“Leadership is about influencing others to move in a certain direction and there are several leadership styles that can be adopted to achieve this influence. Each of these leadership styles has its inherent qualities and pitfalls and will be more suited to specific people and different circumstances. The more leaders understand their preferred leadership styles and can flexibly switch to the most suitable style given the situation, the more effective they will be. Individuals tend to have some degree of access to all the styles, and self-aware or well-coached leaders can learn to flex to additional styles when appropriate. The challenge arises when leaders continue to resort to a style less suitable under changed conditions.”

– Sattar Bawany (2023)

The concept of applying and adopting various leadership styles was popularized by psychologist Daniel Goleman through his evidence-based research on emotional intelligence. In his book Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, Goleman describes six different styles of leadership (see Figure 1)—visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting, and commanding (Goleman 2002)—and how the most effective leaders embrace all six styles, utilizing the appropriate style based on situational, organizational, or human cues (Goleman 2000).

Figure 1: Goleman’s Situational Leadership Styles Framework

Goleman describes the situation most appropriate for applying visionary leadership as one of directional change, where openness is critical for blazing new paths: “Visionary leaders articulate where a group is going, but not how it will get there—setting people free to innovate, experiment, take calculated risks.”

However, when the visionary style is your only style, it can leave your team confused about their priorities, searching for vital details, dealing with “organizational whiplash” in the face of constant change, and unsure where the organization (and their career) is going. Therefore, it can be critical for visionary leaders to balance their style and surround themselves with fellow C-levels, directors, managers, or team leads more adept at integrating the other leadership styles into the mix when being democratic, coaching, or a pacesetter isn’t their strong suit.

Importance of Authoritative Leadership During Crises

Authoritative leaders, also called visionary leaders, tend to approach leadership like a mentor guiding a mentee. Instead of telling their team to follow instructions and do as they say, authoritative leaders put themselves in the scenario and utilize a “come with me” approach. They have a firm understanding of the challenges to overcome and the goals to reach and have a clear vision for achieving success.

Authoritative leaders inspire motivation. They offer direction, guidance, and feedback to maintain enthusiasm and a sense of accomplishment throughout the crisis or business challenge.

At its heart, authoritative leadership depends on a thoroughly developed sense of emotional intelligence. To be effective, authoritative leaders must demonstrate certain emotional intelligence competencies, such as:

  1. Self-confidence: to develop a vision and inspire others to follow it.

    Authoritative leaders provide direction and vision. They approach resolving challenges arising from the crisis from a position of confidence. They have a clear vision of what success looks like and give their team members clear direction and constructive feedback as they work toward achieving those organizational goals.

  2. Empathy and empathetic listening: to understand and anticipate the emotions felt by team members at key junctures during the crisis.

    Authoritative leaders breed goodwill whereas in the authoritative leadership style to work, a person must approach his or her team from a position of empathy. By understanding the personal and professional emotions, desires, and worries of a team member, an authoritative leader is better able to identify potential roadblocks to performance and remove them, while simultaneously incentivizing success.

  3. Ability to adapt: identify and remove barriers to change that may be required for success on the path of recovery from the crisis.

    Authoritative leaders bring clarity. They are effective because of their ability to inspire, motivate, and influence their team. Often, this motivation stems from their ability to understand a company’s strategic goals and communicate them in a way that’s easy for employees to follow. When everyone knows what the organization is striving toward, it’s easy to ensure everyone is aligned.

Reference: Sattar Bawany (2023), Leadership in Disruptive Times: Negotiating the New Balance. Business Expert Press (BEP) LLC, New York, NY. Abstract available at: https://www.disruptiveleadership.institute/second-edition-book/