Insights & Ideas

What kind of business leadership style is most effective?

Group of men talking

When we think of an ideal business leader, we’re conditioned to think of a strong, charismatic, all-knowing authority figure—focused on profits and executing their vision for the company. But, research has shown that a humble (or servant) leadership style—where the leader focuses on empowering employees who work for them—has equal merit.

The debate between these two leadership styles (let’s call them #teamcharisma and #teamhumble) has been brewing intermittently ever since Robert Greenleaf introduced the concept of “servant leadership” in 1970. And it’s heating up again today as teams embrace agile methodologies, where humility in leadership is popular.

There’s no right answer

Of course, most leaders have a combination of humble and charismatic traits. In fact, it might be advantageous to have qualities of both management styles. A 2018 research study on leaders and humility found that successful leaders need to “match their level of humility to what team members expect.” Some teams have a strong desire to share power, while others want a leader to take charge and dictate important decisions. It all comes down to culture and what the team values. So, what might be right for one organization, might not work for another.

At Salo, our senior consultants regularly fill leadership positions during transitions and mission-critical projects. So, we know how important it is to find a consultant that matches the client’s culture and values.

Team Humble

The leaders associated with #teamhumble aren’t always household names. Afterall, they shift attention away from themselves and focus on employees. People with a humble leadership style are often described as:

  • Driven to serve: For these leaders, improving the lives of people in their company and community is paramount. As a result, they use organizational values to inform their vision—not the other way around.
  • Engaging: They truly enjoy engaging with others and encouraging employee ideas and experimentation.
    Innovative: They’re proactive learners with the ability to synthesize information in ways that change the game.
  • Agile: They tackle challenges as they happen and create outcomes, by encouraging feedback, flexibility, and openness.
  • Trustworthy: They gain trust with employees, customers, and investors through shared objectives and authentic connections.

Example: A CHRO asked us for a strong project leader to work with her team to implement an HRIS system. Considering the system touches all aspects of the organization, the project leader needed to be a consensus builder. And, since the HR team would be the ongoing administrators of the system, they needed to feel ownership in the project. This was a job for #Teamhumble.

Team Charisma

The members of #teamcharisma need no introduction. From Steve Jobs and Elon Musk to Henry Ford—people with charismatic leadership styles are often described as:

  • Driven to win: Whether they’re trying to win public attention or investors’ money, these leaders are driven to beat the competition. They measure their success with profits and market share.
  • Visionary: They have a compelling master plan for their company (and the world) and they’re determined to make it happen.
  • Magnetic: They are persuasive orators and convincing salespeople. People follow them based on the strength of their personality and the stories they tell.
  • Self-confident: They are confident in their opinion and direction.
  • Strategic risktakers: They’re willing to make risky bets on new or untested ideas—sometimes leading to extraordinary success.

Example: A CEO came to us with a gap at the CFO function. He wanted a dynamic partner to define the CFO role in a way that would attract candidates that could support the company’s vision, strategy, and growth goals. Our consultant stepped in to temporarily fill the CFO role, assess the current landscape, and get the leadership team behind a whole new way to define the CFO function. #Teamcharisma for the win.

Turns out #teamcharisma or #teamhumble can both be winners!

Let us know about your experiences with different leadership styles and how they impact your projects and organizations.

At Salo, we match senior- and executive-level consultants in finance, accounting, and HR with organizations that need their expertise. If you need help defining what kind of leader would work well in your organization, we can help. Contact me on LinkedIn to learn more.

Elizabeth Dittmann
Elizabeth Dittmann

Elisabeth Dittmann

Senior Business Development Director, HR