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Are you one (or none!) of these 5 types of modern leaders?

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes Unperfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices.

By Jenni Strand, Country Manager, Adform Sweden

Seven out of ten workers in Sweden have a manager who has affected their mental health. According to Gallup’s “State of the American Manager Report” (2020) 50% of employees have quit their job because of a bad boss. 70% are thinking about and/or actively looking for a new job due to a lack of support and recognition where they work.

This, despite the wealth of academic study relating to leadership! A short scroll through LinkedIn will offer you various perspectives on characteristics, theories, frameworks and even the right diets a leader should have! Thinking around leadership emerged back in 1939 when Kurt Lewin (the father of modern psychology) identified three major leadership styles: 

1. Authoritarian Leadership (Autocratic style) Leaders who spell out the goals, deadlines and methods while making decisions on their own with little consultation with others

2. Participative Leadership (Democratic style) Leaders who express their priorities and values in setting goals and making decisions, but also take part in the group’s work and accept advice and suggestions from colleagues. 

3. Delegative Leadership (Laissez-Faire style) The Delegative style means the leader hands over responsibility for results to the group. 

I’ve been a leader for over a decade now. I’ll never forget that phone call I received one evening in 2010 from my CEO asking me to hop on a plane to Vilnius, Lithuania the next morning for an “exciting opportunity”, which turned out to be the offer of my first management job, replacing a senior colleague that I respected hugely. I jumped at the chance, and never looked back. Management is the hardest thing I’ve ever done (sometimes I think it’s harder for me than being a mother!) but it rewards me every day. 

And whilst Lewin’s three leadership styles still have relevance today, the times – and business – have changed.  Over the years I’ve spotted 5 distinct styles… some better than others! 

  1. The Representative Leader – a leader who always represents their team/department/company in a strong and natural way, with a strong voice that isn’t afraid to say what they think internally and externally. This is often a leader that isn’t afraid of conflict and stands up for the team. The only downside is that since they’re so central to the team’s success, they may be tempted to take the credit for all a team’s effort. 
  2. The Detailed Leader – a leader that cares about the minutiae of every task, and is super structured. Who cares about the numbers, the results and the company goals, but also about the employees and their detailed development plans.  This kind of leader needs to be careful not to micromanage. 
  3. The Specialist Leader – the leader that got promoted to a manager because of good results in former position. Inevitably they thrive when given more responsibility, more accounts and more autonomy! However, the salesperson with the best sales results isn’t automatically the best sales leader.  If we promote the best specialists that don’t have the interest, willingness or knowledge to lead people we won’t get an efficient and high performing team. 
  4. The Team Leaders – the leader that sees the team as their most important asset and that works with continuous feedback. It could be a leader that finds it hard to make decisions as sometimes they want to please everyone, take everybody’s feelings into account and seek alignment over bravery or risk. 
  5. Leaders that shouldn’t be leaders – a leader who doesn’t like to work with people, that does not see every person as an individual but instead as a number. A statistic. These are leaders who simply want to be in charge of others, but don’t want to help them grow. I’ve seen many of these in my time. 

Of course, we have far too many companies with people in leadership positions who shouldn’t be there, which leads to the terrible working climates I mentioned at the beginning. The most important thing is that you make sure you’re not one of them. So – honestly – which of the five do you think you are? We have to be real with ourselves about what we’re capable of, what we enjoy.  Don’t forget that sometimes a step up distorts your view on what gives you energy! And keep this in mind – you are brave to say that you have tried and leadership was not for you, this is not a failure, but a commitment to the greater good.  Tell your manager or your HR partner that you still want to develop but in another direction – driving a project, a product,or  handling key clients, for example. 

But as well as the individual, HR departments need to take responsibility too. Focus on people for leadership positions with passion for other people! And be honest with those you think aren’t quite right not, and likely never will be. Tough feedback will be uncomfortable at first, but worth it in the end. 

Seven out of ten workers in Sweden have a manager who has affected their mental health. We have to fix this. We need to hunt for leaders that are honest, support the team to dare to fail, and support when failure does happen. Leaders who help to find solutions to the problems, but don’t solve all the problems. That listen, and reflect. The result? Loyalty, engagement, motivation and growth.  What organisation would say no to that?