CXO

6 styles of project leadership and how to use them effectively

No two projects, or project teams, are exactly the same. Here's how managers can develop multiple leadership styles to meet different goals and audiences.

Leadership styles are not one size fits all. The ability to know when to use which leadership style is essential if you want to become a more effective project manager.

If you have grown up in a family with siblings, odds are you recognize that although there are many similarities between you, your learning styles may be very different. In the workplace, this will be the case between individuals, project teams, or stakeholders, making it necessary for project leaders to adapt their leadership styles to maximize effectiveness under varying circumstances. Understanding the different leadership styles, their purpose, and impact, can also help you improve how you communicate when resolving conflict, motivating, coaching, collaborating, or driving results.

SEE: How to keep your staff motivated and engaged (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Here are six emotional leadership styles and when each should be used to help you determine the best way to communicate with different individuals in varying situations.

1. Visionary

The visionary leader focuses on being inspiring and typically provides teams with a direction without mandating how to get there. This style encourages team member to take initiative when resolving issues or meeting goals. Since this can create the most positive results, it should be used when communicating with individual team members. The key thing to remember is to focus on leveraging your knowledge and experience, and exercise, self-confidence, and empathy. This leadership style is best used when sharing information about a new direction, or for assisting teams in areas of change management. It may, however, not be as useful when communicating with individuals who are more seasoned and experienced.

2. Coaching

The coaching leadership style works best to help individual team members to create a link between their individual goals and company-wide objectives. This is a style preferred by many maturing millennials as it provides them with a "strong sense of higher purpose and the knowledge that the work they do matters." When using this style of leadership, it's important to focus on encouragement. It is most effective for communications about individual team members' skills, professional development, and facets of their career. A coaching leadership style helps to create and reinforce a connection with individuals and establishes higher levels of trust.

3. Affiliative

The affiliative leader puts people first in their actions and communications. This is done by actively listening to individual input and factoring this input into decisions to ensure people are not negatively impacted. This type of leader also focuses on team harmony and emotional connection through team activities and exercises that strengthen the group as a whole. Affiliative leaders may conduct team building workshops or host regular team meetings to share common goals and solicit team feedback on issues. Encouragement, inclusion, and conflict resolution are also paramount. This style of leadership works best for easing tensions, resolving team conflict, and motivating teams.

SEE: IT Jobs in 2020: A Leader's Guide (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download as a PDF

4. Democratic

Collaboration, facilitation, and decision making are the focus of this leadership style. Communications should center around seeking team input and active listening skills. It is best deployed to evaluate options, make decisions, and gain individual and team buy-in from experienced team members and stakeholders. Communication using this leadership style is reliant on participants having a reasonable to high degree of knowledge and ability.

5. Pacesetting

Performance is the name of the game with this leadership style, as the goal is driving progress and meeting objectives. The downside to this style is the potential impact on morale as this type of leader seldom has time or tolerance for those who lag. This is a results-oriented leadership style, and this may be hard for team members to balance. Training and having the right tools in place to reduce the stress on teams is key to being able to use this leadership style.

6. Commanding

Commanding leaders work well for some projects, but not most. Using this style will hinge on the need for this demanding type of approach. In projects and endeavors where stringent controls are required, and safety and security of others may be at risk, such as military projects or other policing exercises, this may be the best type of leadership style. In these instances leaders will likely demand action and leave little to no room for interpretation or autonomy due to elevated stakes of not following orders. In most business projects, this style is unlikely to yield desired results, unless a crisis is at hand.

These six leadership styles all have benefits and drawbacks. It is your job as a project manager to determine the appropriate time to use the relevant style. The key is understanding the motivation and potential impact on your team members, stakeholders, and projects when choosing any or all of these.

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Image: iStock/monkeybusinessimages

About Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications, and a contr...

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