What are the characteristics of a good leader? Many of us have asked this question at least once in our lives. After all, leadership is a highly prized quality in our culture. Whether it’s business, politics, or education, the world is always on the lookout for the next great pioneer. However, leadership is not a “one-size-fits-all” attribute.

The truth is that there are many different styles of leadership. For some, it involves showing loyalty and perseverance to those around you. For others, leadership means inspiring your teammates through charisma and generosity. In the world of education, leadership can be the selfless teacher who puts their students first, or it can be the hard-working administrator who is always trying to create a better environment for learning. The real question we should be asking ourselves is, “What characteristics will make me a good leader?

If we hope to lead with clarity, purpose, and authenticity, our personal and professional identities must merge. According to What’s Your Leadership Story? by Gretchen Oltman and Vicki Bautista, this can be best accomplished by creating a leadership philosophy based on your personal leadership style, which is built upon individual core values, mindset, and life experiences. So, what style of leadership fits your personality best? According to Psychologist Kurt Lewin (1939), there are three primary leadership styles which have passed the test of time and continue to provide us with guidance today.

Autocratic Leaders

An autocratic leader may sound troubling, but it doesn’t have to be. Autocratic leaders are ones who take decisive action. This allows them to effectively resolve problems while also maintaining their course toward a clear goal. Autocratic leaders:

  • believe employees need ongoing direction.
  • take full control over team decisions.
  • motivates by enforcing rules.

This type of leadership style is most effective in times of crisis where decisions need to be made quickly and confidently. A more direct style is also effective for new staff who may require close monitoring. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are examples of successful leaders who have gravitated towards this style of leadership.

Democratic Leaders

As its name suggests, the democratic approach spreads responsibility among the group and seeks to create an environment where all voices can be heard. While this might mean more time is spent in discussion, it also allows leaders and their team to invest in a shared outcome. Democratic leaders:

  • share the decision-making.
  • encourage input and feedback from others.
  • guide through questions, rather than directives.

Democratic leaders are most effective at building a culture of empowerment and engagement. This can also give staff the ability to voice and confront concerns as things progress. Dwight Eisenhower is a prime example of an effective democratic leader.

Laissez-faire (The Enabling Leader)

Laissez-faire leadership could also be referred to as “hands off” leadership. Rather than taking direct action in the leadership process, a laissez-faire leader will simply provide their team with the freedom and flexibility to pursue their goals independently. Notable features of laissez-faire leaders:

  • give decision making power to staff.
  • offer wide latitude, with minimal direction/guidance.
  • empower their staff to have control over their goals.

Queen Victoria is one example of a leader who was most effective when providing cultures of complete autonomy.

There are many more leadership styles than what is listed above, however the purpose of identifying your preferred style(s) is integral to the development of your leadership philosophy and overall self-awareness. Nonetheless, one fixed leadership style is not practical or effective based on a particular situation and context. There are many times leaders must employ a style that is not preferred to meet the needs of the staff they support.

By following these examples, you can become the champion our school’s need, and maybe even learn a little about yourself in the process. If you found these resources to be helpful, be sure to check out this free webinar recording from Van Andel Institute for Education and discover how to leverage your personal values, mindset, and life experiences toward school success.

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