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In August this year, we surveyed over 100 leaders using Goleman’s six leadership styles to determine the leadership styles that come naturally vs. those that need some attention.

For those of you not aware of the six styles, here’s a quick overview:

Commanding: You kick-start and demand action

Visionary: You mobilise by providing clarity of direction

Pacesetting: You lead by example

Coaching: You help develop people’s skills

Democratic: You reach consensus through participation

Affiliative: you focus on the needs of people, first

We’ve all been asked, or asked a question along these lines in an interview situation; ‘Describe your leadership style?’. While we all have dominant and natural leadership styles, the question itself assumes that leaders should stick to a consistent style.

Goleman’s research suggests the contrary. To be a great leader, you need to adapt your style of leadership to the people, situations, and challenges you face, not just stick to your natural style. Therefore, the challenge for leaders is not to hone their style but to learn all six.

When we asked our respondents about the styles they employ, just under 60% said they actively use only three of the six styles. With only 18% of leaders actively employing five or more. From the outset, this suggests leaders have some development to do to round out their leadership approach.

In what styles do we need this development? Firstly, we asked what leadership styles did people feel were relevant to their role, however, that they didn’t feel capable of adopting. ‘Commanding’ was the most popular response at 38% of respondents and ‘Visionary’ at 23%. To the point above needing to adopt all styles, we found almost half of the respondents highlighted two or more styles they felt unequipped, or uncomfortable adopting.

It’s important to note that not all styles need to be used in even amounts. ‘Commanding’, for instance, should be used sparingly, however, given it’s often needed in critical situations, it doesn’t make it any less important.

‘Visionary’ on the other hand is a challenging one. With increasing short-termism in business, the grand visionary feels rare. The good news is, that we don’t all need to be Steve Jobs. Being visionary is more about taking the time to explain the context and rationale for decisions that set the path for your business or team. It’s about people feeling involved so that they can feel their input is justified and there is a common goal they share with their colleagues.

The last area of the research was the styles we, as individuals, felt we respond to best. Starting with the least popular, were ‘Commanding’ and ‘Democratic’. While we don’t like an authoritative style, it seems we also don’t like an overly consultative one! The most popular was ‘Visionary’. This was followed closely by ‘Pacesetting’ and ‘Coaching’, which act as a good middle ground to ‘Commanding’ and ‘Democratic’.


As leaders, we feel comfortable leading by example (pacesetting) and helping developing people’s skills (coaching). Equally, we respond well to these.

However, while we respond best to visionary leadership, it’s this style that we’re lacking in, alongside being assertive where necessary.

These may not come as a surprise when you consider the uncertainty of recent years and the skills gaps in businesses we are critically looking to fill. However, as important as attending to skills development, is investing similarly in leadership development. Our research indicates that as leaders we’re only tapping into half of our leadership potential, which suggest there’s serious upside to this investment.

Get in contact with the team to discuss our leadership programs, including our new program ‘leadership Styles’ that focuses specifically on ensuring we develop all six leadership styles.

Thanks for reading and thanks to all our research participants.

Oliver Sheer

Managing Director, Be Challenged.

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