As a professional, you may work under leaders with different leadership styles. You could also become a leader yourself one day.
While some leaders are willing to take responsibility for everything under their control, others shift the blame to subordinates.
Some leaders will praise and reward their team members for doing good things, while others ignore them. These are just some of the traits of different leadership styles.
Knowing the different leadership styles will help you define what type of leader you wish to be. If you’re working under a leader, it will also help you identify their style and how to cope better.
Below is a comprehensive overview of the most common leadership styles you may come across:
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Most Common Leadership Styles
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An authoritarian prefers and enforces strict compliance on team members without caring about their freedom. The leader is the only one who makes policies and decisions with little or no input from the rest of the team. It’s also known as autocratic leadership.
This leadership style is typical and usually beneficial in workplaces that demand quick and efficient decision-making. Manufacturing and construction are examples. It’s also the leadership style practiced by the military.
Making quick decisions will help ensure the swift completion of projects, and team members can focus on other important tasks without worrying about making decisions. Usually, an authoritarian leader is the most adept in the workplace.
Nevertheless, there’s also a negative side to autocratic leadership. Team members may find such a leadership style oppressive and demanding, especially when the leader over-exercises his authority.
In the long run, they become resentful and no longer willing to contribute their best to deliver projects. Sometimes, a way to criticize authoritarian decisions and demonstrate that a different approach would be better.
As a result, authoritarian leadership isn’t the best in many cases. No matter your experience, it’s ideal to consider suggestions from team members.
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A delegating or laissez-faire leadership style is where the leader only provides training and support, and decision-making is up to the team members. It’s a hands-off leadership style.
Delegating leadership often stems from leaders not having enough time. Perhaps they are leading multiple projects at the same time.
Nevertheless, it can be beneficial when team members are trying to learn. It promotes personal growth and innovation.
For example, in the classroom, the teacher teaches and helps the students, but everything else, like how well they do on tests, is up to the students.
Leaders in professional settings can switch to a delegating style if team members have already shown they can produce high-quality results. Therefore, the delegating authority should go to the most skilled and expert team members.
To make the most of this leadership style, however, leaders should check in on work performance from time to time and give feedback.
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From its name, it’s clear how this type of leadership works. It’s like a transaction: when team members perform well, they get rewarded; when they perform poorly, they get punished.
Typically, workers will give their best to complete tasks if they know they’ll get a valuable reward afterward. On the other hand, they’ll avoid making errors if they know they are punishable.
This leadership style is more common in the sports and athletic industry.
In soccer, for example, players get monetary rewards when they meet certain expectations — like when they score lots of goals. If they don’t meet expectations, they are kept on the sidelines and replaced by someone else.
However, transactional leadership has some elements of autocracy. To avoid making mistakes, workers will typically follow every instruction from the leader. Also, the leader will carefully monitor each performance to know if they deserve a reward or not.
This leadership style is best in simple and clearly defined problem-solving situations.
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A participative leadership style involves the leader and all team members. Everyone contributes to the decision-making process, although the leader still makes the final decision. It’s like a mid-point between authoritarian leadership and delegating leadership.
This leadership style is relatively more satisfying and encourages teamwork. However, it also has its downsides, of which time consumption tops the list.
Since everyone is involved in making decisions, team members will feel valued and appreciated, which helps boost morale. For instance, if the leader takes up a particular team member’s idea, they’ll do their best to see it bear fruit.
Participative leadership accommodates creativity and innovation. It allows ideas and suggestions from different individuals with different views but a common goal.
Also, it increases the employee retention rate. Workers are less likely to leave if they are a part of the leadership process.
The downside, as mentioned before, weighs more on time consumption. A participative leader must have the patience to listen to and evaluate the different suggestions from team members.
There’s also the problem of indecision. With multiple inputs, it can be challenging to settle on one suggestion, especially when there are contrasting ideas.
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Some leaders inspire and motivate their team members. They do this by proposing clear steps to achieve team goals, showing passion, and energizing team members. Such leaders are transformational leaders.
Transformational leadership has four main characteristics: inspirational motivation, idealized influence, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration. These are collectively known as the “four I’s.”
A transformational leader leads by example by being involved in the work process and helping bring out the best in other team members. This leadership style brings about positive transformations in the workplace.
It’s often compared with the transactional leadership style, so much so that they are said to be opposites.
Both leadership styles require oversight and performance monitoring, but transformational leadership doesn’t churn out punishment for failure, unlike transactional leadership. Instead, team members are encouraged and guided to do better.
Also, team members are more likely to come up with new ideas when they are encouraged to think for themselves. It also promotes a healthy relationship between leaders and team members.
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According to the Oxford Learner’s dictionary, a visionary means “a person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like.” In this regard, a visionary leader is a person who rules with a vision but does not necessarily know how to achieve it.
Visionary leadership follows Heraclitus of Ephesus’s quote that change is the only constant in life.
This leadership style involves taking risks. George Washington is a model example of a visionary leader. His goal was to ensure America’s future was safe under a federal head. The risk involved was fighting a war which he never knew if they could win or not.
Also, being a visionary leader requires persistence until you reach the final goal. George Washington lost more battles than he won, but what history remembers is the ultimate battle that he won.
Furthermore, visionary leadership is void of autocracy. Instead, it involves open-mindedness. A single person can’t actualize a vision, so a visionary leader must be willing to listen to other team members.
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As the name implies, a pacesetter leader is a leader that sets the pace. In other words, a pacesetter leader sets an example of high performance and expects all team members to follow suit. Hence, pacesetter leaders are often successful people themselves.
Typically, a pacesetter leader will assign each team member just what they can handle. No one gets more than or less than what they can do. It ensures each member produces their best result.
If anyone performs below par, they can get replaced by someone else. At the same time, pacesetter leaders don’t expect team members to perform as well or better than they do. They easily criticize but do not easily praise.
Such a leadership style can produce high results, especially in achieving short-term goals. However, in long-term projects, it can damage team engagement and demotivate team members.
Nevertheless, with some changes, a pacesetter leadership style can stay positive.
This leadership style is best for short-term projects where team members won’t have to stress too much. Also, the leader needs to be consistent with his standards, as pacesetting requires leading by example.
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Coaching leadership is one of the most productive leadership styles. It’s a style whereby the leader collaborates, supports, and guides his team members.
Naturally, all leaders should be coaches. But, like other leadership styles, the coaching leadership style has its pros and cons.
A team led by a coach thrives on support, and there’s little room for judgment. Also, team members are encouraged to think creatively to develop growth opportunities.
Both team members and the leader provide constructive feedback on tasks. In the long run, it’ll positively impact professional and personal development.
On the downside, a coaching leadership style, like the participative leadership style, requires time and energy. While it can bring about significant results, the results won’t always be fast and efficient.
In some work environments — like result-driven or high-pressure companies, for example — a coaching leadership style won’t be ideal.
Nevertheless, whenever it’s applied in the right situations, coaching leadership is usually fruitful.
As a coaching leader, you must recognize the strengths and weaknesses of your team members and provide the necessary guidance and motivation to help them capitalize and improve.
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A strategic leadership style is one whereby the leader articulates a vision for the organization or his team and motivates others to go with it.
Strategic leadership involves using strategy to manage team members and then influence them to implement change. Therefore, such leaders must have good communication skills to help communicate their vision to team members accurately.
It is similar to visionary leadership in that a strategic leader has a plan for achieving their vision. Nevertheless, strategic leaders still face external challenges that make achieving the vision difficult.
They overcome these challenges by prioritizing productivity and inspiring staff innovation. Most of the time, strategic leaders use rewards and incentives to get their staff to work harder and do a better job.
That way, they can allocate tasks to different team members while staying focused on the bigger picture. There are other necessary attributes a strategic leader should have.
As a strategic leader, you must be compassionate and make decisions after considering the views of your team members. It’s a perfect way to align their perspective with your vision.
Also, there should be a framework for setting goals that makes it easy for team members to keep track of objectives and results.
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In a paternalistic leadership style, the leader acts as a father figure — like a patriarch or matriarch — to their team members. Rather than viewing team members as partners, a paternalistic leader views them as members of a family.
Therefore, they demand not just trust and loyalty but also obedience. It’s also known as maternalistic leadership, if the leader is female, or, more generally, as parental leadership.
A leader who views team members as part of a family would typically be nice and friendly towards them. However, this isn’t always the case.
Some paternalistic leaders take the hierarchical position a little too seriously. They introduce austerity and authoritarianism, especially in making sure team members obey them.
There’s also the issue of them favoring some team members above others, which may cause jealousy and resentment among team members. Nevertheless, when done right, team members will feel protected under a paternalistic leader.
A good paternalistic leader must acknowledge and attend to the needs of team members equally. With this, it’s easy for them to be loyal, trusting, and obedient without coercion.
Also, team members should have space to avoid becoming overly reliant on their leader.
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The bureaucratic leadership style isn’t different from the bureaucratic system of government. Therefore, bureaucratic leadership is a system of fixed duties and roles under authority or hierarchy.
A bureaucratic leadership style is customary in regulated businesses whereby workers must follow a set system of rules. It results in maximum efficiency if the rules are progressive.
Therefore, bureaucratic leaders not only need to be highly skilled themselves; they also require highly skilled team members.
A bureaucratic leadership style eliminates ambiguity. Since there are fixed roles and responsibilities, everybody knows what they’re supposed to do. It’ll be easier for team members to work towards achieving goals.
On the downside, however, they can’t act outside of these rules, so there’s not much room for innovation and creativity. In the long run, it could create an ultraconservative work environment.
Furthermore, it doesn’t encourage retention because if team members can’t follow the fixed rules, they get replaced, and not the rules.
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Direct leadership is relatively similar to coaching leadership. In direct leadership, objectives and rules are well-defined for team members, but the leader must also be present to guide them.
Therefore, a directing leader performs guidance and coaching duties and ensures that there are no obstacles that could affect the team’s performance. A directing leader makes it easy to reward a good-performing team member accordingly.
However, it gives less audience to the team members since they’re to follow a direct rule. It’s why you won’t find many direct leaders in corporate organizations.
Leaders in corporate environments typically require feedback from team members to improve, which is almost non-existent in the directing leadership style. The style is regular in the military world.
Notwithstanding, it’s possible to modify the directing leadership structure to fit corporate settings. Also, there are times when directing leadership should be the go-to leadership style.
A good example is when training new workers. Since it’s their first time, they need a directing leader to instruct them on what to do and how to do it without any input from their end.
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According to the Oxford dictionary, Charisma means “compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.”
A charismatic leader is a leader that employs communication, persuasion, and charm in dealing with team members. Such leaders have an innate ability to influence others by forming a deep connection with them.
Charismatic leaders are valuable in high-risk situations. Take, for instance, an organization in crisis or one with a desperate need to excel.
As a result, some charismatic leaders tend to be transformational in their actions, or most transformational leaders exhibit charismatic leadership traits.
They are different in that they have attributes such as confidence, optimism, emphatics, relatability, and motivation. They can calm the storm and get team members to do what they need to do.
However, the charismatic leadership style, as the powerful leadership style it is, can have a negative effect if approached the wrong way.
For instance, being overly optimistic or motivational about turning things around may make a charismatic leader appear dishonest.
To balance the scales as a charismatic leader, it is ideal to be honest about vulnerabilities and be transparent with team members.
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The servant leadership style is a type where the leader wants to serve first, before anything else. In other words, a servant leader puts the needs of their organization and team first before their own.
It’s like turning the traditional leadership style upside down. What this style aims to achieve is to build influence and authority rather than demand it using control and force.
The main advantage of the servant leadership style is that it makes every team member feel inclusive. The leader comes down to (and sometimes even below) their level to listen to and support them.
As a result, this leadership style facilitates teamwork, team satisfaction, transparency, and accountability, among others.
Nevertheless, while the leader appears as a servant, they still lead. They do this by setting the goals and objectives and then providing direction and clarity on how to achieve them.
Hence, while team members view a servant leader as just another team member, they still look up to them for direction and guidance.
Some key traits a servant leader should have are decision-making ability, risk-taking ability, collaboration skills, self-confidence, and creative thinking.
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Affiliative leadership emphasizes emotional intelligence and close ties between leaders and team members.
Leaders who practice this style believe high-performing teams need effective communication and belonging. As a result, they develop their team’s work culture by putting people first.
An affiliative leader makes workers feel seen and listened to. It can boost morale and job satisfaction. Also, team members may feel more comfortable interacting and exchanging ideas.
Therefore, affiliate leaders are able to empower team members better than autocratic leaders, for example. However, there are still downsides.
Mistakes can occur. Because they emphasize positive feedback, affiliative leaders may overlook poor performance. Also, affiliate leaders may appear hands-off, mostly when they don’t address inappropriate behavior.
To be a good affiliate leader, you must always be honest with reports from team members and gently suggest ways they can do better. You must also address problems before they spread.
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To determine what type of leader you want to become, you must learn about the various leadership styles. There are more than fifteen different leadership styles, but the ones mentioned above are the most common ones.
Note that these styles aren’t all mutually exclusive. You can exhibit different leadership styles at the same time, or you can switch from one style to another when the situation calls for it.
Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing. I started my first e-commerce company in college, designing and selling t-shirts for my campus bar crawl using print-on-demand. Having successfully established multiple 6 & 7-figure e-commerce businesses (in women’s fashion and hiking gear), I think I can share a tip or 2 to help you succeed.