The Triton


All leaders have a style; identify yours to get better at it


By Paul Ferdais

Our underlying viewpoint about work and the way we think other people think about work fundamentally influences the way we lead. If we think people are generally lazy, want to avoid work, need to be controlled and do not like work, it will dictate how we interact in our leadership capacity. Chances are, if we think this way, we’ll be authoritarian and dictatorial as a leader.

On the other hand, if we feel people naturally like work, have self control toward achieving goals and learn to seek out and accept responsibility, we will behave and react differently. With this viewpoint, chances are we will have a more hands-off approach as a leader.

When we understand what drives our underlying leadership viewpoint, we get a profound insight into why we behave the way we do as a leader. Simultaneously, recognize there is no single “best” style of leadership. Different situations call for different leadership styles.

I have listed the most common leadership styles below. I encourage all readers to see which of these characteristics show up in how you lead.

Transactional leaders believe that employees are hired to do their jobs and, in return, are paid for their effort and compliance. Transactional leaders see their crew members as an expense who need to be used as much as possible until they have nothing left to give.

In this environment, employees are expected to obey and follow exact orders because they’re getting paid. Leaders who rely on this type of leadership run into difficulties because team members usually end up giving out a minimum level of effort in their duties. Transactional leadership doesn’t encourage creativity or taking ownership of work.

Every employment situation starts at this point – pay for work. However, effective leaders don’t rely on the payment arrangement to drive their leadership.

Authoritarian leaders are all about command and control. They provide followers with clear expectations of what needs to be accomplished, when, and how it should be done. Authoritarian leaders are task-oriented and are often considered to be micro-managers. They tend to make decisions independently, seeking little or no input from team members.

This type of leadership works best in emergency situations where there is little time for team decision making. Team members must rely on their training to accomplish the specific tasks as they have been assigned.

Leaders who behave like it’s an emergency all the time — due to a lack of time management skills, technical skills, fear of failure or any number of reasons — will soon find the effort put forward by their team members levels out to the bare minimum. This leader may see an emergency everywhere, but crew will see things differently.

Democratic leaders recognize their team members have ideas, which may be better than their own. A democratic leader shares decision making with the group and practices the idea of equality within the team. This style of leadership encompasses discussion and sharing of ideas, and encourages people to feel good about their involvement.

Democratic leadership works best in situations where group members are skilled and eager to share their knowledge.

Hands-off leaders are all about the delegation of tasks while providing little or no direction. Hands-off leaders allow team members to have complete freedom to make decisions concerning the completion of their work. It allows a high degree of autonomy and self rule, while at the same time offering guidance and support when requested.

However, if the leader withdraws too much from their followers it can sometimes result in a lack of productivity, cohesiveness, and satisfaction. For example, a first mate might feel good about making a work list for the deck crew and then sending them off to do their tasks on their own, because he doesn’t want to micro-manage. Or a captain may hire a new senior level crew member and have them immediately start working on tasks giving little or no input.

In both of these cases, a hands-off leadership approach can often end in failure unless the first mate or captain makes sure team members are adequately trained.

Servant leaders bring strong values and ideals into the workplace. They care more about the success of their followers than about their own success.

Respect, motivation, and positive attitude are the main values of servant leaders. These leaders think of employees as partners and treat them as equals. As a result, crew members take ownership of expected organizational outcomes.

All of these leadership styles are appropriate at different times. The challenge faced by leaders is that if they only use one of these styles all the time, they may find themselves facing challenges they are unable to overcome.

A former first officer, Paul Ferdais is founder and CEO of The Marine Leadership Group ( Comments are welcome below.

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Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton.

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