Personal Motivation: How to Find It Based on Your Supervisor’s Leadership Style

4 leadership styles and tips for working with each one to increase motivation and productivity.

Returning to work after a relaxing weekend, you feel an acute lack of ambition to jump into your projects for the upcoming week. “Why can’t I concentrate?” you ask yourself. You’re not alone; a Gallup poll found that up to 63 percent of employees worldwide are frequently unengaged and lack motivation at work.

While many factors can affect motivation in the workplace, your supervisor’s leadership style can play a key role. Let’s analyze which of the four major leadership styles best fits your supervisor, and how you can work with this style to increase your motivation and productivity. Keep in mind, leaders rarely fit one leadership style perfectly and may use a combination of multiple styles.

Leadership Style #1: Task-Oriented Leadership

Task-oriented leaders, also referred to as transactional leaders, are known for setting clear goals and expectations, as well as for providing rewards once those goals are achieved. This leadership style can seem motivating to an extent, since the standards for performance are clearly provided, but having a high focus on task completion can leave one feeling pressured and drained. If your supervisor’s leadership style is largely task oriented in nature, your performance may be driven by a fixed mindset. Fixed mindsets are characterized by a high need for achievement, as well as a fear of failure, which, in turn, results in a tendency to avoid risk. Since personal growth and a willingness to take risks often go hand in hand, the development of a fixed mindset can impede professional growth. In contrast, a growth mindset yields high-performing results, and is characterized by the belief that skills are gained through effort and hard work.

The process of transitioning from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset requires an individual to focus on the learning process as opposed to the actual outcome of an event. Try these strategies when working under a task-oriented leader:

  • Keep a running journal of skills you pick up on major projects to help reinforce the benefits of learning new things. Use this list of skills to determine your progress rather than solely relying on from feedback from superiors.
  • Volunteer for tasks that challenge your comfort zone. Choose a task that includes both the potential for failure and the opportunity for growth in unchartered territory.

Leadership Style #2: Laissez Faire Leadership

The French describe the term, “laissez faire,” as letting others do as they please without intervention, which describes this leadership style well. A laissez faire leader is simply a leader due to his or her job title, not because he or she demonstrates leadership capabilities. Leaders of this sort can be hesitant to exert control when problems arise, and often are considered “missing in action” when major decisions must be made. They may skip important meetings or delay on moving a project forward for extended periods of time, leaving much of the leadership responsibilities up to you. Unfortunately, this type of leader does not provide much guidance, which makes it critical for those who work under this leader to be proactive and create their own structure. The following strategies may prove to be useful when being supervised by a laissez faire leader:

  • Make a public commitment to your entire department when specific goals and due dates need to be established. Since your supervisor is likely not holding you accountable for meeting goals, this will help you become more committed, while also creating clear expectations between you and your supervisor.
  • If you have leadership aspirations, frame your relationship with your supervisor as an opportunity to develop your own leadership skills. Develop the ability to manage your supervisor and “manage upward” by meeting with him or her on a weekly basis to review and develop goals, establish priorities, and provide project updates. Although these leaders may not act the part, they can still be a resource, so come prepared with a list of questions you need answered.

Leadership Style #3: Authoritative Leadership

This leadership style speaks for itself—authoritative leaders present themselves in an authoritarian manner. They operate in a “leader knows best” manner, and often require high levels of control and unquestionable obedience. Additionally, these leaders often issue many rules, threaten punishments, and give little explanation for their decision-making. Interestingly, authoritative leaders can be highly effective and even well-liked. Much of how an authoritative leader comes across depends on the organization’s environment. In an organization where decisions need to be made quickly and there is little room for mistakes, an authoritative leader can be successful. However, in an organization with little hierarchy, an authoritative leadership style that belittles others can be abrasive and damaging. The following strategies can increase your effectiveness when working under an authoritative leader:

  • Make a list of things under this leader that you can and cannot control. Instead of focusing on the negative, choose one or two of the things you can control and work on strengthening them.
  • Make a formal request to establish your own performance goals. An authoritative leader may not realize how controlling his or her leadership style is, and this could allow him or her to hand a small portion of the control over. In addition, this would allow you to better own your goal and add some personal importance to it.

Leadership Style #4: Transformational Leadership

You already may be a highly motivated individual if your supervisor has adopted a transformation leadership style. This type of leader has a captivating vision, is confident, and is highly in tune with his or her core values. Rather than focusing solely on accomplishments, they focus on future aspirations. These leaders influence, inspire, motivate, and treat each follower as an individual, rather than as a member of a uniform team. Despite the positive attributes displayed by transformational leaders, motivational challenges still may exist. For example, a transformational leader may be so persuasive and inspiring in his or her vision for the organization that individuals lose sight of their personal values and goals. Additionally, transformational leaders may gloss over important details that can have a dramatic impact on a project’s overall success. The following strategies can increase your effectiveness at work if you are supervised by a transformational leader:

  • Interact with those who benefit from your work. This may be difficult based on the type of work you do, but is one way to feel more connected to your efforts. For example, an engineer who works on designing new products for a company may go to a tech convention for consumers where the company’s products are showcased.
  • Be willing to take risks and think bigger in your goal setting as your leader already does. When setting a goal, make sure it is difficult yet attainable. If you find yourself setting goals in your comfort zone, think of a goal that is one step further and commit to it. Your leader is likely to back you up on this.

These four leadership styles are representative of a wide array of leaders, and your leader may be characteristic of a few different styles. Take some time to assess your supervisor’s leadership style, and employ some of the above strategies to experience your work in a more meaningful and effective manner. Good luck on your motivation-seeking journey!

Amanda Munsterteiger, M.A., is a Ph.D. student in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at Seattle Pacific University. She can be reached at



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