You’re not supposed to keep using the same leadership style

Sticking to the same leadership style won't enamor you or your managers to the very different types of employees organizations have, says Mark Murphy. So it's up to you to adapt, not staff:

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Dec 8, 2023

It’s often forgotten that a leader’s style is not the immutable characteristic we tend to think it is, like their height or eye color.

A leader’s style is a means to the end of most effectively maximizing the potential of whatever group of people they happen to be leading.

So, if a leader oversees a group of burned-out and despondent employees, for example, their style will need to be quite different than if they’re in charge of a team of high-energy, highly ambitious go-getters.

The problem is, too many leaders use their single style of leadership as an excuse to keep doing what they’ve always done.

“This is just who I am as a leader,” they’ll often say.

However, the data very clearly says that some leadership styles work for some people and not others.

Leadership is varied

More than a million people have taken the test, What’s Your Leadership Style?

And the data reveals that the most desired leadership style is the Idealist – that is a visionary leader, characterized by optimism, creativity, and ability to inspire and encourage innovation within their teams.

The next-most desired leaders are harmony-driven Diplomats. These leaders are known for their empathy, focus on building strong interpersonal relationships, and fostering a supportive and collaborative work environment.

Coming in third are the Pragmatists (these are goal-oriented, decisive leaders who thrive on challenges and excel in situations that require direct action and high standards), and finally we have Stewards. This latter leader is dependable, process-focused. They prioritize structure, support, and the cohesive functioning of their teams.

Now, while some styles are more popular than others, more important is the reality that every one of those styles has its adherents.

‘You’ may not love the hard-charging Pragmatist, but some people do.

‘You’ might adore the creative Idealist, but others would prefer the process-focused Steward.

Different strokes for different folks

The key for leaders is to recognize that their style doesn’t fit every single employee.

And if that leader wants to achieve the best results from their unique team, they’ve got to understand the kinds of people and situations where their particular leadership approach will suit the best.


1) Idealist leaders excel in environments that require innovation and creative problem-solving. These leaders are perfect for roles within organizations that value out-of-the-box thinking. The Idealist style shines in situations that require brainstorming new ideas or solutions, such as product development or creating a marketing campaign. Their approach nurtures a creative, collaborative work culture where team members feel valued for their contributions.

The employee response – Positives

Employees who desire this type of leadership are often creative, autonomous, and intrinsically motivated individuals. They are professionals who seek a mentor-like leader who encourages personal and intellectual growth and values individual input and ideas.

The employee response – Negatives

However, this leadership style may struggle in highly regulated or extremely hierarchical environments, where creativity and individual input are less valued or sought.


2) Diplomat leaders function best in environments where team harmony, morale, and internal relationships are crucial to success. Diplomat leaders are particularly needed in scenarios that require mediating conflicts, facilitating teamwork, or ensuring customer satisfaction. They excel in situations where employee well-being is a priority and where their skills in nurturing a positive, collaborative atmosphere can lead to overall success

The employee response – Positives

Employees who thrive under Diplomat leaders are those who value a supportive work environment, prioritize teamwork and mutual respect, and prefer a cooperative approach to competition.

The employee response – Negatives

However, this approach may falter in cutthroat competitive environments or places where individual performance and quick decision-making take precedence over consensus-building.


3) Pragmatist leaders thrive in environments characterized by high stakes and the need for direct action. These leaders are well-suited for fast-paced industries or startup companies where rapid innovation, decisive action, and high levels of risk are the norm. Scenarios best suited for Pragmatists involve crisis management, significant organizational change, or aggressive business goals, such as a company needing to make a substantial market impact in a short time. In these situations, the clarity, decisiveness, and high standards of a Pragmatist leader can drive teams to achieve exceptional outcomes

The employee response – Positives

Employees who flourish under Pragmatist leaders are typically resilient, driven, and thrive on challenge. They are individuals who are not only comfortable with rigorous expectations but also eager to engage in continuous learning and personal development.

The employee response – Negatives

However, this environment might be stressful and unsuitable for individuals seeking a balanced, stable, and collaborative workplace, as the relentless pursuit of goals can overshadow individual well-being or the need for a harmonious team dynamic.


4) Steward leaders are most effective in environments that require operational stability, consistency, and adherence to rules and standards. These leaders often thrive in traditional corporations with established hierarchies or institutions that rely on trust and dependability. This leadership style is beneficial in scenarios where process and stability are paramount.

The employee response – Positives

The ideal employees for this leadership style are those who value structure, support, and clear directives. They appreciate a work environment that is predictable and where loyalty, duty, and internal cohesion are emphasized.

The employee response – Negatives

The Steward’s focus on unity and process can create a reliable and successful work environment but may not be stimulating for those seeking high levels of excitement, radical innovation, or individual recognition.

We need to know all this!

Leaders need to understand that their preferred style may not resonate with every team member, and success is often tied to one’s ability to pivot and tailor their approach based on the needs of the group.

While certain leadership styles might be more popular or desired, every style has its own merits and suits different scenarios and individuals.

Ultimately, the most effective leaders are those who recognize the unique strengths of their style, the situations where it’s most beneficial, and when to adjust in order to bring out the best in their team.