Six of the Most Common Leadership Communication Styles


Author: Simon Lee Smith

There was an interesting article in PR Week last week, on the subject of leadership communication. Entitled ‘Get the best out of your boss’ it outlines six of the most common leadership styles and suggests how communicators can best play to the personalities of their leaders. It’s a nice reminder of the breadth of styles we have to work with and provides some useful pointers on how to play to your boss’s particular strengths.
The six leadership styles – and the supporting descriptions (I’ve paraphrased) are:

1. Visionary leader – the classic rock star CEO who sets the big-picture and excels at moving people towards a shared vision. These leaders are superb public speakers and enjoy life in the spotlight. Barack Obama is a good example.
2. Affiliative leader – this type of leader wants to be your friend. A collaborative figure, the affiliative leader focuses on emotional needs and is most likely to ask ‘how are you?’. Angela Merkel is held up as an example. 
3. Coaching leader – holds long conversations that often extend beyond the work place. Good at helping employees identify their strengths and weaknesses and linking these to career goals. Step forward Dr Who.
4. Democratic leader -these are the great listening leaders, though this is sometimes at the expense of decisive action. Favorite catchphrases include ‘what do you think?’. They like to show the way without pushing people in a particular direction. Lord Sebastian Coe is a good example.
5. Pacesetter leader – most likely to say ‘copy me’, these hard working leaders never shirk a challenge and lead by example. One downside is that they often expect employees to automatically get the picture. Step forward Margaret Thatcher…
6. Commanding leader – an old-school taskmaster who brings the dynamics of the playground into the boardroom. Very command and control in style they stick to one clear direction and refuse to consider an alternative routes or messages. Montgomery Burns is a good example. 

The communicators quoted in the article, among them David Ferrabee and James Harkness, provide lots of useful advice on working with these types, including:

Providing visionary leaders the right platform and sufficient time to explain their vision to others and gather feedback. High profile tactics like webcasts and regular publication profiles go down well with these types, but they may sometimes lack an eye for detail and require specific IC support in this area.

Identifying opportunities for affiliative leaders to show their steel. Tactics like back to the floor are useful here, as are structured team meetings which focus on sharing constructive feedback. One classic issue with these types is their desire to communicate only the positive messages.

Playing to the strengths of coaching leaders by encouraging them to host small, intimate sessions and focus on helping people turn strategy into action. These types are not great at big picture, but excel at one-to-one.

Creating high-involvement forums for democratic leaders – workshops, online forums and blogs are particularly powerful. Clear, decisions communications help overcome this leader’s tendency towards indecision. Arm them with insights and intelligence about the workforce and they should respond well.

Encouraging the pacesetting leader to be more inclusive, more considerate of the feelings of others and creating plenty of listening opportunities. Inclusivity is key here and tactics like recognition programmes and use of social media channels can be useful.

Context is critical for the commanding leader. Rather than just explaining what to people, they need to focus on building understanding around the why. Big picture strategy is important here – and tactics like learning maps and visuals and strategy tool kits can be very handy.  Listening channels are important too – and employees may require anonymity as commanding leaders can breed distrust and fear. Coaching in body language is also useful. Visit us at  Gatehouse Group for more information on Communication. 

Author: Lee Smith is co-founder of Gatehouse, an internal communication  agency, consultancy on internal communications, internal comms, employee communication, research, audit, jobs, change management and employee engagement.

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All types of Communication Styles


Communication can be classified into a number of types such as oral, written, intentional, non-verbal and symbolic. The article highlights various communication styles by keeping the human context at the axis.

In all the communication forms, the people involved in the process form the most important element. Depending on the amount of people interested in the process, communication can be termed as intrapersonal, interpersonal, transpersonal, group or mass communication.

Communication with Self

Intrapersonal communication : is concerned with communicating with your own self. Day dreaming, thinking, imagining and problem solving fall under its purview. It is estimated that around 90,000 thoughts cross the human mind everyday making this communication form as the most common as compared to other types of communication.

Various feedback mechanisms of a human body such as hunger, pleasure and pain are also included in intrapersonal communication’s realm. It also covers the spiritual conversations such as individual reflection, transcendental meditation and contemplation.

Transpersonal communication : involves conversing with spirits, divine and ancestors making it an important incident of the monastic and religious life in prayer halls, ashrams and among tribal and aboriginal communities.

A single person is the source as well as the destination of intrapersonal communication, with brain waves being the channel for the same. It is a reflection of a person’s habits, role, self-concept, attitude, beliefs and values.

Communication with Other People

This covers the interaction between different people with the help of direct face-to-face methods for conversing with each other.

It is the most influential and persuasive communication method as compared to all other types of communication as it involves extensive usage of gestures and words which go a long way in conveying warmth and closeness between people.

The feedback mechanism used in this communication form is predominantly instantaneous.

Communication in a Group

This is an extended form of interpersonal communication sharing all its qualities in a lesser measure. The likelihood of exchanging information with the other members of the group in an intimate and personal way is inversely proportional to the group size. With the increase in the group size, the communication becomes like a monologue on account of the difficulty for each member to participate in the conversation. The magnitude of intimacy and directness depends upon group size, meeting place, relationship of group members with each other and group leader. The essential conditions for group communication are as follows:

  • Peer pressure
  • Leadership
  • Orientation towards a common objective
  • Norms and Roles
  • Equal participation from each member

Communication on a Mass Basis

When help is required by a message in reaching its destination after being dispatched by the source, mass communication occurs. The various media for connecting the senders and receivers with each other are print (magazines or newspapers), electronic (computer modems) or electrical (TV, radio or video). Mass communication has a deep impact on our beliefs, attitudes and perspectives. It is an important source of companionship, information and entertainment and acts as a platform for sharing viewpoints about events, issues as well as cultural life. It provides visibility and hearing to a certain set of people which comes at the cost of muting the voices of the other few.

Communication is an extremely important part of our social lives with the person’s self being the centre of all types of communication. People think, listen, respond and speak according to their own self-perspective.

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