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What is the Most Effective Leadership Style During Change?

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Change in the workplace takes on many forms. It can be a significant, organizational-wide transformation or an isolated initiative where the change only impacts a few. Regardless of the magnitude of change, there is a level of disruption to the status quo for those involved, which is why individuals fear or resist change. The way to overcome the negative feelings associated with change and ensure the change initiative is a success requires intentional, thoughtful leadership.

Self-awareness is key to conscious leadership. In essence, it’s an understanding of why and how you do what you do as a leader. To better understand how leaders behave and their benefits or drawbacks, psychologist Kurt Lewin categorized common leadership behaviors into different leadership styles. Every leader has a leadership style they’re naturally drawn to based on their personality and experience. You can take this short quiz to uncover your leadership style.



However, to be a great leader requires an understanding of the leadership style you’re naturally drawn to and recognizing the different situations and scenarios you need to adapt your approach or deploy a different leadership style to get the best results, such as in times of change.

If you’re about to embark on a change initiative or find yourself in the middle of one, here is our recommendation of the traits that can be leveraged from each leadership style, the pitfalls to avoid, and a generalized ranking. However, remember that every change scenario is unique based on its magnitude, the timeline, and the impact on employees, which may require a different approach than suggested.


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An autocratic leadership style focuses on command and control. While the directive nature of the autocratic style may be beneficial, it won’t win over the hearts of employees who will be the ones putting the change initiative into action. Yet, this type of decisive leadership is needed, such as when change needs to happen during a crisis.

In most cases, deploying a different leadership style would be beneficial to get buy-in and support for a change initiative. For individuals to embrace change, they need to understand the rationale behind the change and its impact on them. Two-way communication is vital for change; thus, adopting traits of another leadership style rather than using an autocratic leader's one-directional communication style will ease the transition for everyone involved.

Leadership Style During Change Rating: ⭐


Laissez-Faire lEADERSHIP sTYLE

As the name would suggest, a laissez-faire leadership style is a hands-off approach to management. While trusting and allowing others to do their job as they see fit is often an admirable quality in a leader that employees love, it may lead to disaster in times of change.

When employees are implementing change, they need a leader who is available to answer questions, is willing to coach them and provides them with frequent encouragement. While a great style to use when it is status quo with a team of highly trained experts, this style should be avoided in times of transition.

Leadership Style During Change Rating: ⭐


Affiliative lEADERSHIP sTYLE

The number one goal of an affiliative leader is putting their people first to build a harmonious team. During times of change, many employees feel significant stress, worry, and uncertainty. The affiliative leadership style can put those who fear change at ease by listening to their concerns, answering their questions, and using the relationships and level of trust they already have built up with their team to quell their concerns.

However, the downside is this leadership style is they’re more likely to give in to the demands of their team, which may not want to change, even if it is for the better, which ultimately could delay or cancel the change initiative altogether.

Leadership Style During Change Rating: ⭐⭐⭐



A pacesetting leadership style leads by example and expects their team to follow their cues in regard to pace, output, and quality. They’re continually looking for new ways to improve processes and performance to accomplish and expect everyone around them to keep up with them.

While leading by example and visibly showing a commitment to the change initiative are optics needed in transitional times, it won’t be enough to get the buy-in and support from their team. Reaching the level of support a change initiative needs to succeed requires frequent communication and explanations of what is changing and why, which the pacesetting leadership style does not have the patience for. They want to get on with the change and get back to achieving their goals as quickly as possible.

Leadership Style During Change Rating: ⭐⭐



Central to the democratic leadership style is their desire to hear all voices, have everyone contribute to decision-making, and forgo formal hierarchies to facilitate teamwork, collaboration, and participation from all. When a democratic leadership style is leading change, they take an approach to ensure everyone is heard, feels included and engaged in the decisions, and works together as a team to implement the initiative. This type of leader can be a real asset during times of change.

However, where things go off the rails with this leadership style is wanting to include everyone in the decision-making process. As a leader, there are times when unpopular decisions need to be made in the company's best interest without the input of direct reports. Also, in pursuit of their desire to include everyone, a democratic leader can slow down or overly complicate the implementation of change by trying to hear and contemplate all perspectives.

Leadership Style During Change Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


Communication is the linchpin to successful change implementation, and the charismatic leadership style has effective leadership communication nailed. They rely on their leadership communication skills to influence, persuade and inspire those around them that the change is beneficial and buy into their future vision. Their positivity is infectious and makes others trust and want to follow their lead.

The charismatic leadership style can engage their people by using storytelling to paint a picture of why the change is needed that is easy to understand. In addition, they can read their audience and adjust their approach based on the response they’re receiving. However, no change initiative will survive if the strategy is not sound or the implementation processes and contingency plans are not well thought out.

Leadership Style During Change Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐



While there is no one right style for every change management scenario, there are qualities that can be adopted based on the situation, importance, and the team you lead that will help optimize the outcome. Understanding your style, the benefits, and drawbacks, and what style you should leverage in transitional times can increase the likelihood that the change initiative is successful.

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