Quiz: What's Your Leadership Style?
Defining Leadership Styles
Leadership styles describe the differing approaches that leaders use. For example, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos use wildly different leadership styles. Some are competitive, others collaborative, and still others structured. Research identifies four leadership styles: Pragmatist, Idealist, Steward and Diplomat.
What Is Your Leadership Style?
What's your leadership style? Are you like a tech CEO or a world leader? More like Steve Jobs or Gandhi? Take this Leadership Styles Assessment and see what style of leadership you have!
It's time to really understand your style of leadership. We’re going to dig deep into leadership styles, but feel free to jump to any section that interests you:
- The Big 4 Leadership Styles
- Choosing Employees That Fit With Your Leadership Style
- Is There One Perfect Leadership Style?
- How Each Leadership Style Exhibits Transformational Leadership
- Signs That Your Leadership Style Is Too Tough
- Signs That Your Leadership Style Is Too Soft
The Big 4 Leadership Styles
Now that you have your personal leadership styles results, let’s dig deeper into each of the four fundamental leadership styles: Pragmatist, Idealist, Steward and Diplomat.
Here’s a quick overview of the four leadership styles:
- Pragmatists are driven, competitive, and they value hitting their goals above all else.
- Idealists want to learn and grow, and they want everyone else on the team to do the same.
- Stewards are dependable, loyal and helpful, and they provide a stabilizing and calming force for their team members.
- Diplomats are the affiliative force that keeps groups together and typically build deep personal bonds with their employees.
Remember that leaders can be effective or ineffective within each of these four styles of leadership, and there are a million subtle variations, but these four leadership styles give us a way to pinpoint some major philosophical differences between leaders.
Now let’s take a deeper dive…
The Pragmatist Leadership Style
Pragmatists have high standards, and they expect themselves, and their team members, to meet those standards. Pragmatists are driven, competitive, and they value hitting their goals above all else. They can be bold thinkers, unafraid of taking the road less traveled (even when others struggle or feel anxious). They are also hard-driving and often enjoy smashing through obstacles.
Working for Pragmatists can be difficult but rewarding. The job is not for the faint-of-heart or thin-skinned, but the opportunities to learn and become expert under the Pragmatist’s tutelage are second-to-none. The job can sometimes feel like an apprenticeship to a master artist or professor. This offers the potential for exceptional intellectual growth, but also for burnout and criticism. It’s a great situation for the right individuals, but employees who work for Pragmatists may find that bottom-line results can sometimes outpace softer measures like employee engagement.
The Pragmatist style is the least common of all the leadership styles, accounting for around 8-12% of American leaders. But, it’s interesting to note that top-level executives have a higher percentage of Pragmatists than other groups, like Managers, Directors and Vice Presidents.
Based on my observations, I consider Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) and Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo) to be Pragmatists.
The Idealist Leadership Style
Idealists are high-energy achievers who believe in the positive potential of everyone around them. Idealists want to learn and grow, and they want everyone else on the team to do the same. They’re often charismatic, drawing others to them with their intuition and idealism. They’re open-minded and prize creativity from themselves and others.
Working for Idealists offers the chance to be creative and to express oneself. Team members find they have an equal voice and that they learn by doing. Working for the Idealist often provides a very democratic experience. There isn’t as much process and structure as with some other leaders (like Stewards), and that can be a plus or minus depending on the employee. Idealist leaders are often found doing creative work, brainstorming around a table with like-minded individuals. For the appropriate people, working for the Idealist is a great situation.
The Idealist leadership style accounts for about 15-20% of American leaders. And based on my observations, famous Idealists include Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) and Meg Whitman (CEO of Hewlett-Packard).
The Steward Leadership Style
Stewards are the rocks of organizations. They’re dependable, loyal and helpful, and they provide a stabilizing and calming force for their employees. Stewards value rules, process and cooperation. They believe that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and they move only as fast as the whole chain will allow, taking care and time to help those who struggle to keep up.
Working for Stewards offers the chance to be part of a well-oiled machine. Here, employees find security, consistency and cohesion. The job may not offer great opportunities for individual glory or an adrenaline rush, but it does provide great opportunities for team success. Stewards can often be found in mission-critical areas of the organization and they are often relied-upon by leaders in other divisions. For the appropriate people, working for the Steward is a great situation.
Similar to the Idealist, the Steward leadership style accounts for about 15-20% of American leaders. And based on my observations, famous Stewards include George Washington, Mother Teresa and Ginni Rometty (CEO of IBM).
The Diplomat Leadership Style
Diplomats prize interpersonal harmony. They are the social glue and affiliative force that keeps groups together. Diplomats are kind, social, and giving, and typically build deep personal bonds with their employees. They’re often known for being able to resolve conflicts peacefully (and for avoiding conflicts in the first place).
Working for Diplomats is often more fun and social than working for other leaders (especially the Pragmatists). Diplomats put less emphasis on challenging their employees, focusing instead on putting their people in positions that leverage their strengths in order to achieve success. Diplomats work to avoid having people feel uncomfortable or anxious, and Diplomats are typically thought of as highly likable. Traditional measures of employee satisfaction are often very high for Diplomats. For the appropriate people, working for the Diplomat is a great situation.
The Diplomat is the most common of all the leadership styles, accounting for around 50-60% of American leaders. And it’s interesting to note that, unlike the Pragmatists, top-level executives have a lower percentage of Diplomats than other groups, like Managers, Directors and Vice Presidents.
Based on my observations, Mohandas Gandhi and Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) would be examples of Diplomats.
Choosing Employees That Fit With Your Leadership Style
The people best suited to succeed under Pragmatist leadership style are ambitious, competitive, demanding and audacious goal-setters. Combined with the Pragmatist’s tendencies to push followers to produce maximal effort and to work hard on improving their weaknesses, we know that the Pragmatist should hire those with drive and resilience. Now, hiring thick-skinned team members is not a license to invoke an authoritarian or autocratic leadership style. It simply means that when followers are challenged to achieve really big goals, you want subordinates who won't crack under the pressure.
The people best suited to work under the Diplomat’s affiliative leadership are harmonious, forgiving, and highly collaborative. Combine this with the Diplomat’s wish for an environment in which employees genuinely like one another, and we can easily assess that the Diplomat should hire people that are good at teamwork.
The people best suited to succeed under the Steward leadership style are detail-oriented, rule-following, consistent performers. Combined with the Steward’s emphasis on formal procedures, rules and policies, and on setting clear expectations, we know that the Steward should hire people who “dot the i’s and cross the t’s,” and whose decision-making process involves careful, detailed analysis.
Given the Idealist’s growth orientation, the archetypal employee will have a similar love of learning. And it won’t just be formal learning, it will be an everyday stretching and growing. Subordinates that have thrived under more democratic leaders or a boss who practiced participative leadership will generally respond very well to the Idealist's leadership style.
Is There One Perfect Leadership Style?
Contrary to what most leadership books would have you believe, there is not one right way or one perfect leadership style or management style to be successful. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower were both incredibly successful leaders, but their styles were a study in contrasts. And leaders like Tim Cook from Apple, Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook, and Jeff Bezos from Amazon, are all successful leaders with wildly different approaches.
It seems intuitively obvious that leaders should embody and employ different leadership styles; companies aren’t all the same, so why should their leaders be the same? And yet, every year there are a wealth of leadership books purporting to illuminate the “one path” to great leadership. It’s an absurd conceit, and a damaging one.
Yes, servant leadership can be a wonderful approach. But servant leadership is going to look very different at a hard-charging Wall Street investment bank than it is at a small community hospital in Mississippi.
The leadership style that works best for a team of ambitious, competitive go-getters (the Pragmatist) is not the style that works best for a group of affiliative collaborators (the Diplomat) or detail-oriented, rule-followers (the Steward).
Truly great leaders understand their leadership style, when to embrace it fully or dial it back, in which environments they are most likely to succeed, and how to choose followers who fit well with their leadership style.
It's great for every leader and manager and executive to be transformational rather than use transactional leadership or authoritarian leadership. And nobody really loves working for autocratic leaders. But you can still be a transformational leader with any of the four primary leadership styles.
Also, every one of the four leadership styles can display charismatic leadership. George Washington and Mother Teresa were Stewards and incredibly charismatic leaders. Mohandas Gandhi was a Diplomat and a historically charismatic leader. Franklin D. Roosevelt was a Pragmatist, and I think we would all agree that he had a remarkably charismatic leadership style.
How Each Leadership Style Exhibits Transformational Leadership
Transformational leadership describes leaders who inspire, empower, and stimulate followers to exceed normal levels of performance. And the research shows that transformational leadership delivers better results, like employee engagement, job satisfaction and even productivity, than does transactional leadership (a style whereby leaders foster compliance through punishments and rewards).
And as you’ve seen, any/all of the four leadership styles can be a transformational leadership style; they each just do it in their own unique ways.
Pragmatists evidence transformational leadership by challenging and inspiring their team members to achieve bigger goals. Idealists show their transformational leadership style by continually learn and growing, and encouraging everyone else to do the same. Diplomats display transformational leadership by empowering and building deep personal bonds with their employees. And Stewards act as transformational leaders by providing a stabilizing and calming force for their team members.
Most people want a leader who evidences a modicum of common decency, tolerates at least a bit of disagreement, and minimally shares some occasional good news. These are fundamental leadership behaviors that most followers desire and that, ideally, are embraced by all leaders, regardless of their leadership style.
There are also leadership behaviors that are fundamentally bad. I regularly receive emails from managers whose bosses are mentally and cognitively unfit to be leaders, and they’ll ask something like, “Is there a leadership style that encompasses ‘crazy?’” The answer is simply, “No.” To even enter the discussion about one’s leadership style, a person must first demonstrate some foundational mental, emotional and cognitive competence. We can discuss the leadership styles of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower because, even though they both made mistakes, they were mentally, emotionally and cognitively competent.
Perhaps you’ve witnessed someone in a leadership role who didn’t cope well with ordinary stresses such as basic criticism or unflattering news. Or they lacked a basic grip on reality. Or they consistently demonstrated belligerent, instigating and vitriolic behavior. A person like that does not have a leadership style; they don’t even deserve the moniker of leader. They may hold an impressive title, but they are not a leader. And aside from the rare masochist, no one loves following someone who displays those kinds of behaviors.
Signs That Your Leadership Style Is Too Tough
Sometimes leaders can push their folks so hard and with such an autocratic leadership style that performance suffers. I get it; there’s huge pressure on leaders to achieve results. But there’s a fine line between pushing people to achieve greatness and pushing so hard that employees crack.
Here are three signs that your leadership style has gotten too tough and likely veered into autocratic leadership…
1: You Walk Into A Room And People Stop Talking
One of the surest signs that you’ve crossed the line from respect to fear is when you walk into a room and the chatter immediately turns to silence. Contrary to popular belief, this does not mean people were talking about you. But it’s often a sign that they’re afraid of you. And that fear that followers have can be a sign of autocratic leadership.
Remember back in high school when you had that really tough teacher, who as soon as they entered the classroom all the students ‘zipped it’ for fear of getting yelled at (or sent to the principal’s office)? If you enter a room and have flashbacks to that tough teacher, you may have strayed from respected to feared.
We all like meetings to quickly come to order. And it’s perfectly normal to not want your office to be a coffee klatch. But there’s a difference between a room quieting gently when you enter versus people shutting-up mid-sentence out of fear. Stay aware for this warning sign.
2: When You Give Constructive Feedback, Employees Are Very Quiet
Every leader (regardless of their leadership style) is going to give tough feedback or constructive criticism. But ideally, when you give that feedback, the recipient will have a response or ask questions. Maybe they ask for clarification. Or perhaps they share their side of things. Occasionally they might respectfully disagree. And in a perfect world, they’ll say something like ‘Gee, you’re right…I totally get it now.’
But when the recipient of your constructive criticism sits there quietly, without much response, it’s often an indicator that they’ve gone into mental shutdown (perhaps trying to survive a verbal beating). When constructive feedback is given perfectly, the recipient has a ‘light bulb moment’ where they realize their error, how the error happened, and how to make things better next time. I call this ‘making a corrective leap.’
When constructive feedback is delivered too harshly, the recipient can get defensive, shut down mentally, and never make that ‘corrective leap.’ They fail to do anything positive or productive with the feedback. If you observe this response happening often, with more than one of your employees, you may need to dial down on the toughness and focus on delivering more ‘constructive’ and less ‘criticism.’
3: You Do More Than 60% Of The Talking In Meetings
Occasionally when I’m coaching a senior executive, I’ll attend a few of their meetings. One of the metrics I track during those meetings is how many minutes the executive talks versus everyone else in the room (I literally use a stopwatch just like an old-school gym teacher). If the executive does more than 60% of the talking, it’s a pretty good sign that their leadership style has gotten too tough.
There’s a difference between a meeting and an assembly. In an assembly, it’s perfectly legitimate to call people into the room and deliver a soliloquy with a bunch of information. If you’ve got a big announcement or a new policy change, the largely one-way flow of information of assembly can be acceptable.
But meetings are different. In a meeting, you brought those people into the room to solicit and gather their input, to elicit their great ideas, and to avail yourself of their innovative thoughts. That won’t happen if you’re doing all of the talking.
Sometimes leaders do all the talking because they have trouble sitting quietly (whether from ego or ADHD or whatever). But sometimes leaders do all the talking because their employees are too afraid to open their mouths. This situation can cause a lot of trouble. Test this out in your next meeting. Stop talking for a few minutes. If your employees naturally pick-up the conversation, you’re probably okay. But if there’s an awkward lull, or people just stare, waiting for you to speak again, there’s an issue.
As a leader, you don’t ever want to stop reaching for greatness. But you do want to make sure that your employees are reaching with you and not cracking under pressure. Pay attention to the warning signs, be driven but not too tough, and you should achieve great success.
Signs That Your Leadership Style Is Too Soft
There’s huge pressure on leaders to keep employees engaged and inspired and to create workplaces filled with trust and fulfillment. But sometimes these initiatives go too far and bottom-line business results suffer. Leaders turn overly soft and are so focused on making people happy that they forget to help employees be productive and efficient. And this can sometimes turn into a laissez-faire leadership style in which the leader is so hands-off that employees no longer have sufficient direction or structure.
Here are five signs that your leadership style has become too yielding…
1. A 5-Minute Conversation Turns Into 50 Minutes
Imagine you give an employee a highly specific bit of constructive feedback (e.g. “this report is too long, shave off 1,000 words”). It’s the kind of feedback that requires no more of a response than “I got it, I’ll fix it now.” Now imagine that even though the feedback conversation should be done within 5 minutes, you find yourself engaged in a lengthy conversation with the employee about why they fell short, how that makes them feel, and why you’re somehow to blame for their mistakes.
Has that ever happened to you? If the answer is yes, that’s a good sign that you’ve become too appeasing. It’s good to encourage dialogue with your employees and it’s great when they feel comfortable sharing. But when employees believe they can talk themselves out of being criticized or held accountable, that’s a problem.
There are times when an employee just needs to say "I’m sorry. I messed up. I’ll fix it immediately." That’s not indicative of a dictatorial or autocratic environment; it’s usually just a sign of an efficient and accountable operation. There are some conversations that should be five minutes and done. So when you regularly feel like five-minute conversations are turning into 50-minute therapy sessions, that’s a strong sign that you’ve moved from approachable to acquiescent.
2. Your Meetings Get Off Topic And Take Too Long
Have you ever been in one of those meetings where a few of the big personalities just dominate the conversation? They talk louder than everyone else, including you. All you hear are their thoughts, their ideas, their yeas and their nays. The quieter employees feel totally shut out from participating. And even when you try to rein them in, they manage to barge right through and keep dominating.
Ideally meetings are value-adding forums where all invitees participate. Isn’t that why you called all those people into the meeting in the first place? Yet, when we struggle to control the loudmouths, when they don’t respect our authority (formal or otherwise), it’s a sign that we’re not being forceful or commanding enough.
Of course people should talk. Intense conversations can signal a healthy team. But there still needs to be someone in the room with enough power to keep the conversation on track, on time and thoroughly professional.
Now, this does not mean that a leader should immediately adopt a transactional leadership style, or start employing heavy does of autocratic leadership. It simply means that, whatever our leadership style, we need to add in a bit more focus and discipline.
3. You Regularly Mediate Employee Conflicts (Instead Of Employees Solving Issues Themselves)
It’s troubling when a leader is regularly sucked into employee conflicts. In an ideal world, employees would act like adults and resolve conflicts themselves, reserving the boss-as-mediator for only the most serious issues. But when a leader has become too accommodating, employees quickly figure out that they plead their case to the boss and the boss will intervene on their behalf. It’s actually quite similar to the games that our kids play; whether it’s “ma, he’s looking at me funny” or playing one parent off another.
When the leader has a no-nonsense, ‘suck-it-up’ reputation, these manipulations are rare. But when the leader is seen as overly accommodating or appeasing, these games will be a frequent occurrence.
4. You See The Same Problem Multiple Times
There isn’t an organization on the planet that doesn’t have employees who make mistakes. That’s the price of doing business. But when you see employees making the same mistakes again and again, that’s often a sign that they haven’t gotten the message that they need to improve. And that’s often the result of employees believing that their gentle leader won’t really follow through on enforcing consequences.
I’m not suggesting that leaders move to the opposite extreme, where employees are risk-averse and paralyzed by fear of being fired. That’s every bit as damaging. Rather, the effective leader will find the middle ground of mistakes may be inevitable, but we all must strive to avoid making the same mistake repeatedly. Employees need to know if they don’t take their mistakes seriously, and work diligently and earnestly to improve, the consequences will be more than just a leader’s look of disappointment.
5. Employees Aren’t Learning New Things
One of the biggest leadership tests is: are your people learning new things? Because if they’re not, they’re not growing and developing and it’s a likely sign that your leadership style is too soft.
Making sure that people learn really isn’t that difficult. Once a month ask your people “Hey, what’s something you’re better at now than you were last month?” If they don’t have an answer, follow up with questions such as, “What would you like to get better at this next month?” and “What new skills are you going to have to develop this next year to reach your big goals?”
Give your people HARD Goals that challenge them and push them outside of their comfort zone and let them know that you believe they can do it. What’s interesting to think about is when you ask leaders, “What were the most significant goals you’ve ever achieved in your life, were they easy, or were they hard? The answer is always hard. And yet, those same leaders give employees too easy goals that are achievable and realistic and then wonder where the greatness is.
The best goals are not the ones that sit totally within your comfort zone. The best goals activate the brain and get the most neural activity going in a positive way. These are the goals that are 20 to 30 percent outside of your comfort zone, where you can look back on that goal and say, “Honestly, I wasn’t even totally sure I could pull that off. It was a doozy, but I’ll tell you what, I learned a ton.”
As a leader you don’t ever want to stop focusing on inspiring and engaging your employees. But you do want to ensure that all the deep emotional connections you build with your employees and the level of challenge you create translate into exceptional bottom-line results. Pay attention to the warning signs, be engaging but not too accommodating, and you should achieve great success.The Big 4 Leadership Styles