Many studies have shown that the more styles a leader exhibits, the better. Leaders who have mastered four or more - especially the authoritative, democratic, affiliative and coaching styles - have the very best climate and business performance. And the most effective leaders switch flexibly among the leadership styles as needed. Although that may sound daunting, we witnessed it more often than you might guess, at both large corporations and tiny start-ups, by seasoned veterans who could explain exactly how and why they lead and by entrepreneurs who claim to lead by gut alone.
Such leaders don't mechanically match their style to fit a check list of situations - they are far more fluid. They are exquisitely sensitive to the impact they are having on others and seamlessly adjust their style to get the best results. These are leaders, for example, who can read in the first minutes of conversation that a talented but underperforming employee has been demoralized by an unsympathetic, do it the way I tell you manager and needs to be inspired through a reminder of why her work matters. Or that leader might chooses to reenergize the employee by asking her about her dreams and aspirations and finding ways to make her job more challenging. Or that initial conversation might signal that the employee needs an ultimatum: improve or leave.