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What Type of Leader Are You?

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By Kate Collier

What’s your leadership style? According to experts, there are two distinct methods for gaining and maintaining power: dominate and demand the fealty of your subordinates, or a more diplomatic approach, gaining the trust and respect of those you wish to lead.

Jon Maner, a Florida State University psychology professor and recognized leader in the science of motivation, recently discussed these two styles of dominance- and prestige-motivated leadership in Harvard Business Review.

Dominance-motivated leaders, prototypical “alpha” types, rise to power through intimidation and coercion, demanding deference, whereas prestige-oriented leaders tend to achieve their status through displaying their knowledge and skills, convincing people of their leadership capabilities through fostering ideas, fielding the opinions of others, and motivation.

Culturally, prestige-oriented leaders are more typically viewed as “good bosses”—warm, respected, admired, and approachable, whereas dominant-oriented leaders are seen as hierarchical, controlling, and driven. Think Michael Scott in “The Office” versus Vogue magazine’s infamous editor-in chief, Anna Wintour.

How Can You Identify Whether You’re a Dominant- or Prestige-Motivated Leader?

  • During meetings, are you the person doing most of the talking? If you overpower the conversation, you are likely a dominance-motivated leader. If you’re more inclined to listen to the opinions of others, you’d probably identify as a prestige-oriented leader.
  • Do you ever imagine the perspective of your employee? If so, you’re a more prestige-oriented leader.

However, Maner cautions against associating one style of leadership as preferable over another. Both have their place within particular situations and organizations.

Maner explains that the dominant style of leadership is most effective in those situations where decisions must be made quickly and groups need to be aligned with clear direction. Tight deadlines and organizational crises require rigid standards, rapid responses, and a clear chain of command. Certain professions and working conditions might call for that particular style more so than a boss who is interested in listening to the opinions of her subordinates.

Prestige-oriented leaders tend to shine when it comes to giving their employees a voice and the freedom to generate new ideas and think broadly about ­­­­solutions. Rather than imposing hard and fast directives, prestige-oriented leaders tend to give more control to their subordinates, creating a workspace where their team members feel empowered to generate new and creative ideas and strategies. Maner refers to this as “leading from behind.”

However, there are pitfalls to both styles. Prestige-oriented leaders have to watch to ensure that popularity and likeability don’t interfere with the all-important bottom line. And perhaps more obviously, dominant-oriented leaders are at great risk for being disliked and sowing discord among team members.

In general, these are caricatures of leaders. Most of the time, these characteristics are not mutually exclusive: leaders can both want to exert their authority and be well-liked. Additionally, it’s of some interest to note that these roles are far from gender-specific.

According to Maner and other experts in leadership and motivation, the most effective leaders are those who are able to nimbly switch between one type of leadership to another, gleaning the best parts of each style to suit particular situations and individuals in the workplace. “Part of maturing as a leader is self-insight,” Maner says, encouraging leaders to leverage the strengths of both mindsets, while avoiding the more negative aspects of each.

You can further develop your leadership skills and abilities, and grow in your understanding of the pros and cons of each approach, harnessing the best aspects of both with UVM’s Leadership and Management Professional Certificate