How Adaptable Are You as a Leader?

by | Articles, Excellence in Leadership

As a leader, it’s easy to believe that others need to respond to your needs. But the most successful leaders know that reality is just the opposite.

In the 1970s, Robert Greenleaf of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership started the Servant Leadership movement. The concept was founded on the belief that an organization functioned better if leaders were servants first and leaders second, rather than the other way around. He encouraged servant-first leaders to focus on helping their teams grow in their jobs and fulfill their professional goals. Specifically, Greenleaf believed that when people are able to advance and learn at work, they’re happier and more productive, and naturally more loyal to their organizations.

One of the most important aspects of being this type of servant leader is the ability to quickly adapt your leadership style to individual circumstances.

Four Common Leadership Styles

What are the various styles of leadership? Although many exist, the following outlines the four most common styles I see as an executive coach when I shadow leaders in the workplace. Each of these four styles has both positive and negative aspects. As you read them, ask yourself these questions:

  • Which style do I use most of the time?
  • Have I used all four at some point?
  • If not, what opportunities do I have for expanding my leadership style, so that I can move with agility from one style to another?

1. Democratic/Participative Leadership

In this style, a leader asks for inputs from others before making a decision. This style works effectively:

    • When working with a group of team members who have good on-the-job experience and who can provide valuable input.
    • With a team that needs to be heavily involved in the early planning stages of a project.
    • When you find yourself promoted and suddenly working with former peers who have now become direct reports.

2. Bureaucratic Leadership

This style involves establishing and using procedures and laying out a step-by-step written plan to achieve desired outcomes. This style works effectively:

    • When precision is important, or a project is particularly complex.
    • When working in a highly regulated environment (like banking or insurance) which requires rigorous compliance.
    • When working on a project that’s extremely technical in nature.

3. Charismatic Leadership

This style of leadership leverages personal charisma to keep employees motivated and moving toward a goal. This style works most effectively:

    • If your team or organization has experienced a setback, such as the loss of a key client or recent layoffs, and you need to boost employee or team morale.
    • When you have a big project to finish that requires creativity, and it must be done exceptionally well and/or quickly.
    • When your team faces a major change, and you believe buy-in may be difficult.

4. Autocratic Leadership

When using this style, leaders tells others what to do without getting input from them. This style works most effectively:

    • When urgent decisions need to be made, as in a crisis.
    • When working with junior team members who may need more direction.
    • When working in high stress or confusing situations where team members are looking for clarity and strong direction.

What Are Your Style Preferences?

Think about how you operate daily as a leader of others. Then, look at each leadership style, and estimate the percentage of time you spend using each. Write down the estimated percentage for each style so that all four add up to 100 percent.

Now, review your answers, and ask yourself these questions:

  • What is your most frequently used leadership style? Your second most used leadership style?
  • Are you relying too heavily on any one particular style?
  • What percentage of each style do you think is optimal for your current position and given your current team?

With answers to these questions in mind, write down your goal percentages for each style, i.e., the percentage of each style you would like to have or that you feel is most appropriate for someone at your level and in your position. The use of which style needs to change the most, based on your analysis?

Would You Want to Work For You Book


Discover how to build an executive leadership brand that inspires loyalty and drives employee performance.

As a senior leader wanting to release your team’s productivity and advance to the top echelons of your industry, it’s vital to start by looking inward.

Brenda Bence is sought after across six continents as a Certified Executive Leadership Coach, internationally recognized branding expert, and the author of 11 award-winning books on leadership, coaching, and branding. A Global Certified Speaking Professional, Brenda is in demand as a top-rated motivational speaker, engaging audiences around the world, both in-person and virtually.

Recognized by Thinkers50 as a World Leader in Coaching, Brenda is also consistently ranked by Global Gurus as both a Top Ten Professional Coach and a Top 10 Branding Guru.

After earning her MBA from Harvard Business School, Brenda spent the first part of her career as senior executive in Fortune 100 multinationals, building brands across dozens of countries that spanned four continents. Now, as President of her own company and with offices in both Singapore and the United States, Brenda has transformed audiences and individual coaching clients around the world to help them achieve greater success through building inspiring leadership brands – from the inside out.

Visit to learn more.

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