other more obvious factors that we could work on such as the way our team members act and behave

Of course, the leadership chain clearly illustrates that the most effective way to change the way an employee is acting and behaving is for the leader to change their style. That may mean overhauling the overall style used for leading the team or more specifically changing the style used to deal with that individual.

The leader’s style isn’t solely responsible for performance levels – but it plays a very major role.

Reflecting_on_leadership_style_can_be_difficultThe broken mirror of self reflection

When we use psychometric tools to do a 180 degree analysis of the leaders style, we often find results that are a surprise (even a shock) to the leader. The two things we look at are:

  • The leaders style as they perceive it
  • The leaders style as experienced by their direct reports

We find that some leaders have great self awareness, some under estimate themselves and others – well, let’s just say that we have to have awkward conversations with them!

Here is the cold hard reality: the way a leader’s team responds is based on their perception of the leader’s style. The leader’s perception of their own style is interesting but irrelevant to performance

If leaders genuinely want an insight into the way they lead - as experienced by their people rather than the idealised in their minds - they should take a look at how their people are behaving. Very often this behaviour is the response and leadership style is the stimulus. For example, if your people never take initiative is it possible that something in the way you lead discourages it? What has happened previously when initiative has been shown? What happens when people take risks or make mistakes? What happens when people do things differently to the way you do them?

This is not about beating up on leaders - I am a leader myself and one who struggles as much as anyone with this 'perception gap'. However, as leaders we have the responsibility to look hard at ourselves and the outcomes we create regardless of how uncomfortable that may be

The way your people may not be a perfect reflection of your leadership style but it is often better than the broken mirror we call self-awareness.

Six leadership styles

As you read about these styles of leadership, keep these critical points in mind

  • You probably have a tendency to use some styles more than others.
  • The more leadership styles you can use, the more often you will effective as a leader – assuming you use the right one at the right time.

A number of researchers, including David McClelland, have identified and elaborated on six broad styles used by leaders.


Impact on organisational climate

Every one of these styles may be the most appropriate style in a specific situation – and the conscious leader is nimble enough to move between them as needed. However, some styles – coercive, pacesetting and, to a lesser extent, affiliative – are only effective as short term solutions. Long term, these leadership styles burn out leaders and dis-empower their people.

The way you use this understanding of leadership styles will depend on your perspective

If you are a leader of leaders

You could get a general understanding of the way your people lead by:

  • Rating each of them on each of the six styles described in the table
  • How often do they use each style?
  • Is that appropriate for the people and the team they lead?
  • Are they able to use a range of styles?
  • Are there styles that they don't but should use?
  • Would their perceptions be the same – or is awareness the first issue for you to work on?

The suggestions on adapting leadership style below are a starting point - but developing leadership capability is a process and you may need to combine a number of strategies including a structured leadership development program.

If you are a leader reading this and wondering about your own style

First of all, well done and being courageous enough to peer into the broken mirror. Self insight is often uncomfortable but genuine personal growth is impossible without it.

  • Rate yourself on each of the leadership styles
  • How often do you use each one?
  • How comfortable is each one?
  • Now go back and have a second look – have you rated yourself the way you think you should be, the way you wish you were or the way you actually are?
  • As we have discussed, accurate self reflection can be difficult. Is there a team member or two that you could ask for feedback?
  • How do they experience you? You may need to ensure you are open to information that isn’t consistent with your own perceptions.
  • What is the gap between their perceptions and your own?
  • How is that impacting performance – and what do you need to do about it?

Changing the way you lead

Don't try to do everything at once. The list of styles clearly shows that coaching and authoritative styles get the best long term results so focus on doing more of those - the more time you spend on them, the less that is left over for the other styles

Pick a few suggestions from this table and make them your guiding principles as a leader - notice that you can increasing one thing will actually decrease another? For example, when a leader does more coaching by asking questions, that also decreases coercive and pacesetting.


Effective leadership is really a process of creating good leadership habits. To help you keep those positive habits top of mind, download these inspiring leadership wall posters. Display them prominently to keep you focused on leading with a style you want your people to experience from you.

Leadership posters



photo credit (mirror): Alejandro Hernandez. via photopin cc