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Leadership: no style fits all

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Being dominating and being likeable can both be good qualities in a boss, and often a hybrid is even better.

In an article written for the New York Times, Phyllis Korkki explores the advantages and disadvantages of two key styles of leadership – the dominant leadership style where the boss is in control of everything, and the prestige style where the boss’s main motivation is to be liked or admired.


Professor Jon K Maner of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, who has analysed leadership styles via questionnaires and laboratory based studies, notes that: “The dominant style of leadership evolved much earlier than the prestige style and is not restricted to humans.” Many other species, including other primates, exhibit this style of leadership. Dominant leaders have a vision, and they insist that this vision is followed. In a group setting, they tend to speak often and loudly.


  • When you have a very strong vision for where you want your company to go, a dominant style of leadership could be just the thing to get everybody moving in the right direction.
  • In times of crisis, a leader who will come in and lead the charge is going to be more effective than a leader who wants to hold a brainstorming session first.


  • Dominant leadership can lead to bullying.
  • The dominant leader can view close working relationships among other team members as a threat.
  • Dominant leaders can tend to hog information to themselves.
  • The dominant leader’s micromanagement style can stifle talent.


The prestige style of leadership evolved later than the dominant style. Maner states that “over all, the prestige style tends to work better in our culture”. Rather than imposing their vision on the group, the prestige leader sees their role as being the facilitator of the group’s vision. In a group situation, they tend to listen, then synthesise contributions from the other members of the group.


  • The prestige style can be effective in encouraging innovation and creative input from the whole team.
  • A prestige boss will foster close, supportive working relationships both with and between work colleagues.
  • Being liked and admired can sometimes be the very thing that helps propel a person into the top position.


In a crisis situation, people might want somebody to take charge and make rapid decisions, not stop to consult the group.

  • Close relationships with employees can lead to taking decisions based on popularity rather than wisdom.
  • It can be difficult to give negative feedback to an employee if you are too concerned about them liking you.

Two very different styles of leadership, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, so which one is best? Maner concludes that the answer is neither. While most bosses will tend towards one style or the other, the best bosses are a bit of both. More importantly, they “deploy the right one at the right time”.

Source Article: Bossy vs Buddy: Two Leadership Styles, Each With Its Place
Author(s): Phyllis Korkki
Publisher: The New York Times