How to Match Leadership Style to Company Needs

BY Kathy Crosett
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Does your leadership style match what your company and your employees need from you? If you believe it’s important to deliver speeches worthy of an Academy Award at your small company meeting, you may be putting people off. On the other hand, if you're heading a global enterprise and you delve into the issue of elevator maintenance at one of your facilities during a speech to employees and shareholders, you'll raise eyebrows.

Researchers at the Rotterdam School of Management contend that the best leadership styles align with the size of the company and the stage in its economic cycle. For Gijs van Houwelingen, Daan Stam, and Steffen Giessner, the research shows that leaders who are close to the people in their departments fare better by talking about feasible goals. Similarly, employees often respond well when an energetic leader visits from company headquarters and delivers a rousing speech intended to fire up commitment to the company’s long-​term plan.

The researchers rely on the construal level theory to support their findings. The concept, which circulates in the psychology field, generally states that when individuals feel geographically or hierarchically close to leaders, they expect messages and speeches to focus on specific details. When there is a great distance between team members and leaders, a less-​detailed message can be acceptable and inspiring.

For example, in a tire-​changing shop, the team leaders may encourage their workers to complete tire rotations and balancing on five cars before noon. When the head of the company talks in front of the 250 assembled employees at the annual meeting, employees expect to hear about plans for the future – like the opening of another tire center in a new state or addition of a new line of tires which will perform well in winter conditions.

As you think about starting a new year and adjusting your leadership style to make a bigger difference in your organization, remember the details of this research. If you’re a first-​level line manager, focus your suggestions on goals which can be easily achieved in the short term. If you’re heading up a multinational corporation with thousands of employees, it may be time to get some coaching on visionary speech giving.