Leading in Rehabilitation - Select the Leadership Approach

Original Editor - Jess Bell based on the course by Jason Giesbrecht

Top Contributors - Jess Bell, Kim Jackson and Ewa Jaraczewska  

Introduction[edit | edit source]

There is often a gap between knowing about leadership and actually doing the leading. Bridging this gap can help people in informal and formal leadership roles become capable and influential leaders in rehabilitation. Leaders must be able to:

This page focuses on the second step of selecting the optimal leadership approach based on your assessment of the situation around you.

Leadership Myths[edit | edit source]

The following list includes ten common leadership myths:[1]

  • One leadership approach is the best
  • All effective leaders are created at birth
  • Leaders have all the answers
  • There is a leadership style that works in all circumstances
  • Great leaders are always in the spotlight
  • Leadership is about position or rank
  • The leader is always in the front
  • All true leaders are charismatic
  • Effective leaders achieve results through control and authority
  • The best leaders have the most education

Defining Leadership Style, Leadership Theory and Leadership Competency[edit | edit source]

Leadership competency refers to a single leadership skill, such as conflict management.[1]

Leadership theory is when a number of leadership competencies or skills are grouped together. Examples include trait theory, contingency theory etc.[1][2] Please watch the video below if you want to learn more about some common leadership theories.

Leadership style refers to the way in which a leader has chosen to lead (e.g. servant leadership). It involves a number of leadership characteristics. Please note that "style", "approach", "framework" and "model" are synonymous terms and can be used interchangeably.[1]


Leadership Approaches[4][edit | edit source]

This page will discuss eight common leadership approaches:

  • Transformational [5]
  • Transactional
  • Charismatic
  • Servant
  • Laissez-faire (delegative)
  • Authoritarian (autocratic)
  • Participative (democratic)
  • Coaching

Transformational Leadership Approach[edit | edit source]

“Transformational leaders [...] generally favour open cultures, organic structures, adaptable systems and flexible procedures. Accordingly, they seek to encourage creativity, change, experimentation and risk-taking.”[6]

Transformational leaders demonstrate authentic, visionary leadership that inspires followers to achieve.[1] The key components of transformational leadership are:[1][7]

  • Individualised consideration
    • The leader considers, and listens to their followers' needs, acting as a mentor or coach
  • Idealised influence
    • The leader acts as a role model for ethical behaviour
    • They establish pride, and are able to gain respect and trust
  • Inspirational motivation
    • The leader creates a vision that appeals to and inspires followers
  • Intellectual stimulation
    • The leader challenges assumptions, takes risk, asks for their followers' ideas and encourages creativity

Transactional Leadership Approach[edit | edit source]

“Transactional leadership is characterized by the use of contingent rewards and sanctions, i.e. rewards and sanctions that are linked to employee behaviours, efforts, or results.”[8]

Figure 1. Transactional leadership.

This style of leadership focuses on the role of supervision, organisation, structure, process, and  performance; the leader achieves follower compliance through rewards and punishments.[1] The key features of transactional leadership are as follows:[1]

  • Directive and action oriented
  • Focused on maintaining the status quo
  • Rewards effort and good performance
  • Corrects or punishes to improve performance
  • Power comes from formal authority or position
  • Followers are expected to obey instructions

The following video compares transactional and transformational leadership.


Charismatic Leadership Approach[edit | edit source]

Charismatic leadership is: “values-based, symbolic, and emotion-laden leader signaling”.[10]

Figure 2. Charismatic leadership.

In charismatic leadership, the leader’s authority is derived from their charm, persuasiveness, and charisma:[1]

  • Leaders are skilled communicators (verbally eloquent)
  • They connect with and influence followers on a deeply emotional level with a passion for a vision
  • They use their engaging personality and effective communication style to gain the admiration, inspiration, and motivation of followers

Servant Leadership Approach[edit | edit source]

“Servant leadership is a holistic leadership approach that engages followers in multiple dimensions (e.g., relational, ethical, emotional, spiritual), such that they are empowered to grow into what they are capable of becoming.”[11]

Figure 3. Top five servant leadership characteristics.

In servant leadership, the leader exists to serve, helping others to develop and perform:[1]

  • Servant leaders share power and put the needs of their followers first
  • They acknowledge other people's perspectives, offer support, collaborate with followers when making decisions, and build a sense of community within the team
  • They value people, humility, listening, trusting, caring, integrity, serving others before oneself, collaboration, and learning

Laissez-Faire (Delegative) Leadership Approach[edit | edit source]

"Laissez-faire leadership is an open and permissive approach. The leader does not exercise authority. Instead, minimum control is used so that participants may take on responsibility for decision making. Laissez-faire leadership is participative and client centered."[12]

In essence, laissez-faire leaders give authority to their followers to make decisions:[1]

  • Followers are allowed to work as they choose with no interference from the leader; minimal support or direction is provided
  • Group members are given the space to solve their own problems
  • However, greater freedom and responsibility requires a high degree of follower competency
  • The leader offers tools and resources to followers

Self-Managed Teams[edit | edit source]

Self-managed teams work towards goals set by the leader whereas self-directed teams work towards intrinsic goals.[1]

Self-managed and self-directed teams:[1]

  • Function independent from leadership yet are dependent on each other
  • Determine their schedules, priorities, and work assignments
  • Hold each other accountable for performance, achievement of goals, and behaviour

The following video summarises how self-managed teams work.


Authoritarian / Autocratic Leadership Approach[edit | edit source]

“Authoritarian leadership refers to a leader’s behavior of asserting strong authority and control over subordinates and demanding unquestioned obedience from them.”[14]

In this approach, the leader is focused on being the “boss”:[1]

  • The leader holds all authority and decision making responsibility
  • Rapid action is often required
  • There is minimal flexibility for followers
  • The working environment is highly structured and rigid
  • There is a focus on policies, procedures, and rules
  • The leader dictates all work methods and processes
  • Creativity tends to be discouraged
  • The leader directs, commands, and rebukes

Participative / Democratic Leadership Approach[edit | edit source]

“Participative team leadership involves actively encouraging followers to express their own opinions and perspectives and using their ideas to make relevant decisions, thereby fostering shared influence processes within the group."[15]

Figure 4. Participative leadership.

In the participative approach, the leader acts as a guide and mentor for followers:[1]

  • They make a final decision after receiving input from the others
  • Followers are involved in decisions and encouraged to participate in problem solving
  • The leader encourages creativity and innovation through collaboration and facilitation
  • There is two-way communication and information sharing between the leader and followers

Distinguishing Between a Democratic and an Authoritarian Approach[edit | edit source]

  • Autocratic (authority) - the leader tells the team to do X
  • Laissez-faire (authocracy) - the leader tells the team to do X or Y as they see fit
  • Democratic (autonomy) - the leader asks the team which is best - X or Y?[1]

This video provides a brief comparison between laissez-faire, authoritarian and participative leadership approaches.


Coaching Leadership Approach[edit | edit source]

“Coaching leadership assumes that those who undergo coaching are able to develop, derive solutions and meet challenges.”[17]

A leader who adopts the coaching approach is focused on developing others:[1]

  • This approach assumes the person being coached has the answers within
  • The leader asks powerful open ended questions to make the unconscious, conscious
  • The leader is empathetic, curious, and self-aware
  • This approach is most effective in helping others improve their performance or develop strengths

Situation Awareness and Reality Testing[edit | edit source]

Figure 5. Situation Awareness and Reality Testing.

Situation awareness is "the perception of the elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future"[18]. Reality testing refers to the ability to assess differences between what is experienced and what objectively exists.[1] These concepts are discussed in detail here. They are important steps in assessing and understanding a situation.

In order to select the optimal leadership approach, the leader needs to:[1]

  • Assess the situation
  • Consider goals, priorities and desired outcomes:
    • It is important to ask:
      • What do I want to achieve in this situation?
      • What steps are required to achieve the optimal outcome?
      • What are the important considerations in this situation?
      • What might get in the way of success?
  • From here, the leader can select the leadership approach

Selecting the Appropriate Leadership Approach[edit | edit source]

The following table summarises the key attributes of each leadership approach and explains when each framework may be more appropriate.

Table 1. Selecting the Optimal Leadership Approach.[1]
Approach Key Attributes and Focus Works Best When…
Transformational Inspiration, vision, follower development, coaching, role modelling, motivation, and creativity Launching a new team, project or initiative; setting a new course
Transactional Operational management, supervision, direction, action / detail-oriented, obedience, and performance monitoring Overseeing operations of a department; monitoring policy compliance
Charismatic Emotional connection, confidence, admiration, inspiration, motivation, charm, persuasion, and passionate vision Passionately inspiring others to embrace a future vision
Servant Listens, trusts, supports, empowers, collaborates, develops, humble, service of others, power shares, and cares Empowering a team or person to solve a challenging problem
Laissez-faire / delegative Entrust, minimal support, independence, autonomy, freedom, and responsibility Assign a project to a competent and capable self-directed team or person
Authoritarian Inflexible, strict, structured, commanding, directive, courageous, centralised power, controlling, expects conformity, strength Emergency situation such as a fire drill, accident, or evacuation; layoffs
Participative / democratic Guidance, mentoring, consultation, engagement, creativity, communication, relationships, diversity of opinion A team develops their team vision, mission, or goals; low-risk decisions
Coaching Develops others, asks questions, uncovers solutions,  empathic, curious, inspires trust A person is unsure about a career choice decision and seeks assistance.

This table summarises the risks and challenges of each leadership approach and provides some risk mitigation strategies.

Table 2. Leadership style risks, challenges, and mitigation strategies.[1]
Leadership Approach Risks and Challenges Risk Mitigation Strategies
Transformational Unclear direction and vision, inadequate information, inattention to detail, lack of humility Communicate clearly, offer facts to support vision, ensure attention to detail, monitor humility
Transactional Unclear vision, lack of intrinsic motivation, overbearing, disengagement Offer clarity on the vision while promoting attention to detail, offer regular feedback, communicate often
Charismatic Inattention to detail, excessive emphasis on emotion, overconfidence, ignorant of facts, arrogance Balance inspiration / passion with graceful humility, emotional self-awareness, promote empathy
Servant Uninspiring, unclear vision, passive-aggressive, unhelpful, poor crisis management, weakness Show kindness and strength, be courageous while leading from behind; inspire, enable, and encourage
Laissez-faire / delegative Lack of direction, unsupportive, unclear, lack of follower development, informal rouge leaders Ensure follower capability, equip before delegating, communicate often, monitor for dysfunction
Authoritarian Distrust, poor decisions, disengagement, disrespect, psychological safety, abuse of power, no information Be prepared, manage emotions, balance strength with respect, communicate, humility, pivot quickly
Participative / democratic Decision paralysis, excessive collaboration, unresponsive, frustrating, team inequities Put timelines on decisions, have a process for decision making, communicate, ensure equal say
Coaching Frustrating, unresponsive (slow), painful, sub-optimal decisions, emotional interference Be prepared with open ended questions, pivot to mentoring when ineffective, advance the discussion

Leading in the Real World[edit | edit source]

Research on leadership suggests that there is no one approach for "effective performance".[19] In real-world settings, it may be necessary to combine leadership styles into a single leadership approach.[1] However, while you may transition between leadership styles, you may also find that some leadership styles are conflicting:[1]

  • An authoritarian leadership style does not work with a servant leadership style
  • A transactional leadership, which focuses on monitoring and managing performance, is not compatible with laissez-faire leadership, where the responsibility to achieve is mostly transferred to others

When the situation and leadership style do not match, it can be beneficial to consider a hybrid of leadership styles (i.e. coaching and transactional leadership). You will need to:[1]

  • Activate your emotional intelligence
  • Ask questions, be curious, seek understanding, uncover assumptions and biases
  • Accept imperfection, act, and reflect

Resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 Giesbrecht J. Select the Leadership Approach Course. Plus. 2022.
  2. Khan Z. Leadership theories and styles: a Literature review. Journal of Resources Development and Management. 2016;16:1-7.
  3. Management Adda. Leadership Theories. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOtBp0D85LI [last accessed 4/4/2022]
  4. KAVASOGULLARI C. A different approach to leadership in healthcare. Faculty of Health Sci. 2020;2020:1-5.
  5. Robbins B, Davidhizar R. Transformational leadership in health care today. The Health Care Manager. 2020 Jul 1;39(3):117-21.
  6. Baskarada S, Watson JC, Cromarty J. Balancing transactional and transformational leadership. International Journal of Organizational Analysis. 2017;25: 506-15.
  7. The University of Tennessee Knoxville. Guiding leadership models and concepts. Available from: https://multicultural.utk.edu/about/leadership-models/ (accessed 4 April 2022).
  8. Nielsen PA, Boye S, Holten A-L, Jacobsen CB, Andersen LB. Are transformational and transactional types of leadership compatible? A two-wave study of employee motivation. Public Admin. 2019;97:413-28.
  9. The Mind Lab. Transactional vs. Transformational Leadership Theory. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQ5vhPowj_0 [last accessed 4/4/2022]
  10. Banks GC, Engemann KN, Williams CE, Gooty J, Davis McCauley K, Medaugh MR. A meta-analytic review and future research agenda of charismatic leadership. The Leadership Quarterly. 2017;28(4):508-29.
  11. Eva N, Robin M, Sendjaya S, van Dierendonck D, Liden RC. Servant leadership: a systematic review and call for future research. The Leadership Quarterly. 2019;30(1):111-32.
  12. Chapter Seven: BEING A LEADER. In: Therapeutic Recreation (5th ed) [Internet]. Sagamore Publishing; 2004 [cited 2022 Apr 4]. p. 323–61. Available from: https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rss&AN=20094194&site=ehost-live
  13. The Elkadeo Way. The truth about self-managing teams. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddZc4kDn_-I [last accessed 4/4/2022]
  14. Wang H, Guan B. The positive effect of authoritarian leadership on employee performance: the moderating role of power distance. Front Psychol. 2018;9:357.
  15. Odoardi C, Battistelli A, Montani F, Peiró JM. Affective commitment, participative leadership, and employee innovation: a multilevel investigation. Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology. 2019;35:103-13.
  16. Brainzo Learning. Leadership Styles: Laissez-faire, Democratic & Autocratic Styles of Leadership. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fx7yy9-L7E [last accessed 4/4/2022]
  17. Rapp-Ricciardi M, Garcia D, Archer T. Personal attributes linked to empowerment that influence receptivity to coaching leadership. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice. 2018;11:1:30-45.
  18. Endsley MR. Toward a theory of situation awareness in dynamic systems. Human Factors 1995;37(1):32–64.
  19. Dulewicz V, Higgs M. Assessing leadership styles and organisational context. Journal of Managerial Psychology - J MANAG PSYCHOL. 2005;20:105-23.