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Your Leadership Style And The Needs Of Your Team: 5 Powerful Tips To Find The Perfect Balance

“How I like being lead, is how people like to be lead!”. Often, first-time leaders infer something onto their team based on their own preferences about being led, without knowing exactly what their team actually needs. But this can also backfire! These 5 tips will help you find a good match between your own leadership style and the needs of your team.

Your own leadership style

Time for some self-reflection: How would you describe your own leadership style? What would former colleagues, e.g. from a project team, say about your leadership style? Which leadership style did you like best during your time as an employee? Is it more important to you to have close exchange with your team or to give your team members a lot of freedom? 

The needs of the team

The next step is to find out more about what the team wants from you as a leader. This can be done in two ways: 

You can learn more about the leadership needs of your individual team members in 1:1 get-to-know conversations. Especially questions like “What do you expect from me as a leader? What is important to you for good cooperation?” and “Which leadership behaviour have you appreciated in the past from other leaders?” give you an insight into what the employees need to feel seen and appreciated through the leadership behaviour of their team leader. 

The first team workshop gives you the opportunity to better understand the team dynamics which support the team wants from you for the biggest upcoming challenges. Is it about issues like “having your back for the operational work”, “understanding the big picture better” or even “close technical coordination”? The answers from this exercise say a lot about how the team wants to be led on the “close alignment vs. long leash” scale. 

Combining both: your leadership style and your team’s needs

Now it is about connecting everything – what makes you tick and is important to you when it comes to leadership, as well as having the team’s needs on your radar. 

To do this, you can, for example, create a team overview in which the information you have collected so far about the team members is listed in relation to their leadership needs. Think about how you can best respond to the needs of the team members. Of course, without having to, for example, behave differently ten times if your team consists of 10 people!

What could be interactions e.g. in team meetings where you stay true to your own style & at the same time have the needs of the team members in mind? Where could you be even more responsive to the needs of the team members through individually adapting your leadership style? This could be for example in the 1:1 meetings, where some team members might need more in-depth feedback, whereas for others the 1:1s is the place for the big picture.

Does that mean you have to bend your style?

On the contrary, there is even an exciting concept on the topic of leadership styles, that of situational leadership (albeit with incomplete empirical validity). 

Hershey & Blanchard’s theory is based on the idea that leaders in order to be successful should choose different leadership styles depending on the situation their team members find themselves in. Depending on the maturity level of the employee in a certain task, it makes sense to adopt one’s own leadership behaviour. From a more directive style when someone in the team does not know which tasks should be done how, to a delegating leadership style with clear goals and a lot of freedom to create for very experienced employees on a certain task. 

Reflect for yourself: How do you assess the maturity of your team members for certain tasks? What kind of leadership would they therefore most likely need from you? 

Implementation in everyday work

I often hear from coachees “But what Katrin, if I think it’s important to give my team a lot of freedom because I enjoy it so much myself?” In itself, it’s great to be aware of your own leadership needs. However, I think you will be more successful as a first-time leader if you include the needs of the team in your leadership behaviour. 

The following chronological sequence can be a good approach: at the beginning, you can be more responsive to the needs of the team members (e.g. close consultation if the task is still new to them) and then, over time, take them with you in the direction of your own preferred leadership style, e.g. granting the team a great deal of freedom within an agreed framework. 

Basically, it is not about which leadership style is better, but about how you can motivate your team to be successful. Finding a “perfect match” between your own style and the needs of your team members is definitely a good starting point!


Would you like to feel even stronger supported in your first leadership role? Katrin also offers a new product to support first-time leaders even better: The First-Time Leaders Community. It includes a self-paced video training, regular workshops and exchange with peers, and optional individual coaching sessions. Learn more and sign up today if you think you can benefit from it!

photo by Lucie Greiner