We talk a lot about how to become better leaders, but we talk a lot less about how to become better at dealing with our leaders. For those that work in office environments, achieving this second objective is critical not only to their work success but often also to their sanity.
Given the hierarchical structure of almost any business, we usually work underneath a variety of different leaders: team leaders, managers, heads of department, executives, and so forth. Each of these individuals is likely to have their own leadership style, which means we have to develop a different strategy for dealing with them (whether we are conscious of this strategy or not).
This article is designed to help you identify types of leaders and formulate strategies for dealing with them.
Importantly, it’s not an article about how to deal with bad bosses. It’s about learning to appreciate the different personalities of people in power and working out how to get the most out of our relationships with them.
Identifying Types of Leaders
First, we want to work out roughly what sort of leader we are dealing with. The following are the most common leadership styles you will find. We will provide a broad strategy for dealing with each, before going on to delve more deeply into the personalities of our leaders.
This type of leader needs no introduction. Their primary mode is to dictate exactly what needs to be done. This type of leader will also dictate exactly how it needs to be done.
Strategy: Stay very organised. You may be called upon often and you need to have information on hand to satisfy your boss’ desire to know and control what’s happening.
Similar to the autocratic leader, the pacesetter demands results. But the pacesetter is different from the autocratic leader because they do not dictate exactly how these results should be achieved.
Strategy: Take the initiative and try not to burden your boss with smaller things. They are interested in the larger picture. But let them know when progress has been made.
A transactional leader is one who views most of the dynamics in the workplace as transactions. They view employee contributions as part of a zero-sum game in which something has always been lost or won. The transactional leader, therefore, deals heavily in rewards and penalties.
Strategy: Keep the scoreboard ticking over. Do little extra tasks when you can to keep demonstrating you are contributing value.
The inverse of the autocratic leader, the democratic leader seeks guidance from employees for the direction of the group as a whole. This won’t usually involve ‘voting’. It’s more likely to entail an informal feedback process on what decisions should be made and what strategies should be taken.
Strategy: Speak up and be heard. Your boss has left the floor open for a reason and most likely respects those who demonstrate they are engaged with what’s happening.
The servant type leader recognises that an important element of their position is to worry about the needs and desires of the employees they lead. They are keen to know how people feel and what they are thinking.
Strategy: Try to bring positive energy to the workplace. If your boss is concerned about everyone else’s emotional wellbeing, they will appreciate your efforts at boosting morale.
The transformational leader is one who seeks to continually improve the workplace. This means helping individuals learn, helping teams work better, and helping the business as a whole perform at a higher level.
Strategy: This type of boss wants to help you. So, make sure you ask for feedback, rather than just waiting for it to come.
Finally, the hands-off leader is the one who, for the most part, leaves their team to themselves. This type of leader won’t autocratically micromanage, but they probably also won’t have a finger on the pulse of how each employee is feeling.
Strategy: Use your freedom wisely. Just because your boss isn’t looking doesn’t mean they aren’t expecting you to perform!
As is probably clear, the distinctions between leadership styles are not absolute. This is why we need to go deeper and identify some particular personality traits. Psychologists classically analyse personality according to the Big Five:
To come up with a good strategy for dealing with leaders in your workplace, you need to try to work out how these different personality traits might impact their leadership. The type of leadership style your boss uses will obviously be influenced by their personality. For example, the different hands-on leadership styles (e.g. autocratic or democratic) align well with extraversion. But there is significant personality variation within leadership styles.
To hone your strategy for dealing with your bosses, try the following:
At the end of the day, no boss is the same, and no boss is the same from one day to the next. Dealing with your boss well is always going to come down to reading signs like how their mood is and how much pressure they are under. So, keep your finger on the pulse and pick your moments!