Are you using the best leadership style available for you and your team? Learn the most common leadership styles, along with examples, pros, cons, and a phrase each leader would likely say. Plus, discover how to find your own leadership style to be most effective going forward.
It’s easy to think that some leadership styles are good, and some are bad. In reality, each leadership style has its place. From an autocratic style, to a hands-off approach, and everything in between, each style can be used effectively to meet the demands of the situation.
A great leader has the ability to motivate, provide direction and purpose, and leverage the best efforts of the team they are leading. They inspire others through how they conduct themselves, they earn the respect of their peers, and they constantly learn, apply, and sharpen their arsenal of leadership skills.
There is a lot of variety when it comes to leadership styles. Many articles cover some leadership styles, while others miss a few and include others. There is much conflicting information out there online!
That’s why I decided to compile this ultimate list of leadership styles and put it into this online resource that you can come back to time and time again.
In this article, you’ll learn: why leadership styles are so important, you’ll get to know the list of the 16 most common leadership styles available, including pros, cons, examples, a memorable phrases for each, and you’ll also discover a technique to help you find your own leadership style.
Let’s get into it.
Having the awareness of each leadership style provides you with the mental capability to implement each style when and where necessary.
When you understand these different types of leadership styles you have more influence at your disposal. You can become more effective as a result, choosing the appropriate style to use in the moment. Additionally, you can understand which style others around you use, and in doing so, be able to work with them more harmoniously.
Most leaders develop their own style through sheer experience alone. While this non-purposeful leadership development can be effective to the situation they have developed within, it is not as efficient as purposefully learning the leadership skills that would skyrocket a leader’s full potential.
Everyone has the ability to become a leader. It is a learned and practised skill. It is not reserved only for the chosen few, but the few that choose.
Before you go on, take a few seconds to finish this sentence:
“A great leader is …”
Did you do it?
If you didn’t, do it now. It’s crucial to see what style of leadership you have been applying in your life currently.
Then after you’ve learned more about the different types of leadership styles and the characteristics of being a good leader, I’ll ask you to finish the same sentence again.
Comparing these two sentences together will show you your growth in your understanding of leadership knowledge, and will hopefully transform your leadership ability, making you a highly effective, all-round better leader.
The 16 most common leadership styles are:
Below is an explanation, examples, pros, cons, and a memorable phrase for each leadership style:
An affiliative leader is one who puts people first. These leaders prioritise working harmoniously and actively help to resolve conflict within teams.
They are motivated by helping people feel connected to one another. They care, praise, and are nurturing towards team members. These leaders are concerned with the well-being of each individual they lead.
People respond favourably to this style of leadership as it builds morale and brings the team closer together.
Replacing an overly-critical leader – When morale is low due to a previous leader belittling behaviour towards people.
Sports – To create friendships and deep understanding of teammates strengths and how to best use their skills to win.
Event organising – Ensures everyone is well catered for and they feel ‘part of the team’.
High morale, happiness, and job satisfaction
Team members feel they can trust and confide in leaders
Allows team members more freedom to work to their strengths
Lack of clear decisive direction in stressful situations
Creates a decrease in performance and complacency
Causes dependency on the particular leader to resolve emotional issues
“People come first”
Authoritative leaders, also known as visionary leaders, are experts in their field. They are able to clearly communicate a vision, set out the path, and mobilise people in going for the vision.
The authoritative type of leader is most effective when a new vision is needed. They lead people but give them the freedom to choose their own means of getting there. This is key in inspiring and energising their team.
They have a ‘come with me’ style, rather than demanding and condescending approach. This leader is open to suggestions from the team and is a well-rounded style of leadership. Their direction, authenticity, honesty and praise are highly valued by their team.
Struggling or changing businesses – Using the leader’s expertise to help climb ‘out of the hole’, back into profitable situation, or to adapt and redirect a business in line with new market trends.
Revolutionary change – Empowering social rights movements. Additionally, with new never before experienced futures, i.e. sending a man to the moon, or more recently, to Mars.
Provide clear vision and direction
Energises team with a vision to work freely towards
Can induce resentment with long standing team members who don’t agree with the new vision
If the mission fails, the eader is 100% responsible
“Come with me”
Autocratic leadership is also known as authoritarian leadership. It is characterised by having an individual or a very small group of people who ‘call all the shots’.
Here the leaders make all of the decisions, from the general direction of a plan, to exactly how each task should be carried out. Members of the group are given no free-reign or decision-making capabilities. The tasks involved tend to be very strict and methodical. No rules can be broken, as doing so could cause errors.
This dictator-like style can be perceived as overbearing but just like all the other leadership styles, it has its place.
Military/War – When quick decisive action is needed to eliminate threats, accomplish the mission, or ensure the safety of the team.
Surgery – Head surgeon requires full cooperation and compliance from surgical team to achieve with a successful operation.
Life-threatening situation – To command people with clear instructions to ensure their survival.
Leads to quick decision making
Adhering to the rules increases safety for the team
With less to be concerned with the team can execute on tasks quickly with full focus
Can demoralise the team, causing resentment and low morale
Possibly useful input from the group can be missed
“Do as I say”
Bureaucratic leadership is characterised by stiff rules, heavily process-based, and a clear division of responsibility. It is visualised with a pyramid-based hierarchy.
This style often works best in government and public organisations which are heavily regulated. Each person in the organisation has a specific role. Usually it used for controlling a large number of people that can follow rules accurately.
It can be very efficient in organisations that don’t require much creativity or innovation and is geared more for administrative purposes.
Government/local council - Has many steps to complete a task and very strict order and rules.
Department for motor vehicles – Detailed accurate trackable information
Financial, bookkeeping, reports – Data heavy industries
Legal Contracts – Strict rules and processes to follow
Suited to large organisations with highly repeatable tasks
Extremely productive and very efficient
Stifled environment where creativity is limited
Slow and difficult to change
Doesn’t empower subordinates
“This is how things will be done”
A charismatic leader is very skilled in communication. They are insightful, articulate, and communicate to their teams on a deep, emotional level. They inspire and motivate their followers to accomplish their vision.
Charismatic leaders are perceived as the ‘hero’. This leadership style relies on them being the driving force behind a mission or movement.
Politicians – When rallying the nation to comply, act, or change.
Musicians – The face of the brand.
Social Media Influencers – Authentic, trustworthy, transparent representation of their lifestyle or careers.
Creates commitment to a mission
Inspires people to work together
Boosts morale and productivity
Supports a learning environment
Leader may become arrogant, entitled, and narrow minded.
Relies heavily on the charisma of the leader
If unchecked, can lead to taking unnecessary risks in line with the leader’s sense of righteousness
“I will lead us to the promise land”
The coaching leadership style creates an environment where the leader and the team can work closely with one another with the end goal of getting the best out of the team.
This is done with back and forth feedback, questions, and bursts of motivating interactions. Teaching their team how to be independent is the goal of the coaching style of leadership. During the coaching period, team members feel supported and are able to experiment freely.
Sales – Provide feedback, sharpen skills, set motivating targets for next meeting
Teaching careers – Where independent learning and growth is required
Creates a positive, nurturing ‘safe’ environment to work in
Learns valuable skills in a short period direct from the best source
Requires team to be initially motivated to learn, otherwise will be wasted effort
Up-front investment from leader for results later down the line
Can undermine a person’s confidence if it is perceived as micromanaging
“How about trying this…”
The democratic leadership style emphasises collaboration. The leaders purposely request input from their teams. They rely on their people to provide creativity and resolve to find solutions.
The leader makes the final decision, with all the information that has been collated from their teams. This leadership style promotes trust, openness, and cooperation. It allows room for creativity and allows people to grow and develop.
Politics – Polls, elections, and votes for deciding the nations direction
Company board meetings – Each member inputs suggestions to how best the company should move forward
Group work – Teams coming together with their best ideas to implement for a specific project
Team feels they ‘have a say’
Creates high job satisfaction and productivity
Poor decisions made by unskilled or unknowledgeable groups
Majority wins, leaving minority feeling resentful
Decisions are slow to take effect
“We’ll vote on it”
Laissez-Faire leadership is the one that provides the least guidance from the leaders. The team are given total responsibility and freedom to make decisions, how to work, and how to set deadlines.
Leaders will provide support where asked or needed, however team members are expected to solve their own problems. The leader takes credibility for the team’s efforts. This can be an effective leadership style if the team members are highly skilled and motivated.
Technology/Design – Leader sets goal, leaving the highly skilled team members to develop, test, and create the product.
Creative/Music – Artists are left to create the product, while the leader focuses on the marketing and strategy to make the whole business succeed.
Works well with highly skilled and motivated teams
High level of job satisfaction and morale
Empowers team to learn, apply, make mistakes, and take responsibility for their work
For motivated people it encourages creativity and personal development
Can result in poor results
Confusion over who is responsible for which tasks in the team
Unmotivated team members can go unchecked, leading to inefficiency of resources
Leader may lack leadership ability and so uses this leadership style to avoid responsibility
“Do what you think is best”
Narcissistic leadership revolves heavily around the leader themselves at the expense of the people they lead. They can be seen to be arrogant, dominant and hostile to others.
Generally, they are motivated by their need for power and admiration, having little empathy towards their team. Their empowering beliefs in themselves and their abilities allows them to dream big, along with having the charisma needed to be effective in leading.
Chaotic high-pressure environments – Clear, decisive actions are taken where the leader can be recognised as the one who resolved the issue.
Sales – Persuasion and imagination can be used to lead people to buy.
Holds great vision
Can lead large numbers of followers
Sensitive to criticism
Rejects input from others
Doesn’t work well with mentoring others
Their motivation is to be admired for selfish reasons, rather than to help for the greater good
“They will remember my name”
The pacesetting leadership style is designed for high performance. The leader ‘sets the pace’ demonstrating how things should be done and insists everyone does the same.
This style is very results driven and helps teams to get things done better and faster. It is a style best used in short bursts, rather than on a consistent long-term basis.
Deadlines – In the run up to events, product launches, time-sensitive occasions.
Emergencies – To work together to minimise fatalities, injuries, or harm.
News/Reporting/Journalism – To be the first to report an event.
Effectively produces results
Ideal for time-sensitive projects
Efficient use of time, focusing on results-based activities
Can create a stressful environment for team members
Can lower morale if gone on too long, causing burnout
No time given to work with or develop people
“This is how we do it, keep going, push harder, we can do this!”
The paternalistic leadership style involves a dominant authority figure who uses their authority and power to control and protect their team, who in return, are expected to be loyal, trusting, and obedient.
This leader thinks more about the bigger picture and how their decisions will affect ‘the family.’ They value education and communication and happily assist their team in their personal and professional growth. Paternalistic leaders are compassionate, decisive, are well-organised, empower their teams, and are generally influential.
Employees for life – Some companies go to great lengths to avoid layoffs when despite some departments of the business not performing well
Management – Develops and nurtures team members, instead of seeing them as someone who can later replace them, turning them into valuable and loyal allies
Focused on their team’s well-being
Their team feels they are part of the family, increasing morale and loyalty
People feel their voice can be heard
Can create dependency on the leader
If no checks are in place, the leader can fall into complacency
Team members may become content and not work as hard as they could
Some team members may feel this leadership style as condescending, especially in Western culture
“This is best for you, because…”
The servant leader’s priority is to serve their team, differing from traditional leadership which is centred around the success of the business. A servant leader empowers their team, putting their needs first, and commits to developing their team to perform as efficiently as possible.
The servant leadership style creates synergy between different departments, while the leader’s time and resources are given freely to help the team’s goals.
Healthcare – Medical practitioners give their compassion, time, and resources to help those with health conditions.
Charities – Time, money, affection, and patience are given to those in need.
Religious/Spiritual – Active listening, empathy and healing to those who follow their leadership.
Decisions benefit the group as a whole
Leaders lead with empathy for their team
The team are the stars, leading to high team morale
Can take a long time to make decisions
Can cause motivation to slip as leader will pick up the slack
The mission can suffer while the team are being catered for
“How can I be of assistance?”
The situational leadership style is best described as "adaptive". The leader must adapt their leadership style to fit accordingly to the audience they plan to influence.
The fundamental principle of this leadership style is that there is no "best" style to use. Each leadership style has its place and can be used accordingly to meet the demands of the "situation" at hand.
Situational leadership depends on the people, the task, the goal, or vision that is being worked towards.
Teaching – From delivering a lecture, to private tutoring, to responding to questions, to providing encouragement, and everything in between.
Sports – “You have to know which players to pat on the back and which players to kick up the butt!” - Unknown
Flexibility in how the leader chooses to react
An easy to implement, ‘human’, intuitive, responsive leadership style
Creates a pleasant environment for the team members
Increases the awareness of the leader
Focuses on more short-term rather than long-term needs
Can create confusion within the team when switching approach, leading to people feeling manipulated
Doesn’t take into account different cultures
“Given the circumstances, I will come at it this way…”
The strategic leadership style is used to prepare for future circumstances. It requires a lot of planning and specialised industry knowledge to be able to be effectively carried out. A strategic leader plans ahead to ensure the survival and thriving of the team or organisation they belong to.
The job can be very difficult due to the number of elements involved, but if done successfully, it can give the team a vision and purpose to aim for to get through challenging situations or be better aligned to take advantage of changes affecting their field.
Heavily regulated industries – Must think ahead to be compliant with new regulations set by the governing industry
Sports – Analysis of competitions past performances, with detailed plans and training to succeed in the coming league
Politics – How to implement policies after an election win.
Creates clear actionable steps that the team can immediately implement
Builds commitment and unity within team
Promotes objective thinking
If the wrong plan of action is chosen, the organisation can be drastically set back or even unrecoverable
Short-term productivity can suffer for long-term gains
Can take a long time to see returns
Difficult to change once plan is set due to the amount of information needed to make confident decisions
“Going forward we will do this…”
With the transactional leadership style, team members are incentivised to work for monetary and other forms of rewards. This style of leadership typically produces the desired results.
Just as the leadership rewards results, they can also punish non-productivity. With transactional leadership, roles are clearly defined and can work well if the incentives motivate the team members well.
Sales – Sell ‘X’ amount of product, get rewarded with ‘X’ amount of commission
Sports – Train and work together to win to gain glory, fame, and endorsement deals
Business – If the team pull together to meet this quarters goals, bonus cheques will be distributed
Roles are clearly defined
Helps to track success
Motivates team members and they are rewarded for their efforts
Can produce great results over short-term
Team members who are not motivated by the reward on offer will not be properly incentivised
Doesn’t work well with long-term
Can cause job dissatisfaction and high staff turnover
“If you help to get me X, I will give you Y”
As the name suggests, the transformational leadership style is useful when change is needed. It relies heavily on the leader’s ability to influence and communicate their vision to their team.
Transformational leaders inspire and motivate their team and create the framework that will support the future circumstances the team will be required to work in. This style of leadership promotes independence from the team and allows for much creativity. It builds trust with the team members and encourages mentoring, growth, and development.
Technology – Creating innovating new markets, changing how humans interact
Political – Setting up the infrastructure to apply new policies after a party is elected
Business – When a business needs to adapt to market or regulation changes
Provides a clear vision to work towards
Good for short-term and long-term goals
The leader supports team members through the transforming period
Great environment for collaboration and developing new leaders
Team members must buy in, as without enthusiasm results will suffer
Relies on the leader’s vision, which may not always be realistic
Focuses on change, which can be hard to predict and deliver on
“Due to changes, this is what needs to happen and I need your help to get there”
At the beginning of the article I asked you to finish this sentence:
“A great leader is…”
Now that you’ve increased your awareness of all the leadership styles available to choose from, take a moment to finish this sentence again, then compare how your two sentences differ.
Next, answer this question:
“Which style most depicts your personal leadership style?”
Use these simple techniques to discover more about how you view leadership and use this article as a reference each time you wish to refresh your knowledge on leadership styles.
While it’s helpful to understand more about each different leadership style, simply deciding on only one is difficult and also impractical. In reality, leadership is a fluid, dynamic quality.
Each leadership style has its advantages and disadvantages. Some will not be suited for some scenarios, and some will be perfectly suited. Those who stick to one leadership style in every situation can lack the ‘human’ quality that leaders need to be effective in their ability to influence their people.
Now that you have increased your awareness of the variety of leadership styles available, use them accordingly to help you effectively influence yourself and others.