Styles of leadership

  • Range of leadership styles
  • Telling
  • Selling
  • Testing
  • Consulting
  • Joining
  • Doing nothing

Leaders of adventure groups often have to perform many roles in the course of a trip. They may have to encourage a beginner, arbitrate a dispute and inspire confidence when faced with a hazard. In addition to an awareness of group dynamics, leaders need to have a feeling for the appropriateness of various styles of leadership for particular situations and different groups. Although the underlying principles are similar, very different leadership behaviours are necessary to guide an experienced adult group from those needed to run the first day of a beginners' youth group.

A number of styles of leadership can be described, ranging from ‘autocratic’ to ‘laissezfaire’. To be effective, leaders need to be aware of their own predominant personal styles and be able to expand their range of options. Each style has appropriate applications, depending on the group, the nature of the task and the range of outside factors influencing the situation. Aspiring leaders will benefit from an understanding of the range of styles and the situations where each is appropriate.

Range of leadership styles

Figure 47.1 summarises a range of leadership styles, and also shows some possible applications. As can be seen, styles vary from being leader-centred to group-centred. Ideally, leaders should be able to utilise the whole range of styles as appropriate. It is this versatility of style which helps to make an effective leader. A number of common styles, and their application in dealing with an identified problem, are presented below.

The leader considers alternative solutions, chooses one of them and then tells the group what they are to do. Leaders may or may not consider group members’ views, but members clearly do not participate directly in the decision making. Coercion may or may not be used or implied.

The leader, as before, makes a decision without consulting the group. However, instead of simply announcing the decision, the leader persuades the group members to accept it by pointing out how group goals and the interests of group members were considered and how the members will benefit from carrying out the decision.

The leader identifies a problem and proposes a tentative solution. Before finalising it, however, the leader gets the reactions of those who will implement it. The leader says, in effect ‘I would like your frank reactions to this problem, and I will then make the final decision.’

The leader gives the group members a chance to influence the decision from the beginning by presenting the problem and relevant background information, then asking members for their ideas on how to solve it. The leader then selects the solution regarded as most promising.

The leader here participates in the discussion as just another member and agrees in advance to carry out whatever decision the group makes.

Doing nothing
Here there is no active leadership.


Different styles may simultaneously be used with different members of the group. For example, you might seek certain experienced members’ opinions (consulting), persuade certain others with the benefits (selling), and then announce the decision to the rest of the group (telling). The key is not so much in being able to name each of these styles, but to have a fair idea when each may be suitable and effective in achieving a particular goal.