There was an interesting article in PR Week last week, on the subject of leadership communication. Entitled ‘Get the best out of your boss’ it outlines six of the most common leadership styles and suggests how communicators can best play to the personalities of their leaders. It’s a nice reminder of the breadth of styles we have to work with and provides some useful pointers on how to play to your boss’s particular strengths.
The six leadership styles – and the supporting descriptions (I’ve paraphrased) are:
1. Visionary leader – the classic rock star CEO who sets the big-picture and excels at moving people towards a shared vision. These leaders are superb public speakers and enjoy life in the spotlight. Barack Obama is a good example.
2. Affiliative leader – this type of leader wants to be your friend. A collaborative figure, the affiliative leader focuses on emotional needs and is most likely to ask ‘how are you?’. Angela Merkel is held up as an example.
3. Coaching leader – holds long conversations that often extend beyond the work place. Good at helping employees identify their strengths and weaknesses and linking these to career goals. Step forward Dr Who.
4. Democratic leader -these are the great listening leaders, though this is sometimes at the expense of decisive action. Favorite catchphrases include ‘what do you think?’. They like to show the way without pushing people in a particular direction. Lord Sebastian Coe is a good example.
5. Pacesetter leader – most likely to say ‘copy me’, these hard working leaders never shirk a challenge and lead by example. One downside is that they often expect employees to automatically get the picture. Step forward Margaret Thatcher…
6. Commanding leader – an old-school taskmaster who brings the dynamics of the playground into the boardroom. Very command and control in style they stick to one clear direction and refuse to consider an alternative routes or messages. Montgomery Burns is a good example.
The communicators quoted in the article, among them David Ferrabee and James Harkness, provide lots of useful advice on working with these types, including:
o Providing visionary leaders the right platform and sufficient time to explain their vision to others and gather feedback. High profile tactics like webcasts and regular publication profiles go down well with these types, but they may sometimes lack an eye for detail and require specific IC support in this area.
o Identifying opportunities for affiliative leaders to show their steel. Tactics like back to the floor are useful here, as are structured team meetings which focus on sharing constructive feedback. One classic issue with these types is their desire to communicate only the positive messages.
o Playing to the strengths of coaching leaders by encouraging them to host small, intimate sessions and focus on helping people turn strategy into action. These types are not great at big picture, but excel at one-to-one.
o Creating high-involvement forums for democratic leaders – workshops, online forums and blogs are particularly powerful. Clear, decisions communications help overcome this leader’s tendency towards indecision. Arm them with insights and intelligence about the workforce and they should respond well.
o Encouraging the pacesetting leader to be more inclusive, more considerate of the feelings of others and creating plenty of listening opportunities. Inclusivity is key here and tactics like recognition programmes and use of social media channels can be useful.
o Context is critical for the commanding leader. Rather than just explaining what to people, they need to focus on building understanding around the why. Big picture strategy is important here – and tactics like learning maps and visuals and strategy toolkits can be very handy. Listening channels are important too – and employees may require anonymity as commanding leaders can breed distrust and fear. Coaching in body language is also useful.