What kind of leader are you? The 5 leadership styles in the technology department

By Robert Half on 22nd July 2019

While all leaders in tech organisations are called upon to do great things, not all are built the same. Discover what kind of leader you are from the five leadership styles below.

Both within and outside a technology organisation, leading others is a significant challenge. Effective leaders and managers tend to be diligent, ethical and influential, but the best are charismatic and persuasive.

As a leader, you're good at your job. But more so, you're good at leading others, ensuring they have the resources and support to succeed. However, leaders don't come just one way. Recent research indicates that CIOs and IT leaders acknowledge they have some way to go in order to be a successful IT leader of the future. Almost two thirds, or 62%, of CIOs believe they already have strong analytical skills, while 53% claim to have leadership skills and 51% have communication skills, while 40% believe they have a strategic vision for how technology can be used within their organisation.

So how can we be most effective given our diverse qualities? Start by understanding your personality, including your strengths and weaknesses, then make the most of your traits. You may want to take a look at our leadership quiz to see how your skills compare!


What's your leadership style?

Don't be fooled (or scared off) by the following five leadership styles borrowed from traditional forms of government – they actually make for apt metaphors in the technology department, despite some types' rather extreme definitions. Read on to see where you fall on the scale.

1. The Autocrat

Classic definition: Leadership in the hands of one.
The Autocrat is a strong leader who draws a clear line in the sand between herself and the rest of the team. She is authoritative, intelligent and inspiring, albeit a bit out of reach. This leader will exude passion for the team's projects, mission and goals and will bring the team together toward accomplishing them.
While the Autocrat excels when a team needs new direction, this leader may feel too overbearing and dictatorial when it comes to managing a group of experts, especially those more technically savvy than she.

Key leadership style takeaways: The Autocrat is strong and authoritative, but may be viewed as excessively bossy. This leader is most successful when she is called upon for her trusted expertise to shift a team's focus or reinvigorate its attitude.

2. The Plutocrat

Classic definition: Leadership in the hands of the wealthy (in this case, wealth of knowledge, not money).
By nature, the Plutocrat is well versed, competent and discerning, and it's likely this leader is in his position because of his vast wealth of knowledge. Given this, he has incredibly high standards for others on his team.
The Plutocrat doesn't just expect excellence, he models it. He prefers to lead a team that is highly skilled and motivated and can function without explicit direction. While Plutocrats are exemplars who set the pace of a team or its projects, they may tend to overpower their subordinates.

Key leadership style takeaways: The Plutocrat is an expert that expects nothing less. This leader is most successful when working to achieve quick, targeted results but may limit innovation by relying too little on others' input. 

3. The "Small d" Democrat

Classic definition: Leadership in the hands of all.
This leadership style is probably the most appreciated and appropriate on technology teams. The democrat is both encouraging and motivating. She participates along with her team and leads by steering, not simply by doing or telling.
The democrat expects group participation. She will strive for consensus but accept the majority view. This leadership style is most successful if the team's expertise is stronger than the manager's; typically, a democrat will lead teams to the best decision rather than contribute the heaviest-hitting idea or most technical solution.

Key leadership style takeaways: The democrat guides rather than dictates. While democrat-led teams tend to be satisfied and engaged, they may be less productive (quality of work, however, is usually still high).

4. The Oligarch

Classic definition: Leadership in the hands of the few but powerful.
Any time power rests within a small group, there's the possibility that it may be misappropriated. With the Oligarch, this is what team members fear most. Tyranny. However, tyrant is not how this leader is best characterised. More aptly, the Oligarch is demanding and expects that it will be his way or the highway.
Perhaps not pleasantly portrayed, there are arguments that an Oligarch is a tech team's best asset. Think crisis. Systems go down worldwide. There's a massive security breach or natural disaster. As many are scrambling to make sense of what has just happened, you need the Oligarch and his hand-selected team of experts to take control and mobilise people around an immediate and guaranteed resolution.

Key leadership style takeaways: The Oligarch may seem like a tyrant who demands compliance, but this style of rigid leadership has its virtues. However, most situations call for a milder Oligarch; one who is less alienating and more flexible.

5. The Anarchist

Classic definition: Leadership in the hands of no one.
With the Anarchist, keep in mind that you are not dealing with an absence of leader, but rather an absence of real leading. Of all the leadership styles, this one is the most hands-off, especially when it comes to guidance, support and role definition. Team members may find themselves asking: "What's going on?" "Who's supposed to be doing what?"
This leader prefers pure delegation, leaving all decision making up to the team, even without clarification. Despite the complete trust given unto them, some team members are left feeling uncertain and unmotivated. The Anarchist is most successful leading highly independent and skilled individuals who are all clear on roles and expectations. But throw in a new team member or add a group of entry-level staff and chaos may ensue.

Key leadership style takeaways: The Anarchist lives and breathes laissez-faire, leading by delegation and allowing the team total freedom. However, even the most self-reliant workers need some direction to be productive.

What kind of leader are you? Perhaps you're a combination of two or three. 

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