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3 leadership styles to engage and motivate

There are three different leadership styles leaders can use depending on whether you want to direct, discuss or delegate, writes Paul B. Thornton.

5 min read


leadership styles

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You can engage and motivate the people you lead when you use the right leadership style for the situation. The right style of leadership gives team members what they need to get the job done. It also develops the skills and character traits that they need to be successful.  There are three styles you can use when assigning tasks, coaching, providing feedback, making decisions and conducting meetings.

1. The directing style

You tell a person or group:

  • What to do
  • How to do it
  • When to have it completed by 

Using the directing style, you assign roles and responsibilities, set standards and define expectations. Communications is one way. You speak and they listen.  When you use the directing style people learn to listen, ask questions, follow directions and meet deadlines. They also develop the character trait of being responsible. 

The directing style is appropriate when people lack experience and do not know what to do. It is also appropriate in emergency situations when there is no time for discussion, collaboration, or brainstorming.  

2. The discussing style

Over 2,000 years ago, Socrates realized that leading was more a matter of asking the right questions than giving all the answers. Using the discussing style, you ask questions to solicit people’s ideas on the problems and opportunities that you are addressing. Communication is two-way. You ask questions, make comments, and listen to what others have to say. It is important to make sure everyone has a chance to contribute their ideas. When you use the discussing style, people learn to think, collaborate, solve problems and express ideas. They also develop the courage and confidence to express their ideas.        

The discussing style is appropriate when people have some experience and insights on issue being discussed. This style is also useful to capture “lessons learned” after projects have been completed.     

3. The delegating style

Delegation involves describing a project or task and explaining the desired goal and deadline. Communications is two way to make sure the person understands the deliverable. How they get the work done is for them to decide. The person or team is empowered to act and do whatever is needed. When you use the delegating style, people learn to establish goals and priorities, manage their time and influence others. In addition, they mature as they learn to be independent and accountable.       

The delegating style is appropriate when people have the experience to get the task done on time and within budget.  

Issues with each style

It sounds easy — just use the appropriate style and everything works out. The ideas are not complicated but executing them can be challenging.   

  • Directing style — Some leaders are too direct; others sugarcoat their message or talk in vague, general terms. Leaders who talk down to people or micromanage are not effective.
  • Discussing style — Some leaders do too much talking and not enough listening. Some people only want to tell people what to do. Others engage in analysis paralysis and never make decisions.     
  • Delegating style — Some leaders can’t let go; they want to be involved in every decision. Others over delegate to their star performers and under delegate to everyone else. 

Examples of each style

Many leaders have a preferred style that they use most of the time. But their preferred style does not always align with what people need or want in various situations.  

Directing is a style I employ to give concise and clear guidelines on how to achieve our goals and objectives. In my group sessions, I ask questions like “Who are we now? Who do we want to become? How do we get there?” Then, I give recommendations on how we can answer these questions purposefully. Our passion and our purpose must be in sync, and clear directions pave the way. I have learned that a team will follow a leader who has crystal clarity about mission, vision and values of the organization and can teach them.

Discussing is an on-going team process where we debate and dissect ideas and challenges — both on transactional and transformational levels — in order to “connect” not just “communicate” with each other and do it with persuasion. We may discuss matters such as the viability of our business, its volatility and its vitality. We discuss ways to improve our skill of judgment, our desire to enhance awareness and to guarantee relevance at all levels. I learn so much about my colleagues when we discuss openly, fairly and respectfully.

Delegating is a necessary skill for every leader if we are to multiply ourselves and accomplish more. It is also a helpful tool to “inspect what we expect” through observation and measurement. A leader can be a better coach when he or she can delegate a task or a project and explain the result of what we do. Why it works. Why it does not. I have learned that sometimes it is frustrating and time-consuming to delegate when I can deal with the matter myself … but the only way to grow a team is to educate them through experiential learning.


Paul B. Thornton is an author and speaker. His books are available at Amazon and include: 

He frequently posts his views and opinions about leadership on LinkedIn.   

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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