Management Style: What’s Your Leadership Type?

From Oprah to Ben & Jerry, these titans of industry each have their own management styles. What can you learn from them?

This article is part two of a series; click here to read part one, “Management Styles: How to Lead Effectively.”

1. Charismatic

The icon: Oprah Winfrey

Known all over the word by her first name alone, picks a book to read and makes it a bestseller overnight, runs her own television network, and has more than 14 million Twitter followers. Her word can move the stock market and social issues for the better.


  • Influences others through power of personality
  • Acts energetically, motivating others to move forward
  • Inspires passion
  • May seem to believe more in self than in the team

When to Use It

  • To spur others to action
  • To expand an organization’s position in the marketplace
  • To raise team morale

Impact on Others

  • Can create risk that a project or group will flounder if leader leaves
  • Leader’s feeling of invincibility can ruin a team by taking on too much risk
  • Team success seen as directly connected to the leader’s presence

Virgin head Richard Branson defines innovative leadership. (photo by Tequila Partners)

2. Innovative

The icon: Richard Branson

Launched his first business at 16, founder of Virgin Group, comprising more than 400 companies in fields ranging from music to space tourism. He recently described his philosophy to Inc. magazine: “Dream big by setting yourself seemingly impossible challenges. You then have to catch up with them.” Behaviors* Grasps the entire situation and goes beyond the usual course of action

  • Can see what is not working and brings new thinking and action into play

When to Use It

  • To break open entrenched, intractable issues
  • To create a work climate for others to apply innovative thinking to solve problems, develop new products and services

Impact on Others

  • Risk taking is increased for all
  • Failures don’t impede progress
  • Team gains job satisfaction and enjoyment
  • Atmosphere of respect for others’ ideas is present

New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, during the 2008 Super Bowl victory celebration. (photo by Apreche/Flickr)

3. Command and Control

The icon: Tom Coughlin

Controversial head coach of the New York Giants, a stern taskmaster and disciplinarian who learned to adapt his leadership style to improve his relationships with his team but never lost sight of his goal: winning Super Bowls.


  • Follows the rules and expects others to do the same
  • Demands immediate compliance
  • Engages in top- down interactions
  • Is the sole decision maker

When to Use It

  • In situations of real urgency with no time for discussion
  • When safety is at stake
  • In critical situations involving financial, legal, or HR issues
  • In meeting inflexible deadlines

Impact on Others

  • If used too much, feels restrictive and limits others’ ability to develop their own leadership skills
  • Others have little chance to debrief what was learned before next encounter with leader

Fashion design icon Donna Karan. (photo by David Shankbone/Flickr)

4. Laissez-Faire

The icon: Donna Karan

Founder of DKNY, built an international fashion empire based on wide appeal to both women and men. Although she has spent less time creating her own designs since 2002, her vision lives on in the work of other designers, inspired by her leadership.


  • Knows what is happening but not directly involved in it
  • Trusts others to keep their word
  • Monitors performance, gives feedback regularly

When to Use It

  • When the team is working in multiple locations or remotely
  • When a project, under multiple leaders, must come together by a specific date
  • To get quick results from a highly cohesive team

Impact on Others

  • Effective when team is skilled, experienced, and self-directed in use of time and resources
  • Autonomy of team members leads to high job satisfaction and increased productivity

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. (photo by Steve Jurvetson/Flickr)

5. Pace Setter

The icon: Jeff Bezos

Founder of Amazon, set the pace for the boom in e-commerce by creating a transactional interface that every other online merchant copied—the same people who are now following him to the cloud.


  • Sets high performance standards for self and the group
  • Epitomizes the behavior sought from others

When to Use It

  • When staff are self-motivated and highly skilled, able to embrace new projects and move with speed
  • When action is key and results are critical

Impact on Others

  • Cannot be sustained too long, as staff may “burn out” from demanding pace
  • Results delivered at a speed staff can’t always keep up with

Southwest Airlines co-founder Herb Kelleher has always put his employees first. (Courtesy of Indiana University)

6. Servant

The icon: Herb Kelleher

Cofounder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines, famously said “the business of business is people” and created a company culture that reflects that philosophy. He once took an interior office with no windows rather than encourage the traditional view of an office as a status symbol.


  • Puts service to others before self-interest
  • Includes the whole team in decision making
  • Provides tools to get the job done
  • Stays out of limelight, lets team accept credit for results

When to Use It

  • When leader is elected to a team, organization, committee, or community
  • When anyone, at any level of the group, meets the needs of the team

Impact on Others

  • Organizations with these leaders often seen on “best places to work” list
  • Can create a positive culture and lead to high morale
  • Ill-suited if situation calls for quick decisions or meeting tight deadlines

Pat Summitt, left, is known for matching her leadership style to the team she’s leading. (photo by aaronisnotcool/Flickr)

7. Situational

The icon: Pat Summitt

Former head coach of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team, holds the record as the all-time winningest coach in NCAA history. Even as new players joined her team each year, she maintained a winning record (more than 1,000 victories and eight national championships over 38 years) by adapting her coaching to her young players’ skills and needs.


  • Links behavior with group’s readiness
  • Includes being directing and supportive, while empowering and coaching

When to Use It

  • Where ongoing procedures need refinement, reinvention, or retirement

Impact on Others

  • Can be confusing if behavior changes unpredictably and too often
  • Can reduce uncertainty as leader adapts behavior appropriately

Ben and Jerry of “Ben and Jerry’s” announce the launch of their “Get the Dough Out of Politics” campaign on Monday February 13, 2012 on The Dylan Ratigan Show. (photo by Meg Robertson)

8. Transformational

The icons: Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield

Turned a $12,000 investment and a correspondence course on ice cream making into a beloved international treat. They adopted a radical business philosophy dedicated to social responsibility and created a business model that allowed members of their customer community to become stockholders.


  • Expects team to transform even when it’s uncomfortable
  • Counts on everyone giving their best
  • Serves as a role model for all involved

When to Use It

  • To encourage the group to pursue innovative and creative ideas and actions
  • To motivate the group by strengthening team optimism, enthusiasm, and commitment

Impact on Others

  • Can lead to high productivity and engagement from all team members
  • Team needs detailed-oriented people to ensure scheduled work is done

(Harpo Productions, Inc.)

Rhea Blanken, FASAE

By Rhea Blanken, FASAE

Rhea Blanken, FASAE, is president of Results Technology, Inc., in Bethesda, Maryland. Email: rheaz@resultstech.com MORE

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