Is your leadership style right for your company?

If your company is growing profitably, loved by employees and customers, and rewarding your shareholders, then the answer is yes. If not, one way to look for a solution is the fit -- or lack thereof -- between your specific management style and the culture of the country in which you operate.

If the fit is poor, you should either change your leadership style -- a step that I consider virtually impossible for most people -- or take the admittedly painful step of hiring a successor whose leadership style better matches the culture where you operate.

That's my takeaway from a study of 17,300 middle managers from 951 organizations in 58 countries. This GLOBE study, published by the Center for Creative Leadership, identified six styles of leadership and found that while two of them are seen as effective across all national cultures, the other four are seen as effective in some countries and less effective in others.

Although it's popular to say that the world is flat and distance is dead thanks to globalization and information technology, the GLOBE study is based on a different idea -- that a leader's perceived effectiveness depends on national culture, which is "embedded in the societal and organizational norms, values, and beliefs of the people being led." Moreover, peoples' early experiences with leaders shape their expectations of what makes a leader good.  

Before getting into the six leadership styles, one thing that this study does not address jumps out at me. It is more important to understand that each company -- rather than each country -- has a different culture. 

A company's culture varies depending on its founder's values and those of the CEOs who follow. If the company is successful, the CEO's leadership style should fit well with its culture. What's more, that company is probably good at attracting and motivating people whose expectations of a leader match what the company's CEO delivers.

Here are the six leadership styles -- ranked from the ones that are seen as effective across most countries to the ones that are most country-specific -- and my take on each one.

1. The charismatic, value-based style

This style "stresses high standards, decisiveness, and innovation; seeks to inspire people around a vision; creates a passion among them to perform; and does so by firmly holding on to core values," according to the GLOBE study.

After interviewing hundreds of CEOs, I think this can be a great leadership style. Having high standards and holding on to core values makes it easier to hire and promote people with great talent.

But it's also risky. The culture might slow down the company's ability to adapt to a changing competitive environment. And the CEO who comes in after the founder may lack the charisma needed to pull off this leadership style.

2. The team-oriented style

This style "instills pride, loyalty, and collaboration among organizational members; and highly values team cohesiveness and a common purpose or goals," the GLOBE study noted.

People would love working with such a leader. However, disagreements in the team could slow down decision making. Worse yet, the team-oriented style could cut off diverse views -- hurdling the company in the wrong direction.

3. The participative style

This style "encourages input from others in decision making and implementation; and emphasizes delegation and equality." In my view, this is a great style for startups where employees ought to take on meaningful responsibility. 

4. The humane style

This leadership style "stresses compassion and generosity; and it is patient, supportive, and concerned with the well-being of others." Though it sounds ideal for employees, my concern with the humane style is that leaders would make no decisions to keep from hurting some of their employees -- thus causing the company to fall behind competitors.

5. The self-protective style

According to GLOBE, this "style emphasizes procedural, status-conscious, and face-saving behaviors; and focuses on the safety and security of the individual and the group." This style could work well if you were leading a security guard service or a company in a highly regulated industry.

6. The autonomous style

This leadership style is "independent, individualistic, and self-centric," according to the GLOBE study. I'd guess this style is more common in a family-run business whose leader sees himself as the center of the universe -- making it a nightmarish workplace for employees.

My biggest takeaway? You should lead organizations that benefit from your style and get out if your style puts the company in danger. If your board lacks the clout to dethrone you, you should put the interests of your company first -- and hire your replacement. A Type Four leader might do that but a Type Six one never will.

Published on: Jul 10, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.