Leadership is critical to the success of a business. However, in the midst of running a small business, there may not be a lot of time to reflect on your leadership style. If you can take a moment to step back, it can be helpful to learn about various leadership styles, reflect on how you lead and decide if there are changes you want to make.

Best practices and strategies pertaining to leadership are constantly evolving. Academics have identified several different styles of leadership, including instrumental leadership and expressive leadership.


An instrumental leader ensures that an organization’s goals are being met while keeping external and internal factors in mind.

What Is a Leadership Style?

A leadership style is a way to categorize someone’s approach to leading an organization. Researchers know how vital leadership is to businesses and governments, so they have identified leadership styles to help determine which of those styles is most effective. One prominent leadership theory is the full-range leadership theory. This theory proposed three leadership styles:

  • Transformational leadership: This style applies to leaders who strive to transform their organization by inspiring their employees to be innovative.

  • Transactional leadership: This style is very directive and is focused on task completion.

  • Laissez-faire leadership: This is a hands-off leadership style. The leader provides what’s needed to complete tasks, but employees direct themselves. 

Transformational, Transactional and Laissez-Faire Leaders

Transformational leaders tend to be thought of as charismatic and inspiring. As appealing as that sounds, many small business owners need to focus on day-to-day tasks, so a transformational leadership style may be unattainable. Transactional leadership may sound like a better fit, but focusing exclusively on task completion may leave some employees frustrated and feeling like they are not heard.

Laissez-faire leadership may have the opposite problem, where employees do not feel they are being adequately directed. Some researchers felt that the full-range leadership theory is limited, and they proposed adding another leadership style: instrumental leadership.

What Is Instrumental Leadership?

Instrumental leadership ensures that an organization’s goals are being met while keeping external and internal factors in mind. These leaders ensure tasks are completed and provide feedback to employees to help them improve their performance.

Instrumental leaders are adaptable and able to break complex, long-term goals into smaller, approachable tasks. While the transformational leadership style focuses on the big picture, and the transactional leadership style focuses on individual tasks, instrumental leadership combines the two approaches. This hybrid style is an essential leadership approach for many organizations and business owners.

Instrumental leadership might not sound quite as exciting as being a transformational leader, but instrumental leaders tend to get things done and keep everyone moving in the same direction, and that is essential for any small business.

How to Be an Instrumental Leader

Two of the most important functions of instrumental leaders are environmental monitoring and strategy formulation and implementation. Environmental monitoring means paying attention to outside factors, such as the political climate, the weather, your supply chain and anything else that happens externally that could impact your business.

It also means paying attention to internal factors, such as employee morale and productivity. One approach to environmental monitoring is doing a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of your business. As you look at each category, you can uncover the environmental factors that will impact your strategic planning.

Strategy formulation and implementation refer to deciding how to reach your business’s goals while keeping the environmental factors in mind. Be specific and make sure employees know the tasks for which they are responsible and how those tasks contribute to your business as a whole.

Instrumental Leadership Versus Expressive Leadership

Expressive leadership is another leadership style identified by researchers. It focuses on the relationships among employees and on facilitating teamwork and job satisfaction. Instrumental leadership, unlike expressive leadership, emphasizes the completion of tasks, so in some ways, it may be more effective than expressive leadership.

That said, fostering healthy relationships among employees can only help your organization, so if you are adopting an instrumental leadership style, it can help to consider that as an internal environmental factor.