What’s your leadership style? 11 styles to choose from

Long gone are the days when leaders simply gave orders and employees followed them. Now there are many different ways to be a leader. But what’s the best style for you?

What is a leadership style?

What is a leadership style?

A person’s leadership style is the method they use to guide, motivate and oversee their team.

While we all have a unique way of doing things, there are certain traits and characteristics that match certain styles. Personality, skills, values and past experiences all shape the way a leader operates. Some leadership styles can be quite similar, but each has its own advantages and disadvantages and can determine the strategic approach an organization takes.

"What is your leadership style?" is also a common interview question if you’re applying for any type of managerial position, so it pays to know the answer in advance.

And with nearly half of leaders feeling their actions are more scrutinized than before, the style you choose can have a significant impact on your team and company brand.

It was psychologist Kurt Lewin who first recognized basic leadership styles in the 1930s, and these have provided the foundation for many of the approaches that have followed since then.

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What leadership style is right for you?

What leadership style is right for you?

It’s likely that you’ll lean naturally toward a particular leadership style. It will be one that complements your personality and makes you feel most comfortable in your role.

But it’s not just about you – you’ll also need to take your team into consideration. For example, if you have a relatively inexperienced team, it makes more sense to opt for a style that gives them plenty of direction. If, on the other hand, you trust your employees to manage their own workload, you can take more of a coaching role.

Knowing your leadership style is important. It helps you:

  • build on your leadership strengths

  • identify which leadership skills you need to develop

  • give guidance and feedback to employees

  • better understand your thought processes

  • consider how you make decisions and set goals

  • form short-term and long-term strategies for your business

  • better understand how your employees see you

Being a successful leader means getting to know yourself better. Self-awareness is important, but it also helps to get feedback from the people you lead. Even if it’s not always what you want to hear, the more open and honest the feedback is, the more you can grow and improve.

The good news is that there’s no single best leadership style. You’ll often have to adapt your approach to fit the situation. Your style will probably also evolve over time as you become more experienced. But that’s why it's useful to make yourself familiar with the different leadership models – you’ll have the confidence to take an alternative approach if the situation warrants it. This will make you an altogether better, more rounded leader.

The 11 leadership styles

The 11 leadership styles

Over the years, researchers have developed different theories and frameworks to help identify different leadership styles. These are some of the most common:

Autocratic leadership

Also called: authoritarian leadership

An autocratic leader is all powerful, making decisions with little or no input from the rest of the group. Like military commanders, they give clear instruction on what needs doing and when.

  • Pros: Autocratic leadership can be very effective when you need to make decisions quickly or follow compliance regulations. It can give new and inexperienced employees a clear sense of direction.

  • Cons: A micromanaging style can be stressful and intimidating, with little room for collaboration or creativity. It can also create over-reliance on a single leader.

Authoritative leadership

Also called: visionary leadership

Authoritative leaders understand the direction an organization needs to take to be successful, and aren’t fazed by minor setbacks. Not to be confused with authoritarian leadership, this type of leader sets out a clear vision for the future and provides overall direction for helping everyone get there.

  • Pros: Teams that are willing to buy into a leader’s vision are likely to be motivated and inspired to do their best work. They also have the confidence to overcome obstacles during periods of uncertainty.

  • Cons: Authoritative leaders can sometimes focus too much on long-term ideas without thinking about the here and now. Their ego can also get in the way of them listening to other people’s ideas.

Bureaucratic leadership

Bureaucratic leaders follow the rules rigorously and expect their people to do the same. They might consider the views of others but won’t act on them if they don’t align with company policy. This style works best for larger or well-established companies that are already successful, or work that involves safety risks.

  • Pros: Bureaucratic leadership offers reassuring stability and reduces the risk of failure. It’s clear, efficient and lets people know where they stand.

  • Cons: This style doesn’t offer much freedom, making it much less effective in organizations that rely on flexibility, creativity or innovation.

Coaching leadership

Coaching leadership is about nurturing the talents of each team member, focusing on their strengths and weaknesses to help them improve. This type of leader might encourage employees to take on new tasks, offering guidance, support and constructive feedback along the way. It works best for employees who enjoy being part of a team.

  • Pros: Coached employees are motivated because they feel supported and valued. This style recognizes that each employee is unique and can bring something different to the table.

  • Cons: A coaching approach requires patience and can take a long time to get results. It won’t work if there isn’t any chemistry or camaraderie among team members.

Laissez-faire leadership

Also called: delegative leadership

As French speakers know, laissez-faire means ‘allow to do’. In other words, let employees decide how and when they work. According to the Niagara Institute, over 84% of leaders let their employees choose the way they complete their work. Laissez-faire is one of the most hands-off leadership styles and offers very little guidance. It can be a good model for remote workers or startups with highly skilled teams.

  • Pros: Because of the high level of trust and autonomy, employees working for laissez-faire leaders enjoy great freedoms and a relaxed company culture.

  • Cons: This style limits employees’ development and isn’t a good choice for new or inexperienced employees who need guidance and training. Roles and responsibilities can also become unclear, leading to incohesive teams.

Pacesetting leadership

A pacesetting leader sets ambitious goals and lets employees know exactly what’s expected of them. This type of leadership can be effective among sales teams, where performance needs to be pushed to make sure quarterly targets are met.

  • Pros: A pacesetting environment can feel exciting as there’s a sense of urgency to meeting goals. Teams are highly motivated to get results.

  • Cons: Pacesetting leaders can sometimes create a high-stress working environment if goals are unrealistic. This can stifle creativity, overwhelm teams and lead to burnout.

Participative leadership

Also called: democratic leadership

While this type of leader still has the final say, they listen to their employees and involve them in the decision-making process. According to the Niagara Institute, this is the most common leadership style. It takes a collaborative approach where responsibility is shared and everyone feels included.

  • Pros: Teams with participative leaders feel empowered and valued. This can boost productivity and lead to high staff retention rates.

  • Cons: This is not the best style to use if you need to make a quick decision, as it can take time to reach a consensus. It can also be challenging for team members who may not have the right expertise to make critical decisions.

Servant leadership

This leadership style puts the needs of others first. A servant boss leads by example, has strong core values and makes ethical decisions for the good of the team. It creates an environment where co-workers can forge strong bonds and solve problems together.

  • Pros: This approach can create a positive company culture as everyone’s ideas are respected and team members are given the space and support to reach their full potential.

  • Cons: Leaders who take the servant approach can find themselves overshadowed by more commanding leaders, particularly in a competitive environment. It's not ideal for situations where you need to make quick decisions or meet tight deadlines.

Soft leadership

Soft leadership is about guiding teams using soft skills such as compassion, openness and listening rather than barking out orders. It values employees’ contributions and offers constant support. Soft leadership skills are essential in modern hybrid workplaces where a healthy work-life balance is promoted.

  • Pros: Soft leadership allows employees space to fail without blame. This creates closer relationships and less workplace conflict.

  • Cons: Being more of a friend than a boss can blur the lines when a leader needs to make difficult decisions. Soft skills are also tricky to measure, so it can be harder to prove whether this type of leadership is having the desired effect.

Transactional leadership

Also called: managerial leadership.

Transactional leadership is built on a system of rewards and penalties. The leader provides clear directions to team members and expects them to complete tasks and meet deadlines. In return, they receive rewards to recognize their efforts – or are disciplined if their work falls short of expectations.

  • Pros: Transactional leadership clarifies everyone's roles and responsibilities, and employees are treated equally. And, because it’s performance-based, those who are ambitious or motivated by financial rewards often flourish.

  • Cons: When so much emphasis is placed on rewards to motivate, it can hold employees back in other areas like creativity, personal development and teamwork. Leaders may also seem impersonal and struggle to build meaningful relationships with employees.

Transformational leadership

This leadership style creates an environment that supports innovation and inspires change. Leaders who adopt this approach are not only passionate about helping the organization achieve its goals but also inspiring employees to achieve their full potential. Transformational leaders tend to have high emotional intelligence and strong motivational skills.

  • Pros: This type of leadership can be highly effective in organizations looking for a fresh start. Having a list of personal goals to reach and a set schedule for achieving them can lead to high productivity, engagement and morale.

  • Cons: Too much focus on personal growth can make transformational leaders lose sight of company objectives. Burnout can also become an issue as leaders may give employees more challenges than they can cope with.

As you can see, there are many ways to be a leader, and all have their good points. When all is said and done, the best leadership style is being yourself – but with extra skills added to the mix.

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