Leadership Styles & The Workplace Culture
Updated: Nov 9
Most people believe they have an understanding of leadership styles. Most people have had the experience of being led by someone, and they have developed their own ideas about what makes a good leader. There are many different theories about leadership styles. There is no one right leadership style, and the best style for a particular situation will vary. However, it is important for leaders to understand the different styles and to be able to adapt their style to the situation.
A healthy workplace culture is a desirable goal but experiece tells us that this outcome is far from common. When a workplace is toxic most employees experience high levels of stress which inevitably will have unhelpful consequences. Stress can have a number of negative effects on employees, including reduced productivity, increased health problems and decreased job satisfaction. Stressed employees are more likely to make mistakes, take sick days, and leave their jobs. Stress can lead to increased conflict between employees, managers, and customers.
There is a relationship between a poor workplace culture and leadership style. Frequently problems occur when the leader's style is too rigid for the team's requirements. Other issues occur due to a leader's insecurity, lack of experience, lack of training or support. A leader may have preconceived ideas as to what they believe a good leadership style to be. In the notes below and the extended links in this document we outline the strengths and the weaknesses of each style.
Ultimately for the purposes of "Mastering Chaos" we will define later on what we term a 'hip-pocket model'; something which is memorable and in the 'white heat' of leading is something which will help in the recognition of the best and most productive style to adopt. Musical leadership travels across the same leadership spectrum. Because of the nature of music, stresses tend to emerge more clearly. We have to adopt an appropriate style in order for the music to emerge. The sound we are making acts like a highly effective feedback loop. This allows us to respond which more quickly in the moment.
How leaders acquire the necessary interactive behaviours is the purpose of this website. You can use it to explore the many ways musicians work and act together. Musical leadership and musical group interactions are extremely useful in that all the leadership styles are present. Musical leadership styles are not in any way dissimilar from non-musical leadership styles. What is unique about the leadership styles in music is that they are far more obvious. Conductors are often autocratic in style but the good ones can switch when needed. On the other hand jazz would be almost impossible if controlled in an autocratic style. Emergent, Laissez-faire and the Coaching style is much more appropriate.
The list of leadership styles in the literature is extensive. Various theories are promoted none of which are necessarily dominant. They stretch from autocratic to delegative in some theories. Other more nuanced styles include democratic, strategic, charismatic, transformational, coach, transactional, and bureaucratic etc.On close inspection there is a fair amount of overlap between the styles. During our research into music improvisation we have also observed the appearance of a leadership style sometimes referred to as Emergent which extends beyond Delegative.
To see the links between them it is useful to spread them across a continuum. Autocratic and Emergent being extremes enable us to create our Spectrum of Leadership Styles:
It was Kurt Lewin in the 1930s that developed the original, founding spectrum of leadership behaviours and coined the Authoritarian & Delegative styles along with Participative which is also now known as Democratic. The Democratic style sits in the centre of the spectrum. As has been pointed out already in this field of research, the language tends to be used somewhat interchangeably which has meant that the words Authoritarian and Autocratic often appear together. In "Mastering Chaos" we have chosen to separate them. Delegative and Laissez-faire have also been employed interchangeably near the other end of the spectrum. Emergent as an extension of Laissez-faire has only recently been coined as a style.
Outlined below is Kurt Lewin's spectrum:
Considering this range of styles it is worth emphasising at this point that there is no particular 'best place to be' as such. All three styles have validity and an effective leader should have flexibility across the range. "However, context is everything. An effective leader needs to be alert to what is happening externally whilst maintaining internal self-awareness" (Philippa Lowe 2023)
Embedded across the styles one can also sense two spectra; one relating to 'formality' and the other relating to 'intuition'. Looking at the context of the situation how formal does your interaction with it need to be? If you feel a deep sense of connection to the project you may feel quite comfortable with reacting intuitively. In most cases your response will still remain flexible providing you remain alert and self-aware.
So we are saying that the choice of style is situational. This means that the key questions are:
a) How much 'formality/informality' does the situation demand?, and
b) How much trust do you place in your intuition at this moment, or do you need to take time for rational thought?
It is easy to recognise that we might have a 'preferred' style but this tendency can be a distinct weakness. If you have a particular way of making or organising something an Authoritarian approach might be called for. However if the team is well-trained and experienced just how authoritarian do you actually need to be? What messages are you sending to team members if your style turns out to be too inflexible. Over-managing has the implication of distrust in the minds of at least some of the team members. The growth of distrust will have repercussions which can be avoided if the leader's style is more flexible. Most people are aware of a leader's flexibility. They may not be able to name it as such as they may not be consciously aware of it. Nevertheless they seem to sense it and appreciate it in the leader. This can be helpful if the choice of style isn't necessarily as appropriate as it might have been. Errors like this are forgiveable when flexibility of reponse is present. A willingness to accept strengths and weaknesses in this way is common in music. When it fails to happen it is very noticeable in musical situations. Because of musical intimacy these difficulties do seem to be more easily solved.
Activities which require a sense of exploration are more comfortably led towards the right hand side of the spectrum. In many ways the leader is as much part of the team as anyone else and even needs to be capable of giving way to let another team member lead where it is appropriate. This doesn't mean that the leader doesn't have a role. In these 'open' unstructured spaces support is what's required. Being able to see the whole thing 'in the round' as it were is needed in order to plan for the necessary resources to be in place to fulfil the task. It is often necessary to be able to see the direction the team is taking and mindfully anticipate what might be required.
The range of styles is very broad. Having a 'preferred' style (or a ‘habit’ style) is therefore limiting to the extent that the act of 'choosing' another style can feel quite awkward. 'Preferred' implies that the leader is 'choosing' this way of acting while self-evidently they aren't if it’s actually a habit. It is often the case that the preferred style is regressive. It's felt as being the 'safe' style to return to rather than merely the correct choice for that situation.
The best leaders have all behavioural styles in their armoury and can flex their approach as needed. They recognise patterns and interactions and intuitively sense what's required.
Pros and Cons of Leadership Styles
Let's examine in more detail the pros and cons of the leadership styles already mentioned plus five others which have more recently been uncovered since Lewin’s original work.
The primary leadership styles currently identified are as follows:
Democratic (previously Lewin's Participative)
Laissez-faire (previously Lewin's Delegative)
We all know Autocratic leaders. An autocratic leader is often the style people have in mind when they initially consider the notion of 'Leader' with the person at the top being very firmly in charge. Although Adolf Hitler used democratic procedure to gain power his intention was autocratic. As we know he was to become a dictator (extreme/toxic autocratic). The 'underling' employee bears little if any responsibility for the decisions the leader makes. After the Nuremburg trials "I was only following orders" is no longer a valid excuse in the US Army. Incorrect and illegal orders are expected to be challenged. Another distinction of this style is that roles and duties are dispersed and limited so there is no need to be aware of the work of other team members.
A typical franchise business, "We cook our beef-burgers this way. This is the way we do it", has little if any room for creativity. The leadership style is likely to need nothing more than the Autocratic.
On a lesser scale some people in leadership positions make the mistake of acting out Autocratic as their 'preferred', 'go to' style. Whilst team members know what they are doing and what's expected of them but they have little voice in the operation. Collaboration is not possible or even needed and any sense of creativity is stifled. There is a clear sense of 'group-think' with no possibility of a diverse thought being expressed. This style is employed less and less in today's organisations because it can often lead to higher employee turnover than other styles and hence increases company costs in recruitment and training...more
Authoritarian is a distinct style to that of Autocratic. Authoritative leaders explain their decisions and to a certain degree employees are consulted. Employees will be given a degree of autonomy about how their work is done. People will 'follow' this leader which can stimulate the building of strong team relationships. On the downside, this is the territory of the populist and the narcissist. The style is potentially disruptive and factional. Mussolini was Italy's 'Great Leader'. He had a visionary personality and was able to achieve major improvements to the Italian economy in his early days. History demonstrates the extreme consequences of his leadership style.
On smaller scales there is much potential in this style but as with the Autocratic the weight of the decisions are very firmly on the shoulders of this type of leader. In the current climate of change this can be very effective so long as the person in charge maintains their authenticity by acting on their values. This leader has to lead by example and their credibility and authenticity are lost when they are seen to fail. Organisational instability and disruption follow....more
Pacesetters as leaders create strong team motivation but their style can be exhausting. Like the previous two leadership styles they are very 'present'.
In a small start-up business this style fits well. There are frequent deadlines to meet and in situations where team members know what they are doing and are themselves self-motivated this style can be inspirational. Once again, the onus is on the leader and this style is hugely demanding and in the long run cannot be sustained. Burnout of the leader and/or the team members can follow.
For team members it can feel that with this style the results are more important than they are. This style still centres around the leader. Their value to the business is secondary and as such their personal development is not a priority...more
So far the styles we have discussed are centred around the leader and the styles which demand a strong sense of 'control'.
The Democratic leadership still has the leader making the final decision or signing it off, however leaders who perform well in this arena are more like consultants. They will act as facilitators of discussions in order to bring the team towards consensus. Participants feel empowered and have a substantial degree of control over the way they do things. There is a true sense of 'buy in' with the team feeling that it is acting 'as one' with a joint shared sense of purpose. Operating in this manner nurtures creativity and because of the 'many minds' approach complex problems can be solved.
It can appear to be a time-consuming style however once decisions are eventually made it can be very efficient and operations tend to run more smoothly because of the buy-in of the team members and the fact that they are usually better prepared. The ability of this style to function well requires the skill of the leader as facilitator. Inexperienced teams themselves may not have the maturity to operate in this format because initially they may need more direction... more
The coaching leadership style is focused on bringing out the best in people. Employees are fully engaged in solving complex problems. There is a strong sense of shared ownership and team accountability. Coaching depends on the leaders skills to be supportive and adopt an approach which focuses team member development. It requires excellent communication skills and an ability to provide constructive feedback. Coaching is a questioning style of leadership. Coaches 'work with' the employee rather than 'tell'. This style requires a degree of training and experience to master.
Done well the coaching leadership style is able to foster clear objectives and everyone knows what's required of them. Built in to the style is the ability to develop talent and grow a highly skilled workforce. Trust and empowerment are strongly in evidence.
On the other hand it takes time to develop a team this way and this style won't necessarily generate quick results. Without the necessary training in this style leaders can easily cause confusion and lack of commitment...more
This style is also known as Collaborative Leadership. The circumstances where this style might be needed is when the leader is responsible for strategic relationships between separate teams or organisations. This leadership style focuses on gaining loyalty, trust and support to get tasks done. Encouragement of diverse groups is a feature of this style. Leaders focus on the quality and skills of the people involved, understanding how well they do what they do. Leaders working in this style promote cross-functional relationships between teams and even outside contractors.
There can be issues with this style with task-orientated individuals who may regard relationship building as a distraction. Power struggles between departmental leaders may be the cause of problems too. There is also the risk that as this is people-focused that a sense of unjustifiable favouritism can emerge. If a crises should develop then there may be a need to switch to a more directive style due to lack of direction...more
Laissez-faire places trust in people and their willingness to get on with the task. If it however becomes extreme hands-off leadership then leaders may well appear indifferent and quite remote. In the right hands the style can work very well with a team of self-starters. Laissez-faire leaders maintain a loose connection with individuals in the team and a good leader will anticipate when support and resources are needed. This style of leadership in the right hands is empowering and can create a good environment in which to work...more
What might happen in what could be described as the emergent, anarchic, chaotic? This is at the other end of the scale. It is the place of invention or even 'blue-sky thinking'. It's the place beyond the edge of what's known. From here is where original ideas might emerge.
The Emergent is arena of the non-goal orientated. To many this would feel irrational. Doing something without apparent purpose? Sometimes however it's exactly the right place to be. How often have you found yourself in a situation where 'the penny just dropped'; you get the 'AHA' moment? This can happen just when you are least expecting it. These are precious moments when something just 'comes together'. They seem like happy accidents. However supposing it was possible to increase the likelihood of valuable occurrences such as these? We humans have a kind of blindness to this possibility. The 'work ethic' demands that we, ourselves, should be organised, goal-orientated and focused. Our culture demands this. The concept of "working hard and you will be rewarded" is promulgated ad nauseam. Therein lies our blindness. It is much harder to see beyond this veil that there are other ways of interacting. The Emergent space is perceived and felt as being counter-intuitive. For many it feels like a hard space to get to and to stay in. The reality is that it is just beyond the veil. As I have said before the choice of interaction is situational. There is no universal 'best' space, just the one that's appropriate at the time. So it is with the Emergent. However it is one we are not used to. We encouraged away from acting and behaving as if without form, without purpose.
Musically this is the space of free creative potential; the 'emergent'. It is the realm of the beginnings of an idea. Musical ideas or otherwise don't appear fully formed. It's a special space. As a composer of music you need to be in the right state of mind. As a leader of creatives (musical or not) you need to respect this state and lead with considerable sensitivity. It is a playful state and doesn't look and feel like work. Setting goals for example would kill this off.
The Emergent is actually a state of 'Play'. This is why for many adults its experience can be so uncomfortable because it is non-goal orientated and doesn't fit the work ethic of our capitalist society. We’re supposed to be hard-working, aren’t we? We must fill in time, mustn’t we? But what if we’re wrong?... more