As a leader, it is essential to keep on adapting and changing the way we guide our team to help the company grow — that includes adapting our leadership styles.
A leadership style refers to a leader’s approach and behaviors when it comes to directing, motivating, and managing their people. Your leadership style determines how you strategize and implement plans, how you’re accountable to the expectations of stakeholders, and the well-being of your team members.
Every leader has their own leadership styles, and may sometimes utilize different approaches in specific situations. By familiarizing yourself with various styles, you’ll be able to recognize areas of improvement, gain a better understanding of how you impact the people under your direct influence, and how effective your leadership is.
Understanding your leadership style might help you decide which style would be best for certain situations or employees, and adopt the style’s characteristics to help you become a better leader for your team and your organization.
7 Leadership Styles Your Need To Know About
1. Autocratic leadership style
An autocratic or authoritarian type of leader is mainly focused on results and efficiency. They prefer to make decisions by themselves or with a select group of people, and employees are expected to adhere to the decision that has been made by the leader without question.
This type of leadership can be useful in compliance-heavy industry where following strict guidelines are needed. Or it can also be needed in a company where the employees have little to no experience, thus, needing more supervision.
It could also be in a situation where the team needs to look up to and rely on the leader during a time of crisis, like when COVID happened. However, due to the authoritarian nature of this leadership style, creativity might be limited and employees might feel confined.
|– Useful for enforcing rules
– Efficient and quick decision-making process
– Easier to monitor
– Less effort and time needed
– Clear & direct communication
– Reduce employee’s stress by making decisions for them
|– Stifles creativity and growth
– Employees might feel confined
– Does not involve or empower employees
– Might lead to high turnover rate
– Employees are not involved in the decision making process
– Leaders are prone to a high level of stress
– Lack flexibility
– Innovation might be difficult
– Leaders might be resented by the team because they rarely listen
The autocratic leadership style might be suitable if you:
- Are a good decision-maker
- Are self-confident
- Value efficiency
- Communicate clearly and consistently
- Consistently follow & enforce rules
- Value highly structured environments
- Believe in supervised work environments
2. Laissez-faire leadership style
A laissez-faire leader provides little to no supervision to their employees when delegating tasks. Without the need to constantly supervise their team, this more hands-off leader can focus their attention on other parts of the business or other projects.
This type of leadership style can be adopted when the employees are experienced and highly skilled, so they might not need constant supervision. It might be appropriate when leaders can fully trust their employees to be accountable for their own responsibilities.This can be a way to empower employees to take ownership of their work and gain more authority.
However, if the leader cannot provide a clear direction, boundaries, and motivation, team members can be confused, and it can cause a dip in productivity if left unchecked.
|– Autonomous work environment
– Encourages employee accountability
– Promotes creativity
– Relaxed work environment
– Empowers employees
– More ownership over work
– Higher retention rates
– Provides more time for the leader to focus on growing the company
– Foster leadership qualities in your team
|– If left unchecked, deadlines might be missed
– Quality control might be hard
– Doesn’t work for new employees
– Might lead to confusion and lack of direction
– Employees might not feel fully supported
The laissez-faire leadership style might be suitable if you:
- Can effectively delegate tasks
- Can clearly set boundaries and expectations
- Want more time to focus on other areas of your business (instead of spending too much time overseeing internal operations)
- Have experienced, skilled, and responsible employees
- Can provide sufficient resources and tools
- Are willing to take control if needed
- Can offer constructive criticism
- Want an autonomous work environment
3. Democratic leadership style
A leader with a democratic style of leadership combines both the approach from autocratic and laissez-faire leadership styles. They ask for input and feedback from their team members before making decisions, promoting discussion and participation among team members.
By ensuring that employees have an equal say in decision-making, employees who are working with a democratic leader will feel their voices are heard and their contributions are valued by the management.
As a result, it heightens employee engagement and workplace satisfaction, along with the productivity of the team as a whole. Additionally, it also inspires creativity and innovation, which makes this type of leadership perfect for start-ups or companies in the technology or creative industries.
|– Employees feel empowered
– Team camaraderie
– Healthy discussion and collaboration
– Promotes open communication
– Improves employee retention and morale
– Clear direction
– Employees are kept in the loop
– More ownership over work
– Can gain more insights or fresh ideas from employees
|– Less efficient
– Not everyone will want to contribute to the discussion
– Decision-making process will take a long time
– Not suitable for tight deadlines
– There has to be a mediator
– If their idea was not chosen, the employee might feel disappointed
The democratic leadership style might be suitable if you:
- Value group discussions
- Like to involve your team in decision making
- Promote a work environment where everyone shares their ideas
- Are good at mediation
- Have the time to facilitate discussions
- Are looking to improve employee engagement
4. Transactional leadership style
The transactional leadership style is mainly focused on performance. The leader will reward employees for the good work they do with incentive programs and might discipline them for their failures. This type of leadership is suitable for companies that need to keep hitting specific goals like sales, but it might not be the best option for driving creativity.
Transactional leadership establishes clear roles and responsibilities for each employee, however, it can also encourage employees to do the bare minimum if they know how much their effort is worth all the time. So, it might be smart of transactional leaders to provide unscheduled gestures of appreciation for their employees to keep them motivated.
|– Clear goals & expectations
– Clear structure
– Employees are motivated to achieve goals
– Good for hitting targets
|– Too focused on short-term goals
– Stifles creativity
– Too reliant on incentives
– Does not inspire a sense of belonging and loyalty
– If the incentive is no longer attractive, employees might just leave
– High-level of stress when targets are not achieved
The transactional leadership style might be suitable if you:
- Value structure
- Are practical and pragmatic
- Focus on hitting goals
- Don’t need your employees to be creative
- Have the money to provide for incentives
5. Transformational leadership style
A transformational leader focuses on constantly improving upon the company’s objectives, processes, and the way they work. Although every employee will have a basic set of tasks, the leader will constantly push the employees outside of their comfort zone by picking up the pace of deadlines or giving more challenging goals or tasks.
This leadership style is suitable for growth-minded companies that want to motivate their employees to improve their knowledge and performance. However, this type of leadership should be accompanied by the right coaching, so that the employees won’t feel overwhelmed with the new responsibilities they receive.
|– Inspires growth and improvement
– Cultivates learning culture
– Pushes employees to get out of their comfort zone
– Inspires innovation and creativity
– Provides authority and responsibility for employees
– Constant supervision is not needed
– Boost morale and retention
|– Employees might feel overwhelmed
– Leaders need to make the time and effort to coach employees through new responsibilities
– Not all employees are comfortable with being constantly pushed, and different responsibilities
– Might cause confusion if changes are not communicated properly
– High-level of stress
The transformational leadership style might be suitable if you:
- Value continuous learning and improvement
- Like inspiring others to achieve their goals
- Enjoy intellectually challenging your team
- Have a good understanding of organizational needs
- Can provide the right tools and guidance
- Want to work with high-achievers
6. Servant leadership style
A servant leader focuses a lot of their time and energy to ensure that their team members feel professionally and personally fulfilled. By doing so, employees will be more effective, productive and leaders will gain more trust as they put employee satisfaction and wellbeing first.
This leadership style can be applied to any kind of organization from any industry, but it is especially prevalent within nonprofit organizations. This type of leader excels in building employee morale, motivating the team, and bringing everyone together. However, certain boundaries need to be set to ensure that goals can be achieved and deadlines are met.
|– Employee wellbeing is taken care of
– Promotes productivity & collaboration
– Positive work culture
– Psychologically safe work environment
– Boosts employee morale and satisfaction
– Higher retention rates
– Cultivate trust
– Create future leaders
|– Takes a lot of time & effort
– Leaders can be burnt out
– Deadlines might not be met
– Leaders might have a hard time enforcing rules
– Certain employees might take advantage
The coaching leadership style might be suitable if you:
- Enjoy motivating your team
- Have excellent communication skills
- Deeply care about your team’s wellbeing
- Have a lot of time in your hands
- Encourage collaboration and engagement
- Commit to growing your team professionally & personally
7. Coaching leadership style
Similar to a sport’s coach, a coaching leader is someone who can identify their team members’ strengths and weaknesses, and utilize it to help them improve.
To inspire the team to pursue continuous improvement, a coaching leader often assists team members in goal-setting, provides constructive feedback, provides new tasks to try, and encourages the individuals to find solutions with the help of guiding questions. They might also encourage team members to expand their knowledge and skills by learning from their peers.
This leadership style is one of the most advantageous styles for both the employers as well as the employees. Because, rather than forcing everyone to master similar skills, this leader will build a team where each employee has a different area of expertise or skillset — allowing everyone to complement each other.
Unfortunately, it’s often also one of the most underused styles—largely because it can be more time-intensive than other types of leadership.
|– Encourage the team to pursue constant improvement
– Develop a learning mindset
– Promote free-thinking
– Develop new skills
– Fosters open and transparent culture
– Regular feedback
– Seen as valuable mentors
– Promotes employee empowerment
– A lot of effort
– Might be hard to conduct in an environment with tight deadlines
– Progress can be slow
The coaching leadership style might be suitable if you:
- Are willing to put in the time & effort to provide regular coaching sessions for your team members
- Tend to offer guidance instead of commands
- Value learning as a way of growing
- Often ask guided questions
- Can balance knowledge sharing and allowing individuals to find their own solutions
- Constantly ask for and provide feedback
Related read: Great Leaders Occupy These 15 Leadership Roles
How to choose the most effective leadership style for your team
Understanding different leadership styles can help you decide which style is best for certain people or situations — because leadership styles should be adaptable to the needs of your team and organization.
After understanding the different characteristics of each leadership style, now it is time to learn which style(s) suits your team and your organization. Below are a few questions that you can ask yourself to help you determine the most suitable leadership style.
- Which one do I want to prioritize — goals or relationships?
- Do I focus more on short or long-term goals?
- Do I believe in structure or the freedom of choice and flexibility?
- How do I want to make decisions? Is it on my own or collectively? Who should be involved?
- What does a healthy team dynamic look like to me?
Aside from asking those questions, you can also consider these strategies:
By experimenting with different leadership styles, you can identify which approach works better in certain situations or for certain people and adapt your style accordingly.
2. Seek a Mentor
If you’d like to gain more insights into how some leaders develop their leadership style and what worked for them, you can try seeking out a mentor. Their expertise and experience might help you decide which leadership style is right for you.
3. Ask For Feedback
In order to become a successful leader, you have to be willing to listen and seek out feedback (or feedforward) from your stakeholders. By understanding what they think and feel about your leadership, you can change and improve your leadership style accordingly.
4. Be authentic
But most importantly, be sure that your leadership style is suitable to your personality and moral values, or else, it can come across as inauthentic. It is also smart to choose a leadership style that is aligned with your strengths and work to improve it.