How many times have you heard your staffs complain about the way you lead them? How many times have you seen your people leaving you, leaving the team just because of your leadership style? Have you ever said to yourself, “I need to change, to make people around me feel comfortable working with me,” and then failed? Remember, it is not easy to change your behaviors or change your style of leading.
“People are not inclined to change behavior that is not a problem to them. Even if it is a problem to those around them. Change requires motivation, change is difficult.” - Scott Hamilton
But you can learn to adapt your behavior to fit a situation when doing so is necessary to achieve success with your team.
For example, if you are a democratic leader, then you might choose to use the autocratic leadership style when working with inexperienced team members to direct their activities, to train, guide, and support them as they gain experience and become more competent. Or if you are an autocratic leader, you can choose to change to a democratic leadership style later, when your team members become more skilled and competent, to increase their engagement in the workplace.
1. How to be effective with an autocratic leadership style
It’s easy to see the immediate goal of this type of leadership: use your expertise to get the job done. Make sure that everyone is exactly where they need to be and doing their jobs.
However, too much direct scrutiny will make your subordinates miserable, and being too heavy handed will squelch all group input. Being an effective autocratic leader means being very intentional about when and how demands are made on the team.
Here are some things to keep in mind to be effective when acting as an autocratic leader:
- Respect your subordinates: It’s important that you stay fair and acknowledge that everyone brings something to the table, even if they don’t call the shots. Making subordinates realize they are respected keeps morale up and resentment low; every functional team is built on a foundation of mutual respect.
- Explain the rules: Your people know they have to follow procedure, but it helps them do a better job if they know the reasons.
- Be consistent: If your role in the team is to enforce the company line, you have to make sure you do so consistently and fairly. It’s easy to respect someone’s objective, but hard to trust someone who applies policy differently in similar circumstances.
- Educate before you enforce: Having everyone understand your expectations up front will mean less surprises down the road. Being above board from the outset prevents a lot of miscommunication and misunderstandings.
- Listen, even if you don’t change: We all want to feel like our opinions are appreciated, even if they aren’t going to lead to immediate change, and being a leader means that your team will want to bring their opinions to you. It’s important to be clear that they are heard, no matter the outcome.
2. How to be effective with a democratic leadership style
The democratic leadership style means facilitating the conversation, encouraging people to share their ideas, and then synthesizing all the available information into the best possible decision. The democratic leader must also be able to communicate that decision back to the group to bring unity once the plan is chosen.
Here are some tips to leverage this style:
- Keep communication open: Everyone needs to feel comfortable enough to put their ideas on the table. The democratic leadership style thrives when all the considerations are laid out for everyone to examine.
- Focus the discussion: It’s hard to keep unstructured discussion productive. It’s the leader’s job to balance being open to ideas and keeping everything on-topic. If the conversation begins to stray, remind everyone of the goal and then steer it back. Make sure to note off-topic comments and try to return to them when they are pertinent.
- Be ready to commit: In the democratic leadership style, you get presented with so many possibilities and suggestions that it can be overwhelming and difficult to commit. But as the leader, when the time comes, you have to choose and do so with conviction. The team depends on clear and unambiguous mandates to be committed.
- Respect the ideas: You and your team might not agree with every idea, and that’s OK. It is important, however, that you create a healthy environment where those ideas are entertained and considered—not maligned—or the flow of ideas will slow to a trickle.
- Explain, but don’t apologize: You want the advocates of the solutions that were not selected to understand that their thoughts were considered and had validity, but that ultimately you had strong reasons to go in a different direction. It’s important that the decision be communicated, but you should not apologize for deciding on what you thought best.
Source: Leadership-toolbox.com; A psychologist looks at leadership styles in business by Scott Hamilton
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