At various points during our professional lives, most of us find ourselves on opposing sides of the leadership coin—we play the roles of both leader and subordinate, which gives us a first-hand, multi-faceted look at what leadership styles work in which situations and where they come up short. Another truth is that most of us have had direct experience with both good and bad bosses, which helps us develop a keen sense of which type of leader we’re dealing with in any given situation, for better or worse.
Building a solid understanding of effective leadership through experience empowers us to be better leaders and to better appreciate the leadership of others, especially in challenging situations. The truth is, no one leadership style is perfect in every conceivable situation. Some work well at certain moments and fail in others. Great leaders know when to modulate effectively to ensure that they’re providing steady, reliable, and appropriate leadership whenever it’s called for.
Whether you’re primarily a leader or subordinate at work—or both—having a core understanding of various leadership styles, along with the pros and cons of each, can really help you as you travel through your career path and take on various roles and levels of responsibility. Keep reading for a closer look at some classic leadership styles, along with their pros and cons.
Have you ever heard the expression “it’s my way or the highway”? It wouldn’t be surprising if it was first uttered by someone who embraced the dictatorial style of leadership. This type of boss requires ultimate and absolute adherence to their rules, methods, and style of handling work tasks and projects, often down to the smallest details. Furthermore, they often tolerate no questions regarding their decisions, and force strict allegiance from subordinates—or else.
- Pros: Although it might not seem so, there are some “benefits” to adopting this extreme style of leadership. Effective dictatorial bosses are often able to get a great deal accomplished at work and usually get to have things go precisely their way, for what it’s worth.
- Cons: As you may have guessed, there are a great deal of potential negative consequences. Dictators rarely have the hearts and loyalties of their subordinates, so if things go wrong for them on the job they may not have many allies to cover for them. It can really be lonely at the top for someone who’s always behaving like a petulant tyrant at work. Also, subordinates under a dictatorial leader are often operating and motivated by fear—which is usually not a place to do your best and most focused work. And dictatorial bosses shouldn’t be surprised when their underlings flee the job in droves in search for greener pastures.
The Best Friend
Many of us have had a boss who’s primary agenda at work seems to be becoming everyone’s best buddy. They’re overly friendly, eager to please, and just want everyone to get along—especially with them. Workdays with a “best friend boss” are often spent engaged in amiable, lighthearted conversation, exploring personal topics in an effort to get to know each other better, planning after-work social outings, and all manner of general frivolity, all in an effort to build friendships with their coworkers.
- Pros: Obviously, a best friend boss can be pleasant to work with. Who doesn’t like getting along well with their coworkers and having a boss who’s willing and eager to get on our good sides and stay there? Also, it’s sometimes the case that a good personal relationship is an excellent foundation for a strong and effective working relationship—after all, isn’t collaboration much trickier with folks who are combative?
- Cons: The best friend boss often opens themselves up to several potential leadership pitfalls. They often fail to engender the respect and confidence that a leader should receive from subordinates, and often their decisions are questioned, ignored, and side-stepped. They also tend to go out of their way to appease others in an effort to avoid conflict, which may negatively impact their ability to navigate challenging situations, settle routine workplace differences, and make tough but necessary decisions. Best friend bosses are often easy to manipulate, which tends to decrease motivation and professionalism among others in their orbit. It can also be distracting to have a boss at work who’s always derailing your productivity in an effort to have fun.
Perhaps this situation sounds familiar: You start a new job and, practically from the very first moment you arrive, your new boss shows you your desk, wishes you good luck and then for all intents and purposes disappears from your life. Ghost bosses never seem to be around when you need them, regardless of your preferred mode of communication—whether by email, phone, or a drop-in to their office; they are either absent or unavailable to help you through any and all manner of situations that pop-up at work, leaving you on your own to fend for yourself.
- Pros: The truth is, many folks like having a largely hands-off boss, especially when they’ve reached the point in their careers where they have the experience and expertise to be truly accountable for their work responsibilities and can make decisions on their own. Self-starters and those who enjoy a little extra autonomy at work typically enjoy having ghost bosses.
- Cons: The unfortunate truth about having a boss who lets their employees sink or swim on their own is that many sink, often due more to a failure of guidance and leadership than anything the employees actually did wrong. Some folks simply need the trusted and steady hand of a boss who’s willing to put in the time and effort to really be involved in work matters on a regular basis, and not having this can make for a really uncomfortable and stressful work experience. Also, having a ghost boss early on in one’s career, when mentorship and guidance are critical as you build the requisite skills and abilities that the job entails, can be traumatic and have negative long-term effects on an employee’s confidence, self-worth, and opportunities for growth.
The truth is, no matter how effective and ironclad a leadership style may seem, it inevitably has its own unique set of pros and cons that vary depending on the situation. Use the information provided here to help you make sense of what leadership styles work best for you—whether as a boss or an employee.