Unless you’re a registered nurse or a long-term manager, you probably haven’t spent a lot of time learning about business leadership. As a freelancer, I didn’t think about leadership, well, ever actually. It wasn’t until I started ghost-writing PhD dissertations that I discovered the importance of leadership. That’s right, PhD students actually pay me to research and write their papers. Totally legal, I promise.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at the four forms of leadership that will ensure the future of you, your employees and your business.
But before we get to that, let’s talk about bad business leadership, the sour milk of the business world.
Imagine this. Your boss is a farmer, the manager is a cow, and the employees are milk-loving townsfolk. One day, the farmer milks the cow and sends it off to market. Unfortunately, when the townsfolk buy the milk, they discover that it makes them sick.
Sour milk is sour milk.
Want to know what I do when I’m fed sour milk or subjected to poor leadership at work? I steal pens and put in zero effort, halting all progress in my department until I find a better job.
This why all leaders need to pay attention! You might not realize it, but you could be the sour milk we all hate in work. Luckily, there are ways to develop your business leadership to make sour milk a whole lot sweeter.
1. Transformational leadership
Transformational leadership is my favorite form of business leadership. Yes, I have a favorite, and I have no shame.
The concept behind transformational leadership is based on a team hierarchy. Managers work with employees to identify areas that need to change by using open pathways for communicating concerns and creating a climate of comfort within the company.
Think of it like this: the manager is the team captain who has final say on all decisions, but who always listens to the needs and ideas of team members.
If your employees aren’t confident enough to talk openly with you, then you’ve a long way to go to implement transformational leadership. As a leader that practices this style, I create an open environment through weekly meetings, semi-open-door policies (between 3-5pm every afternoon) and not say “yes” to anything unless I can actually make it happen.
At their best, transformational leaders will serve the needs of their followers, which leads to increased motivation, workplace morale, job performance and an open tab at your favorite local bar paid for by management. That last one might not be true for everyone, but you get the idea.
Transformational leadership has its downside: a lack of clear direction. Make changes in your work environment one at a time to avoid failure.
Only the strongest of bosses can create a positive work environment through transformational leadership, so do your research and set your limits before you begin. Be a role model, not a punching bag.
2. Democratic leadership
Democratic leadership is the practice of holding hands with your teammates. Everyone is equal and has a say in decisions. When something goes wrong, you’re all at fault.
As far as business leadership goes, I tend to avoid practicing democratic leadership because I work with so few people at any given time. However, those of you in large organizations can make some excellent improvements to your teams by bringing this leadership style into your workplace.
To be a democratic leader, you’ll need three key personality traits: trust, confidence and an open mind. This leadership style is built on two-way communication. Picture yourself sitting at the head of the table in your conference room. You’re surrounded by people that you’ve hired. Can you take advice from these people? Delegate to them? Partner with them?
If the answer is yes, then you’re a democratic leader.
Here’s what it looks like in action.
Your company is trying to make the ultimate sandwich. As a democratic leader, you book the conference room and assemble everyone in your team to throw out every single idea thrown into the room so you can figure out how to move forward together.
The first part of your meeting would be dedicated to types of bread and maybe a discussion of butter. From there, you decide on fillings, but it’s up to the entire team to get the same place together. After much debate, your final recipe is (obviously) white bread, butter, a touch of mayo, chicken, lettuce, cucumber and tomato—the ultimate sandwich.
Because it requires consensus and discussion, democratic leadership is the slowest style on this list. But it’ll make almost everyone on your team happy.
3. Team leadership
While democratic leadership requires all members work together, team leadership depends upon a coach. These leaders aren’t drill sergeants per se, but rather parental figures to the team. They keep the peace, inspire and train team members to get the best results.
Confession: I know very little about sports, so let’s go back to sandwiches. Once again, your team is building the best sandwich, and someone has the idea that pickles are the way to go. You know they’re wrong, because pickles are gross (again, obviously). So your job as the team leader is to explain why pickles and any other pickled products aren’t right for this project.
Being a team leader can be difficult. There is always a goal to be achieved, and your team and organization are depending on you. If you’re a Tony Robbins-type, where inspiration is your norm, then team leadership is for you. You can maintain your gravatas as a leader while ensuring that your followers are getting the best out of their professional lives.
One means of developing team leadership is to begin with a transformational style by listening to the needs of your team. Then, prove your worth as a team leader by taking action on their behalf.
After determining the best options for a project (or sandwich), a great team leader would then go to management with the team’s idea and argue for it, whether they fully support the approach or not. A team leader is part of the collective “we” but also takes on the role of messenger. Those who practice team leadership are often fairly high up the employment hierarchy and have already cemented their reputation as a winner.
One of the major downfalls of team leadership is the chance that you may lead your team in a horribly wrong direction. If upper-management doesn’t like your team’s idea, it is all on you. Can you handle that?
4. Cross-cultural leadership
As a consultant and walking self-help book to everyone in my life, I used to only recommend team, transformational, and democratic leadership styles… Then I moved to the United States of America.
As a multicultural nation, being a leader means being aware of those around you in their entirety. For example, you could be just like my ex-boss, a financial expert in Los Angeles, who once said to me—a Jew helping out with her marketing department—that Hitler was a genius. She lost half of her team in less than a week.
You don’t have to be a full-blown racist to be ignorant of the cultural aspects of your employees, but thankfully there are certain steps you can take to ensure that none of your employees feel alienated.
Start by spending recreational time with your team. Go to the bar on a Friday night or just chat about what sort of films and music they’re into. Making the effort to get to know your employees outside of the office can be enough to foster a positive working environment.
In our globalized and modern professional world, great business leadership is the key to success. If you’re a business owner, always hire managers that have leadership experience. Want one of the easiest ways to identify a good leader? Ask yourself if your employees would go out to a bar with them. If the answer is yes, then I can guarantee you’ve got a good leader on your hands.
Got other business leadership tips that have worked for you? Let us know in the comments.
This article was written by Kay Smythe, a Welsh-born writer and researcher living in Venice, California. Her work revolves around fixing the mistakes of others, usually in the worlds of finance, entertainment, and marketing, but very occasionally to the needs of the individual. She is not a life coach, but pretends to be on the weekends. Her cat Pippin hates her, and she’s probably going to marry filmmaker Ryan Caraway (when he gets around to asking).