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10 Leadership Styles and How to Identify Your Own

Ultimate Guide to be a Performing Leader
14 Jul 2023
10 Leadership Styles and How to Identify Your Own

An organisation's success is largely due to the way it is being managed. Nowadays, there is a lot of focus on the organisational environment, hence the need for a suitable leadership style that responds to the organisation's shared culture. Solidifying the common goal and motivating and influencing everyone involved to work towards it are key steps to positive results. The Institute offers Leading & Negotiating for Project Success course that will transform you to become a better leader by examining the capabilities, attitudes and behaviours that a leader needs to possess.

If effective, the management style can have significant effects on the organisation itself - it can help increase productivity, enhance morale, encourage workers, make a positive contribution to the company and so on. But the leadership style has to be suitable to the companies needs in order to bring success, and that is when recognising which leadership style becomes very helpful.

What is a Leadership Style, and why is it important? 

A leadership style is a leader's approach to directing, motivating, and managing their team. It is shaped by various factors, including the leader's personality, values, skills, and experiences. No "right" leadership style exists, and what works for one leader may not work for another.

10 types of leadership styles infographics

The research of leadership styles began as far back as 1939 when Lewin, with a group of other researchers, identified three major leadership styles: Autocratic, Democratic and Laissez-faire or “let it be” leadership.

These three styles were the foundation for further explanations and more modern and broader approaches. There are a variety of categorisations, but all of the varying leadership styles have common factors they depend on - like managers personality, knowledge and experience, employees who are being supervised and their responses, and lastly, but most importantly, the company traditions, values, philosophy.

There is not just one style of leadership that fits everyone. So with all these different leadership styles, no matter which one you chose to lead with, the most important part is to make it an effective leadership. Here is an outline of ten most often used leadership styles, their benefits and downsides.

leadership styles in management

Understanding one's leadership style becomes an essential pursuit for every leader. This self-awareness empowers them to gauge how their style influences those they directly lead. Moreover, it allows leaders to identify their strengths and pinpoint areas for further development. While some leaders can readily categorise their current style and assess its effectiveness, others may find their style less defined, exhibiting traits of multiple leadership styles.  

In such cases, seeking detailed feedback from team members can prove to be an invaluable exercise. Encouraging open and honest feedback not only sheds light on how employees perceive their leader's style but also provides valuable insights for refinement. With this knowledge, leaders can seamlessly adapt their style's characteristics to their day-to-day responsibilities, fostering personal growth and enhancing team dynamics. As leadership is an ever-evolving journey, a deep understanding of one's leadership style becomes an indispensable compass to steer the path towards effective leadership and organisational success.

10 Types of Leadership Styles

1. Autocratic or Authoritarian Leadership Style

Autocratic leadership, also known as Authoritarian leadership, is a type of leadership style where leaders provide the team with clear instructions. They are the ones deciding on the distribution of the tasks as well as goals that need to be reached, without much input from the other employees. They give out awards and punishments according to the rules and procedures they designed. Autocratic leaders typically make choices based on their own ideas and judgments and rarely accept advice from others which sometimes involves absolute, authoritarian control over a group. The team can't express their views, even if it is for the best interest of company, nor can they criticise the way authoritarian leader gets things done.

Most disadvantages of this approach are generally related to this kind of leader's behaviour. They make all the decisions with little input from team members and sometimes that means not coming up with the best plan when there is no discussion of different approaches. But that's not to say this style does not have situations for which it is appropriate. Sometimes the decision has to be made on the spot and leaders are, typically, the most knowledgeable about the situation. In those types of situations, there is no time for the team to familiarise themselves with the whole situation and then give their input, especially if they are dealing with inexperienced team members.

Advantages and disadvantages of autocratic leaders

2. Democratic or Participative Leadership Style

Democratic leadership, also known as participative leadership, is a type of leadership style in which group members take a more collaborative role in the decision-making process. Democratic leadership is often considered the best leadership as researchers have found that this style is usually one of the most effective and can lead to higher productivity, better contributions from team members, and increased morale.

The main goal of the democratic leadership style is to build commitment and generate new ideas. Democratic leaders value employees' input and trust that team members can choose an appropriate direction themselves, which is why they are allowing for other people to participate in the development of decisions and goals instead of doing it just by themselves. A very important trait for a democratic leader is having good emotional intelligence abilities. Their main strength needs to be the ability to listen, among other necessary abilities that allow them to foster teamwork and collaboration. That is why this style should be used when the team is competent enough because otherwise, productivity will most likely drop. Other than avoiding it when the employees are not competent enough, it is also a bad idea to use it during a crisis, when there is no time to hold a meeting and discuss the whole decision-making process.

Advantage and disadvantages of democratic leadership styles

3. Laissez-faire or Delegative Leadership Style

Laissez-faire leadership, also known as delagative leadership, is a leadership style in which the leader is hands-off and allows group members to make decisions. Delegative leader is on the complete opposite side of the spectrum from the autocratic leader. Having proper supervision is rare and while, to the team, it may appear as trust, a balance must exist to ensure the organisation remains on the right path to completion of its goals. Researchers have found that this is generally the leadership style that leads to the lowest productivity.

This type of leader does not have clear goals and does not help the group make decisions, which puts too much burden on the team. Because of that, laissez-faire leadership is mostly suited for organisations where employees have a good understanding of their roles, a high degree of trust and do not blame each other for mistakes.

Advantage and disadvantages of Laissez-faire or Delegative leadership styles

4. Bureaucratic Leadership Style

The leadership styles like the bureaucratic leadership is for businesses that need consistency. The employees are following specific rules and lines of authority that superiors created. But the leaders are also functioning according to regulations made by higher authorities in the organisation. That means that this leadership approach creates a line of command with each leader having their own jurisdiction.

The bureaucratic leadership style is focused on the administrative needs of the organisation and it heavily relies on consistency and adherence to the rigid rules and regulations to get whatever results they seek. The bureaucratic leadership has several drawbacks caused by its inflexibility and difficulty to adjust to change. Its system is not efficient enough and an increase in productivity can be a challenge. This leadership limits the creativity and productivity of the employees and strict regulations used to create consistency in order to reach set goals are, in fact, having an opposite effect. By sticking to the status quo, great opportunities for business growth can be overlooked.

Advantage and disadvantages of bureaucratic leadership styles

5. Visionary Leadership Style

This type of leadership style is focused on providing long-term direction and leading people closer to their vision. The key to true visionary leadership is by seeking other people's perspectives as well, and not just focusing on the one project managers think of and tell others to work towards. This style is best known for "selling the vision" - visionary leaders persuade others by explaining long-term goals and that sets the standard according to which performance is monitored.

types of leaders

The advantages of using this approach to leadership are seen the most when there is a need for communication of goal or when the direction of a task or project needs to be reinforced. But if used when the leader does not develop the team or when the leader is not credible, this style might have much more disadvantages than it will advantages.

Advantage and disadvantages of visionary leadership styles

6. Affiliative Leadership Style 

The affiliative leadership style is focused on creating harmony by creating connections between people. Out of all the leadership styles, this one is the most up close and personal. A leader using this approach are paying attention to their team and supporting their emotional needs.

The advantages of using this approach are particularly useful during conflict resolutions. This style is promoting positive interactions and collaborative relationships within the team, hence why it is so helpful in smoothing conflicts among team members or reassuring people during times of stress. This style is also useful for improving communication, motivation and strengthening connections. On the other side, because there is so much emphasis on peoples feelings and addressing their personal needs, affiliative leaders put less emphasis on accomplishing tasks and goals.

merits and demerits of Affiliative type leaders

7. Pacesetting Leadership Style

The main goal of this leadership style is focused on accomplishing tasks to a high standard of excellence. The pacesetting leadership style requires leading by example. These leaders have high standards and if the employee is still experiencing difficulties, even with their detailed instructions, they will rescue the situation themselves. So, unlike participative, this style takes the responsibility away from team members.

Another difference it has with participative style is regarding critique. While participative does not utilise negative feedback, this style quickly pinpoints all poor performances. But in the wrong setting, this approach can influence job satisfaction in a negative way by leaving team members feeling pushed too hard by strict demands for their roles and responsibilities. Often this type of leader does things properly and fast and expects everyone to do the same. Besides that, there are many instances where pacesetters are just not clear enough about the guidelines. When team members are feeling lost due to the instructions not being clear enough and in need of direction is time to avoid using this style. The best time to use it would be when the team is highly motivated and competent.

Advantage and disadvantages of pacesetting leadership styles

8.  Coaching Leadership Style

Coaching is a relatively newer leadership style. This kind of leader encourages collaboration and, unlike autocratic leadership where there is hierarchical control and everyone is beneath the leader, coach leadership promotes partnership and drive towards employee's constant professional improvement. This style is about connecting employees' personal goals with the organisation's by helping them identify their unique strengths and weaknesses and encouraging them to establish development goals. This style provides constant feedback and prioritises long-term development over immediate standards of performance.

The advantages of using this style are best seen when team members are able to acknowledge and accept the feedback and are then motivated to take action needed to make them better. Coaching works best with who show initiative and want more professional development. Times when coaching should be avoided are when the project manager lacks experience or when a team member needs too much developing, taking up all of the leader's time. It should also be avoided in crisis mode.

upside and downside of coaching type leaders

9. Transactional Leadership Style

Transactional leadership is based more on “exchanges” between the leader and employee, in which employees are rewarded for meeting specific goals or performance criteria. It is more practical than transformational because of its focus on extrinsic motivation. The leader uses rewards and positive reinforcement but they can be strict with their criteria. Transactional leaders often want employees to maintain a status quo of actions that have previously proven successful. Since employees are monitored on the basis of predetermined criteria, they are not necessarily expected to think innovatively. Because of its emphasis on meeting specific targets or objectives, the advantages of this leadership are best seen in situations where teams are working under strict time constraints to deliver a project or even in situations where financial resources are limited.

Advantage and disadvantages of transactional leadership styles

10. Transformational Leadership Style

Transformational leadership is similar to charismatic or visionary leadership and those that use this style inspire and motivate in ways that go beyond just exchanges of good work for rewards. The transformational leader is focused on positively motivating the employees - they foster a workplace that promotes creativity and empowers them to make their own decisions. They emphasise both personal and professional growth and help employees see their work as part of something special - as a part of the big picture. This leads to team members being enthusiastic and innovative and because they are highly committed very close employee supervision is not required in transformational leadership.

Now, because these leadership styles often have similarities between the strategies it is very easy to confuse them. For example, transformational leadership is very similar to visionary, but the difference is visionary leadership strives to optimise the outcomes while transformational leaders focus on helping every member of the team succeed in achieving the vision. Never the less, both leadership styles are focused on future visions. Same comparison could be made for visionary and authoritarian leadership. That is why all different leadership styles can be seen as branches of three main ones - autocratic leadership, democratic and delegative leadership.

To make these ten most common leadership styles easy to distinguish from one another, the Institute provides you with this tabular view of the main characteristics of each one.

Upside and downside of transformational type leaders

How to Find Your Leadership Style

Discovering a leadership style that resonates with your authentic self can elevate your effectiveness as a leader and inspire your team to follow your lead. As you embark on this journey of self-discovery, consider these essential steps:  

  1. Define Your Vision: Start by clarifying your goals and aspirations as a leader. Having a clear vision not only helps you articulate your ideas but also enables you to effectively communicate them to your team. Your vision will serve as the guiding light, leading the way through challenges and triumphs, fostering a sense of purpose and direction for you and your team.
  2. Embrace Experimentation: The path to finding your leadership style is dynamic. Embrace experimentation, and don't shy away from trying different approaches. Just as a sculptor moulds a masterpiece with every stroke, each leadership approach you test will provide valuable insights. Observe how your team responds to each method, identify what resonates with them, and adapt your approach. Remember, leadership is not a rigid template but an ever-evolving canvas of possibilities.  
  3. Lead with Authenticity: Leadership is not about striving for perfection but embracing your true self. Tap into your passion and purpose, allowing them to guide your actions and decisions. When you lead authentically, your team will recognise your genuine commitment, fostering trust and loyalty. Embrace vulnerability and acknowledge that learning and growth are continual processes. Your willingness to learn from successes and setbacks will create an open and supportive culture within your team.  
  4. Seek Feedback: An essential compass in discovering your leadership style is seeking feedback. Create an environment where team members feel comfortable providing open and honest input. Welcome constructive criticism, as it can shed light on blind spots and opportunities for growth. Your team's perspective can be a valuable mirror, reflecting your leadership impact and allowing you to refine your approach further.  

Discovering your leadership style is a transformative expedition where introspection, experimentation, authenticity, and feedback converge. Embrace the journey, for it is not merely about finding a style but unlocking your full potential as a leader.