Use the Appropriate Leadership Style

By Paul B. Thornton

Leaders influence and inspire people to make positive changes to improve the status quo!  

How many different leadership styles are there?

I think we can boil it down to these three —directing, discussing, and delegating.

Using the right leadership style, helps people make the required changes and become more effective.

Directing Leadership Style

Here is what I want you to do!

You tell the person or group what changes are needed and why they are necessary. Specifically, you describe—the goal, plan, and deadline.

  • Goal—Your goal is to make all the customer service reps fully proficient in using all aspects of the new software.     
  • Plan—I want you to do these five things.   
  • Deadline—You must have this completed and implemented by the end of the fourth quarter.   

Communication is predominantly one-way, from you to the employee. The only feedback the you look for is, “Do you understand the instructions?”  

The directing style is appropriate when people are low on the “change ready” scale. They lack the required experience, skills, or motivation to make the required change. In this situation, people need precise directions on what to do and how to do it.

Discussing Leadership Style

I have several questions I’d like to discuss with you!

Over 2,000 years ago, Socrates realized that leading was more a matter of asking the right questions than giving answers. Here you ask questions that engage and motivate people to identify what’s needed to make positive changes. Your questions relate to the goal, plan, and deadline.  

  • Goal—What’s our objective? What can we do that’s never been done before? What should our goal be?  What are we trying to accomplish?
  • Plan—What actions are required? What obstacles do you anticipate? How will we overcome them?  Who is the best person to do each task? What did you learn from the last implementation?
  • Deadline—What’s a realistic timeframe to complete this change initiative? How will people react to that deadline? What other priorities may impact this deadline?  

Communication is two-way—between you and the people you are working with. It requires openness and collaboration. You ask probing questions; facilitate the discussion, and spend a significant amount of time listening.     

The discussing style is appropriate when a people has some experience, skills and are ready to make changes. They have ideas to contribute and insights to share in the planning and decision-making process.   

The Delegating Leadership Style

I want you to take ownership for this issue!

You challenge people to determine what changes are needed and how best to implement those changes. You empower experienced people to establish their own goals, plans, and deadlines.

On big change initiatives, you require periodic updates to ensure appropriate progress is being made.

The delegating style is appropriate when people are highly capable and energized to do what’s needed to improve the status quo.

Use the Appropriate Style and Help People Thrive

Each style is appropriate and effective in certain situations.

You need to diagnose the situation before deciding what style would be best. Consider factors such as customers’ wants and needs, the competition, time constraints as well as people’s experience, knowledge, skills, motivation, and readiness to change.   

When people lack the required know-how, start by directing them. As people gain experience and skills, it’s best to engage them through discussion and then delegation.

Using the appropriate leadership style helps people thrive and get the job done!  


Things to remember…

Use the leadership style that is appropriate for the situation. Remember, each person and situation are unique. As people change you also must change your approach.  


Paul B. Thornton is an author, speaker, and adjunct professor at Springfield College. Three of his core principles and practices are add-value, continuous improvement, and simplify the complex. His two most recent books are Precise Leaders Get Results and Leadership-Finding Your Sweet Spot (Authors Place Press). He has produced 28 short YouTube videos on various management and leadership topics.  He can be contacted at [email protected].