“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” —Warren Bennis
Every team working toward a common goal needs a central, visionary voice to give group members direction. With so many new and growing companies in the software industry, we need more leaders at all levels in the decision making process, within each company. Although many types of leadership can be applied in this industry, today we are going to talk about the 3 leadership styles that can be applied to the software development environment: Democratic, Authoritarian, and Charismatic.
There are many more, including transactional leadership and autocratic leadership. So I must note that, although I’ll describe only some of the most relevant types of leadership, it’s rare for a person or company to have the characteristics of just one but generally combines several of them.
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Democratic leaders go to great lengths to increase the self-esteem of those who follow them. And when people believe in themselves, it’s amazing how productive the team can be. Democratic leadership in software development means allowing employees to make decisions, based on trusting their competencies. Team members also have the opportunity to express themselves freely and put their problem solving skills to shine without being limited to taking orders.
What are some of the characteristics of democratic leadership? Mainly: Communication and participation of the collaborators are encouraged, and the leader guides and helps when they need it. Decisions are made as a team between all members, so some call it participative leadership. Above all, the leader accepts the possibility that other people have a more valid opinion than them.
Some examples of software development companies known for implementing the democratic leadership style in their culture are Google, EY, and BEON Tech Studio. There, project managers and team leads have real decision-making power based on their experience and also rely on the opinions of all team members.
Now let’s talk about its bigger counterpart, the authoritarian leadership style.
You’ve probably heard it said that people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. It’s a warning highlighting that a bad leader can ruin even the best job. And this is perfectly exemplified by the authoritarian leadership style.
The main characteristic of the authoritarian leadership style is that it orders and expects its orders to be obeyed, generating a system of rewards and punishments, depending on whether or not expectations are met. Generally, this type of leader assumes that they are the only person capable of making certain decisions, guiding the employees in their tasks as they think that others need them to work. They do not usually delegate responsibilities and can create motivation through fear. This is one of the worst leadership approaches there is.
One might think that, in the world of software development, there’s no room for this leadership style. However, there are many instances where, unfortunately, companies in this area get into this type of dynamic. A study conducted in the United States found that ⅓ of people say their leader makes them feel controlled and that management stresses them the most at work.
Is the authoritarian a good leadership style? The simple answer is no, especially in software development, where team decisions are vital for project scalability and complex platform maintenance.
The charismatic leadership style generates enthusiasm and empathy in its collaborators through admiration and has the advantage of being able to make its team perform its best. A charismatic leader knows the way, follows the way, and shows the way.
Those familiar with this concept will notice that this style of leadership focuses much more on the leader as an individual, rather than just seeing how they run things. A business that implements a democratic leadership style organizationally usually has charismatic leaders within its teams, these are usually tech leads who encourage their members by example and a good reputation. It could be called a transformational leadership, as it makes its members change how they behave and even who they are to follow the leader and reach new goals at work.
Charismatic leaders tend to have good communication tools and the group is stimulated by their presence. They are motivating and can persuade and generate trust. Although this style is best known in the area of politics, the software development industry benefits greatly from having charismatic leaders in the company.
Among the advantages of charismatic leadership, we find the improvement of the work environment, the unification of the group around it, reduction of conflicts, among others.
These were some of the most common leadership styles. And although seas of ink have been spilled talking about leadership, at BEON, we know that leadership isn't about glorious acts of popularity. It's about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do everything possible to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences matter. It's about laying the groundwork for the success of others, and then stepping back and letting them shine.
Related articles: How to manage a development team: 6 keys for success, Founding an International Software Agency—The Story of BEON’s Founders, In 2021 We Broke All Barriers, and It’s Just the Beginning