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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Are you an agile leader?

Updated: Dec 4, 2022

A young child in a superhero costume with fist raised in the air.
Is there one best leadership style?

An internet search for “leadership styles” will generate numerous lists naming and describing different styles. The various styles differ based on their level of authority and their approaches to task achievement and dealing with others.

How do we describe leadership styles?

Leadership levels of authority

Levels of authority range from the autocratic style (“my way or the highway”) to the laissez-faire style (“here you go - run with it”) with the democratic or participative style (“let’s reach consensus”) in between.

Leadership approaches to accomplishing tasks

Approaches to accomplishing tasks range from the bureaucratic style (“these are the rules”) to the pacesetting style (“let’s hit our production goals”) to the innovative, trailblazer, or visionary style (“let’s try something new”).

Leadership approaches to working with others

Approaches to working with others range from the authoritative style (“follow my expertise”) to the affiliative or connector style (“let’s be a team”) to the coaching style (“you are challenged to build your skills”) to the altruistic style (“you are empowered to reach your goals”).

Other terms for leadership styles

Other leadership-style terms include situational, transformational, paternalistic, charismatic, commanding, orchestrator, strategist, synergist, team champion, and more.

What type of leader am I?

Wondering which type of leader you are? Most leaders exhibit characteristics of more than one style. If you are interested in discovering your dominant leadership style or styles, check out one of the many quizzes available online.

This free leadership style assessment breaks the styles down into three types based on the level of authority.

Is there one “best” or most effective style? How do I know which style to aspire to?

Is there one best leadership style?

There is no one ideal style. Each style has its strengths and weaknesses. Different situations call for different leadership styles. For example, an innovative style is most effective for solving complex problems but is less effective in situations where team members are apprehensive about taking risks.

What is leadership agility?

“Leadership agility” is the term used for the ability to assess and respond to leadership situations effectively. An agile leader assesses the situation and responds accordingly. Authors Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs, in the book Leadership Agility (1), describe the essential practice of an agile leader as the ability to take “reflective action.”

Reflective action has two parts that occur in a cyclical fashion.

  • The leader begins by stepping back to gain insights related to the problem or situation, the outcomes desired, and the actions or changes needed.

  • With these insights, the leader takes action, followed by further reflection and more action.

Reflection without taking action, or action without careful reflection, can both lead to disaster. When combined, reflective action leads to success.

Four competencies of agile leaders

Joiner and Josephs describe four competencies of agile leaders:

1. Setting context and direction – reflecting on the situational environment, anticipating changes and initiatives needed, and determining desired outcomes.

2. Understanding stakeholders – empathizing with key stakeholders to gain insights into their views and priorities, determining how to achieve greater alignment and support.

3. Creative problem solving – thinking creatively and critically to determine successful solutions, bringing about change, and achieving the desired results.

4. Leadership self-improvement – determining leadership goals, experimenting with leadership initiatives, seeking feedback, and learning from their experiences.

Three levels of leadership agility

The authors describe three levels of leadership agility – expert, achiever, and catalyst:

  • The expert takes a tactical, problem-solving orientation. This level works best in supervisory roles.

  • The achiever takes a strategic, outcome orientation. This level works best in managerial roles.

  • The catalyst takes a facilitative, capacity-building orientation. This level creates a participative team with a leader who serves as a facilitator and empowers others. In situations with high levels of interdependence on others and where change is happening rapidly, leaders who operate as catalysts are most effective.

Next week’s blog post will take a deeper dive into several characteristics of effective leaders. Check out these quotes on leadership from leaders of the past and present, including this one:

“The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born-that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That's nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” ~ Warren Bennis

1. Joiner WB, Josephs SA. Leadership agility: Five levels of mastery for anticipating and initiating change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Wiley. 2007.

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