Is there a perfect leadership or management style? Or is it situational?

First, I am always careful to distinguish between management and leadership. Although we always strive for a balance of strong management and strong leadership to achieve success, they are different. While management focuses on tactical processes such as budgeting, reporting, and managing projects, leaders focus on business results through, or with, people. Given this distinction, I will focus my comments on leadership.

The one thing that great leaders have in common is the use of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® researched by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner in The Leadership Challenge: Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. Even when using these practices, however, leaders’ styles can be very different and yet still be equally as effective. So while there are commonalities among those who lead well, there is no single leadership style that is more effective than another.

Leadership is definitely situational. In order to have outstanding business results, a leader must be able to respond to the needs of constituents. Rather than treating others as the leader wants to be treated, a practiced leader may follow the advice of Dr. Tony Alessandra and “treat others as they want to be treated.”

Whether working with a peer, a boss, or a direct report, a leader must adapt-providing more information and coaching to help newer direct reports achieve their goals while providing more challenge to those more experienced, for example. Or, aligning work with what is valued by individuals and the organization. “People see the benefit of behavior that is aligned with cherished values,” Kouzes and Posner advise. Although it would be impractical to pursue and incorporate every individual, a successful leader garners commitment from each member of the team by establishing common values that are important to all.

When considering the question of whether there is a perfect leadership style, I also think about those that do NOT work. The command-and-control style is the most notable example. While autocratic leaders can have integrity with their values, provide a vision, challenge processes, and give people the tools for growth, they can lack something that the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) found is necessary for success: affection or warmth. Cited in Encouraging the Heart by Kouzes and Posner, this CCL research shows that warmth is a key characteristic of high-performing leaders. Unfortunately, this fifth practice of leadership is often overlooked by those employing a command-and-control style, but is essential to the success of both leaders and their organizations.

While there is no one “perfect” leadership style, The Five Practices provides a solid framework for leaders to perfect a leadership style that works best for them as individuals and also for their constituents.

This article first appeared in The Leadership Challenge Newsletter at