Developing Your Leadership Style

See Also: Leadership Styles

In order to improve and develop as a leader, whether at work or at home, you need to develop your leadership styles.

We all have a default style, the one that we find easiest to use, but the best leaders can use any of Goleman’s Six Styles, and move between them easily.

To improve your leadership skills, you need to move beyond your default style and start to use the other five styles more readily. How can you do this?

See our page: Leadership Styles for a description of Goleman's leadership styles.

Six Steps to Developing your Leadership Styles

Step 1 Identify your Default Leadership Style

  • What is your preferred leadership style?

  • How do you behave when under stress?

  • Do you find yourself asking others for their opinions, or telling everyone what to do and expecting them to do it? Leading from the front, or worrying about where you are all going and whether there is a clear vision?

Stopping to think about this next time you find yourself in a stressful situation will give you great insights into your preferred style.

Take the quiz, What Sort of Leader are You? to help you identify your default style.

Step 2 Identify and Develop your Strengths

Playing to your strengths is important, so make sure that you know what you’re good at.

This may be your default style, but you also have other leadership skills. Others may feel that these are even more valuable. Rebecca Hourston of Aspire, writing for, suggests asking colleagues to tell you the five best things about your leadership style.

To develop your strengths still further, you might also make a list each week of three to five things that worked really well that week, then make sure you do them again the next week.

Step 3 Work on your Weaknesses

Having identified your strengths, you now need to think about, and develop, the styles that you are less good at.

After all, the best leaders can draw on all six of Goleman’s Leadership Styles. Some of them won’t feel natural, so you need to find a way to use them that feels right to you.

In Shakespeare’s play Henry V, Henry fights a war with France and wins. France is utterly defeated. Henry has drawn on his key strengths and leadership styles: in Richard Olivier’s terms, the Warrior and the King, and in Daniel Goleman’s terms, the Commanding and Pacesetting styles. But Henry now needs to win the peace. He needs to unite England and France into a new, combined country that he can rule, and pass down to his as yet unborn children. That means drawing on new leadership styles, including Democratic and Affiliative , and tapping into his ‘feminine potential’.

Shakespeare showed this by having Henry court Princess Katherine of France. To Olivier, she represents the ‘Medicine Woman’, the feminine dynamic, who can bring change and growth. By drawing on her energy and potential, Henry will bring the feminine into his life. He knows what he is, and says to her ‘take me, take a soldier; take a soldier, take a king’. He needs her to make him the complete leader.


For Henry V, the right way to learn about his missing leadership style was to learn from others: specifically, Princess Katherine. And watching and learning from others is a very good way to learn new leadership styles, although you need to remember to try them out too.

At first, when you try something that you have watched another do, it will feel like ‘copying’ and may well feel unnatural, but do persevere. Like an actor, you will need to rehearse your new role until it comes naturally.

Step 4 Draw on Others

You may not have all the necessary leadership styles yourself, but as you work on their development, you can draw on others in your team to step up when necessary.

Note which of your team has the skills and styles that you find particularly hard, and encourage them to take the lead when their style is more appropriate than yours.

Do you have trouble creating bonds, and developing team harmony, but have noticed that one of your colleagues can always smooth situations?

Use that skill: step back and allow that person to lead whenever the situation calls for affiliative leadership. After all, the best leaders create other leaders, not followers.

Step 5 Do Something Different

Richard Olivier suggests that to help you develop your leadership style away from your ‘favourite character’, you should start new activities.

He says that you should identify the character (Good King, Medicine Woman, Great Mother or Warrior) that is most unlike you, and that you find it hardest to ‘channel’. Then think of an activity that seems to you to best represent that character or potential. In general, the Warrior is found through determined and energetic activity, the Good King through order and structure, the Medicine Woman through creativity and the Great Mother through relaxation and nurture.

So if you want to develop your inner Warrior, you might take up a new sport, especially a very physical one. If it’s the Medicine Woman you find hardest, try painting or pottery.

You may be cynical about whether there is a genuine connection between your physical activity and your leadership style.

Being able to use a particular leadership style is not necessarily about having a specific set of skills, although each style definitely uses a certain skill set. It is also about adopting a particular mindset, and this does seem to be influenced by environment and activity.

Olivier’s thinking works for Goleman’s leadership styles too. Think about which style you find hardest, which we’ll call your ‘stretch style’, and remember its one phrase summary and characteristics.

Think about how you would say things if you were working in that stretch style and practice saying them that way. Find ways which still sound like you, but in that style.

For example, some people find it easier to give commands if they make them sound humorous. Others find that they can work affiliatively if they acknowledge their difficulties publicly before starting to discuss feelings. It is about recognising your starting point, as well as where you want to end up.

Step 6 Hold Up A Mirror

It’s really important to seek feedback when you’re trying to develop your leadership styles. We said before that you should ask what you’re already good at, but you can also ask others to give you feedback about how it felt when you behaved in different ways. It may be difficult to hear some of what they say, so don’t ask unless you really want to know. And while giving and receiving feedback is a whole other skill, remember not to take it personally. Accept it generously, in the spirit in which it is offered, and decide whether you want to act on it or not. Then move on.

Be Honest About Your Strengths and Weaknesses

When you are developing new skills, remember that insincerity will stick out like a sore thumb. Like Henry V, you always need to be honest about what you are, as well as about how you want to change.

People will usually see if you are putting on an act, which is why being honest about what you’re trying, and practising is so important. But if you do practise, rehearse as actors do, in ‘safe’ situations, then when you really need the new style, it will come naturally and sincerely.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership eBooks

Learn more about the skills you need to be an effective leader.

Our eBooks are ideal for new and experienced leaders and are full of easy-to-follow practical information to help you to develop your leadership skills.