Free article: Leadership: Developing your own style

Published: Friday, 15 February 2019

In the second article of our series about leadership, Kenny Wheeler asks you what type of leader would you like to be, and what type of leader does your setting need?


  • It is useful to observe others, but only to develop yourself into an individual leader in your own right.
  • It is necessary to know which style to use given the people and the situation.
  • It’s useful to keep a journal to record what does and doesn’t work.

What type of leader would you like to be?

Visualise how you would like to lead others in your setting so that you can bring about positive change. There will be a picture in your head of you as a leader, working with others, chairing meetings, inspiring and supporting others. It is worth reflecting on the different dimensions to leadership that will help make this picture a reality.

What type of leader might you have to be in your own setting?

This is something that needs to be mentioned because some settings will have a culture that might not support you in becoming the leader you want to be. It may be that you want to be affiliative and work with others to bring about change over time whilst the setting demands a more direct approach. This is just something to think about because leadership can be contextual where you thrive in one setting whilst you struggle in another because of the culture and the way things are done.

In the last article, Leadership: Planning for the future, we suggested shadowing a colleague to see how they behave so that you might observe and reflect upon the approaches they used. However, what is important is that the reflection helps you to become an authentic leader in your own right. It is okay to admire others and try to emulate their achievements, but you can never be that person. They will have their own personality, skills, knowledge and experiences to draw upon which are highly likely to differ from your own. Work with them but use it as an opportunity to develop yourself into an individual leader in your own right, don’t set a limit on who you could become.

You can list the leaders you admire, what style they use and how you and others feel after they have worked with you. This can then help give you an idea of some of the styles you may want to develop further.

One of the first steps is exploring the different leadership styles available to us when carrying out our role. There are several leadership styles, but the challenge is knowing which to use given the people and the situation: right style; right time; right people.

The Daniel Goleman et al outlines six styles of leadership:

  • Visionary: Inspires, explains how and why people’s efforts contribute to the vision. Empathy and clarity can take people towards a shared vision.
  • Affiliative: Creates harmony and boosts morale and avoids conflict. Heals disharmony in a team. Motivates despite stressful times.
  • Participative: A listener, a team worker, a collaborator and an influencer. Values people’s input and gets commitment via participation.
  • Coaching: By listening and helping people identify their own strengths and weaknesses, the coaching leader encourages, delegates and improves performance by building long-term capabilities.
  • Pacesetting: With a strong drive to achieve, high personal standards and initiative, pacesetters get results from a competent team. It can cause your team to feel stifled with little room to grow if overused
  • Directive: The directive leader is inclined to say, ‘Do it’. Demands compliance and is most effective in crisis situations. Much less effective when used with capable and self-motivated staff.

We naturally have styles that we gravitate towards because they resonate with us, they link with how we would like to be treated or possibly link to the styles adopted by leaders we have admired or worked with in the past. However, there are some styles we might frown upon because they seem too far from the ‘real me’. The truth is that, to develop as a leader, you need to know when and how to use each style which can be uncomfortable.

Exploring different leadership styles

Part of your journey needs to include some self-reflection which looks at when you use certain leadership styles. Think about which style you adopt in different situations – why do you adopt that style and is it the best style for the situation and the individual?

The questions to ask for this evaluation are:

  • What situation did you use the style in?
  • Who did you use this style with?
  • How did the individual react to you using this style?
  • Did it trigger positive action?
  • How did you feel after using this style?
  • Was it the right style?

See Form — Different leadership styles in the Toolkit for a blank form to help with this.

Leadership style

What situation did you use the style in?

Who did you use this style with?

How did the individual react to you using this style? 

 Did it trigger positive action?

How did you feel after using this style? 

Was it the right style?


It may be the case you leave the first column blank and then fill in the leadership styles you have used. You can then start to see over time which leadership styles you tend to use and which styles you avoid using.

It will also be possible to see the styles you use with specific individuals. This may reveal that you tend to use more assertive styles with certain people, the self-reflection could help you in unpicking on why this is the case.

For example, you may have a long serving member of staff who you try to use the coaching style with because you assume they know what you are asking them to do. Over time you notice little or no change taking place so time to reflect and see what will make a difference.

You can also start to see in which situations you use certain styles. When leading individuals we may opt for a style during certain situations because it might make us feel more in control during uncertain or stressful times.

For example, you may find that when you are leading departmental meetings you tend to use directive approaches because you feel uncomfortable about being questioned or because you feel some colleagues are more experienced and may show you up if you used a more open style of leadership.

Leadership reflection

It is worth keeping a reflective journal so you can record your thoughts and feelings after you have used a specific leadership style. The journal can help you in listing your feelings and emotions so that when you read it at a later date you can take action to avoid experiencing any negative emotions in the future. You can then start planning to use specific leadership styles so that you feel more prepared, this will also help avoid you reverting to your default style even when you know it is not effective.

In your journal you can record your thoughts on your leadership styles as:

  • What works?
  • When does it work?
  • When doesn’t it work?
  • Who does it work with?
  • Who doesn’t it tend to work with?

From this you can start thinking about consciously adopting specific styles and committing to them in the situation. Work on your weak styles but don’t neglect styles which you are relatively confident in using. Remember that change is likely to take time because you are attempting to do something which is counter-intuitive and conflicts with your values. Not everyone is like you so just because you would respond positively to a style doesn’t mean others will. The more you practise different styles the more confident and competent you will become in using them in the future. Things will become less mechanical and more intuitive so that your leadership approach and style will flow.

Considerations when you are leading

Non directive approaches Directive approaches
Inspire and support Monitor and check
Guide and coach Correct and lecture

Leading brings a lot of pressures and there can be a tendency to be negative even though you don’t necessarily mean to be. Consider when it will be appropriate to inspire and support colleagues but also factor in when you might need to monitor and check what they are doing. Equally, when are you guiding and coaching individuals, when might you need to correct and lecture some colleagues? Leadership is not a tick box approach and you are going to make mistakes. Try to take a step back and reflect on why you use leadership styles and think whether your approach is a genuine reflection of your ideal self as a leader, if it isn’t then what are you going to do to change?


Use the following items in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

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