How Your Leadership Style Affects Your Work Ethic

No matter where you are in your career—entry-level, middle management, or C-suite—it's possible to see a relationship between your leadership style and your work ethic. In fact, the type of manager or leader you prefer will often end up being the type of manager or leader you become—and the way you tackle your work will offer clues as to your leadership style. Examining how your leadership style affects your work ethic will help you develop stronger relationships with your own supervisor, colleagues, and direct reports.

leadership work ethic

Multiple frameworks for leadership exist, but five common styles discussed are democratic, autocratic, transactional, laissez-faire, and bureaucratic.

Democratic leadership and its impact

The democratic leadership style includes elements of a coaching or team-style approach. It offers employees a great deal of space to try out ideas and take risks. As a leader, your role is to create an environment in which employees have opportunities to offer input. You’re inspiring your team to work harder by giving team members a sense of ownership and control over their daily responsibilities. This leadership style can be highly effective, but in some instances—such as environments where there is a lot of inherent risk—it could be detrimental.

If you're a democratic leader, your own work ethic is likely strong and focused—and you expect the same of your team members.

Pros and cons of the autocratic style

The autocratic leadership style is strictly top-down. What the leader says goes, and no opportunity is given for input. In most cases, this leadership style is essentially a recipe for low morale, but it does have its place. If you need to drive short-term results in a crunch when there isn't time for input and feedback, the autocratic style will help you accomplish a lot in a condensed period of time.

If your leadership style leans toward autocratic, you’re likely able to sustain highly focused bursts of intense productivity. Keep in mind, however, that most people burn out quickly from that type of work ethic—and most won't take kindly to the autocratic style, either.

The transactional leadership type

A transactional leader focuses on carrots and sticks. This type of leader rewards his or her team with bonuses or other rewards for meeting specific metrics. This can be effective under some circumstances, but it can also encourage employees to develop a "what's in for me?" attitude. Still, used sparingly, transactional leadership can power short-term results.

If you find yourself reaching into this well frequently, examine how much inner fulfillment you yourself are deriving from your work.

Laissez-faire = low results?

The laissez-faire or hands-off leadership style is basically the opposite of autocratic. You're giving your team members extreme latitude in how they perform their jobs. If your natural inclination is laissez-faire, you likely have an extremely strong, self-directed work ethic, and, again, you expect the same of your team.

The problem is, most people don't possess that same inner drive or intuition to figure out what needs to be done. They need more direction, which makes the democratic style more effective in the long run.

Bureaucratic leadership has its place

A bureaucratic leader operates according to established rules and guideline—in other words, the company employee manual is this type of leader's best friend. In some industries, this is critical. It shows an attention to detail and dedication to compliance, which is a plus in heavily regulated or risk-averse industries. It does squeeze out opportunities for innovation, however.

Bureaucratic leadership is also derived from traditional org charts and tenure-based promotions. As generational shifts have occurred within the workforce, conventional thinking about hierarchy has changed as well. It's important to find the right balance between "paying your dues" and allowing fresh ideas to come forward.

Each leadership style has its pluses and minuses. No matter where you are in your career trajectory, it's important to take a step back and examine your style and your work ethic and learn how to flex both to achieve your current and future goals.

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