Leadership styles are not something that you can easily define and put into a framework.
Some people are born leaders, it just comes naturally to them to guide and inspire the crowd in a unique way. Others need to work hard and measure their every word and action to retain the attention and loyalty of their followers.
Furthermore, even if you have your own leadership style and preferences, how you handle situations depends on many factors, such as the circumstances, the people involved, the timing, and even your mood.
On top of that, different business environments and work cultures call for a different approach. For example, the head supervisor of a power plant can’t act the same as one of a fashion magazine.
The type of responsibility, the state of the business, the competence of the team, and the workplace hierarchy and structure – these are all primary factors that should be taken into account.
That being said, all in all, there are 10 leadership styles that can be grouped into three general categories – Strict, Liberal, and Inspirational.
In this article, we highlight the pros and cons of each type, suggest when to use them, and provide actionable tips on how to choose your own.
Strict Leadership Styles
First, let’s have a look at the strict leadership types: authoritarian, bureaucratic, and pacesetter.
Authoritarian (also known as autocratic) leaders need hands-on control over the whole business process. They have a clear idea of how things need to be done and closely follow what everyone on their team is doing, how they are doing it, and to what success.
In an authoritarian working environment, there is a strict hierarchy of decision-making where the leader is always on top and has the final word on every minor or major point of interest.
- A consistent approach to the business process.
- A clear path of development and strict strategizing.
- Allows for decisive action and quick reactions.
- Lower-level team members are free from the stress of decision-making.
- Not suitable for most teams.
- Team members can’t input creative ideas.
- The leader may come out as too controlling.
When to use it:
While this leadership style may feel a bit outdated and over the line nowadays, it does have its practical applications. It is especially valued in industries where quick and hard decisions need to be made, and where the risk and responsibility are above the average.
Furthermore, a less severe version of it can be applied in businesses where the team is inexperienced and/or consists of low-level executives that need straightforward guidance.
In the bureaucratic leadership style, there’s a clear set of rules and regulations that everyone needs to comply with.
In a way, this approach is similar to the autocratic one, because they both require an obedient team that follows a strict leader. However, while in the autocratic environment the leader is free to make decisions on the go, follow their own code of conduct and ethics, and change their mind, in the bureaucratic one, the rules apply with equal force to everyone.
Furthermore, part of the job of the bureaucratic leader is to make the regulations clear and understandable to everyone and to oversee that they are being followed.
- The rules, processes, and regulations are transparent and clearly documented.
- Everyone knows what is expected of them.
- Decision-making is objective and justified.
- There’s little room for creativity, change, and innovation.
- The team and leader are bound by the rules, and can’t be flexible in their work.
- When changes happen, they are difficult to implement.
When to use it:
This type of leadership is welcomed in administrative environments where a clear, unified, and comprehensive structure and rules are required.
It can also be beneficial in high-risk industries where even minor mistakes can cause a high impact, and potentially damage the business and/or its clients.
In the pacesetter style, the leader encourages productivity and fast results, by setting an example and working alongside the team. The goal is to push everyone to perform at a high level, progress quickly with their tasks, and complete projects on time.
For this type of leadership to deliver actual results, it needs to be fortified with realistic deadlines that are in line with the team’s skills and capabilities. Furthermore, the leader needs to be able to motivate people to follow in their steps and inspire them to go on.
- One of the best methods to obtain quick results.
- Boosts productivity.
- Mobilizes the potential of the team.
- Increases the risk of stress and burnout.
- The leader can be seen as pushy and autocratic.
- No time for feedback, improvement, or creativity.
When to use it:
Pacesetter leadership is a great fit for fast-moving companies that need quick results so they can stay ahead of the competition. This makes it very popular in the tech industry.
Liberal Leadership Styles
Following in line are the styles that are somewhat the opposite of the stricter methods – the liberal leadership styles: democratic, delegative, and collaborative.
In a democratic leadership style, the leader actively seeks out the input of team members. Decisions are made together as a group and everyone involved can share their opinion and defend it.
The democratic leader encourages their team to be proactive, involved, and passionate about every part of the business and shows them that they can make a difference.
However, depending on the leader’s preferences, they can still have the right to have the final word in discussions and retain the responsibility of decision-making.
- Leaders can rely on the knowledge and experience of their team.
- People can express their opinions and feel valued and respected.
- Promotes creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, and innovation.
- Decision-making takes longer.
- It can be difficult to reach a consensus.
- Can’t be done without a team of skilled professionals or mediators.
When to use it:
This type of leadership is a good fit for teams where people are highly professional and have knowledge, experience, and expertise. It can strengthen the connection between the employees and the leader, and create a fruitful and flourishing partnership.
Also, it can apply in creative teams where new ideas and changes can provide the business with an advantage over the competition.
5. Delegative (a.k.a Laissez-Faire)
The delegative leadership style, commonly known as laissez-faire, is probably the most hands-off type of leadership. In it, the leader picks a team of highly-skilled professionals that they can trust, assigns them roles and responsibilities, and leaves them to it.
As a result, instead of micromanaging everyone, the leader participates as little as possible in the day-to-day. They intervene only when a change of strategy is necessary, or when an issue occurs that a team member can’t handle.
For this type of leadership to be successful, there need to be clear guidelines on what team members should and shouldn’t do, and, again, people need to be trustworthy and competent.
- Gives people confidence.
- The team needs minimal supervision.
- Inspires creativity and proactivity.
- Allows the leader to focus on the bigger picture.
- Works only for highly skilled teams.
- Can, potentially, result in chaos.
- If the leader loses grip of the situation, they risk compromising their authority.
When to use it:
In a team of self-motivated professionals, this leadership method can be an efficient way to reduce micromanagement and allow people and their skills and qualities to shine. However, instructions and boundaries are still necessary when overviewing processes, and leaders must be present when needed.
The servant leader focuses their entire attention on catering to the needs of their team. They want to make the working environment welcoming and ensure that everyone feels satisfaction with their position and has everything they need to perform at their best.
Because of this attitude, team members tend to respect servant leaders more, appreciate them, and work hard to return the favor.
Furthermore, as employees have their needs met, they are prone to be more productive and deliver higher results.
- Team members are more loyal to the leader and the business.
- Overall happiness and satisfaction are high.
- People feel appreciated and therefore care about their work more than usual.
- It may be exhausting to maintain this leadership style.
- If not careful, the leader risks losing their authority.
- Doesn’t account for important factors such as strategy, goal-setting, and vision.
- It’s difficult to maintain in times of crisis.
When to use it:
This leadership style can be very useful in environments that gather people with different backgrounds, needs, and working styles under one roof. Here the leader puts in the effort to know each team member and helps them benefit from their position within the team, thus those members can contribute to the business more than ever.
Inspirational Leadership Styles
The last group of leadership styles is the inspirational ones – charismatic, coaching, transformational, and visionary.
Charismatic leadership relies on the power of the leader’s personality, emotional intelligence, and people skills.
The charismatic leader inspires others with their words and actions. They have strong communication skills, care about people, strive to connect with them on a personal level, and build meaningful relationships.
Team members look up to their leader and develop a strong sense of loyalty and belonging. As a result, they are highly motivated to follow in the steps of this person and strive to prove themselves with their actions.
- Promotes proactivity and hard work.
- People have inspiration and motivation to give their best.
- They look up to the leader and are “infected” by their passion for the business.
- The focus can fall on the leader’s personality, rather than the business.
- Team members may become too attached to the leader and this may cause issues if they need to be replaced.
- The leader’s negative personality faults can be reflected in the team.
When to use it:
This type of leadership is a powerful tool to mobilize teams that have low motivation, suffer from low productivity, and lack loyalty to the company. A charismatic leader can turn the tides of any situation and inspire people to follow him/her through hell and high water.
The coaching leadership style is one of the best ways to build a strong team of high-end professionals. The coaching leader strives to get to know each team member, find and address their strengths and weaknesses, and build them a personal map of development.
The coach provides feedback on the progress of each person on the team, helps with improvement suggestions, and allows people the freedom to test their limits and grow their strengths in a safe environment.
Their ultimate goal is to unlock each team member’s unique potential and help them become their best selves.
- Allows the leader to nurture the team that they want and need.
- Makes team members feel special and appreciated.
- Allows them to unlock their full potential and thrive.
- Builds loyalty.
- Promotes productivity.
- Not suitable for highly-skilled teams.
- Can be time and energy-consuming.
- Requires the other side to be willing to learn and grow.
- The leader needs to possess the necessary skills and qualities to coach and teach, such as patience, empathy, emotional intelligence, etc.
When to use it:
This is a great approach when you have a team with high potential but little practical knowledge and experience. By nurturing them, you can gain their loyalty and provide them with an opportunity to grow and develop. In return, they will provide you with value, and hopefully, long-term service.
The transformational leadership model comes into play when an organization is in need of change. The transformational leader looks for new ways to do things, restructures and reorganizes old models, and inspires innovation. And they push team members to do the same.
The leader observes and analyzes how the business works and the performance of the team and seeks to shake things up, improve the overall strategy, set new goals, and move the company forward.
- Promotes innovation, new ideas, and change.
- Empowers the team and has the potential to unite them around a common goal.
- Can move the company forward to new heights.
- With a focus on the bigger picture, the leader can miss small, but important details.
- It may be difficult to convince the whole team to embrace change.
- If the goals and course of action are not clear, this may lead to confusion.
When to use it:
The transformational leadership style is a great choice when you want to implement change in a business. This can be a restructuring, adopting new goals, merging two companies, or replacing an old business model with a new more efficient one.
The visionary leadership style is often associated with the authoritative one, because here, again, we have one strong figure that dictates the rules and points the direction of development.
However, the main difference between the two styles is that, while the visionary leader focuses on the bigger picture and the business strategy, they are not as controlling as the authoritarian.
The visionary imagines the overall concept, maps it out, and creates the rules, but they can choose to delegate the implementation to others and allow them the freedom that an autocratic leader never will.
- Inspires others to follow, especially if the leader is charismatic.
- The leader has a clear vision of the business’s future and an overview of the full picture.
- Can bring innovation to a company and change its course of development.
- Focusing on the bigger picture can cause leaders to miss important details and lose grip of short-term planning.
- The leader may find it difficult to build a connection with the team, and this can cause loyalty and productivity issues.
- Team members may fail to understand the vision of their team leader and this can cause some mistrust and suspicion, undermining the leader’s authority.
When to use it:
The visionary style of leadership usually applies in situations where the leader has an innovative idea that can turn their business around, and provide them an advantage over competitors.
Which Type of Leader Are You?
There is no right or wrong type of leadership – each one has its own merits, and fits different situations.
Choosing a leadership style depends, among other things, on your own personality, the type of business you are in, your team, and the situation.
While it’s best to stick to an approach that suits your attitude, mindset, and skills, sometimes you can’t be the leader you want to be, and have to be the leader the people need.
In fact, that’s one of the most crucial aspects of leadership – you need to put the well-being of the business before your own.
For example, as a person, you may be the friendly type who wants to be on good terms with everyone, but your team may not respond well to this kind of leadership and abuse your trust. In this case, you need to choose a leadership style that will allow you to better retain your position of authority.
Or you may be the authoritarian type who wants hands-on control of every situation, but if you find yourself running a team of independent experts, this just won’t do. A more subtle approach will allow you to take better advantage of the skills of your people, which will bring more value to the business.
The point is that you need to be flexible and decide how to approach your position and its responsibilities depending on the environment you are in.
In fact, probably the best course of action is to adopt the style that best fits your worldview but enhance it by borrowing techniques from other leadership styles. This way you will create your own unique method and will be able to assess and address each situation individually allowing for the best outcome possible.
Choosing the right leadership style that reflects your personal qualities and expertise, and corresponds to your business needs and environment is a complex task.
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to approach it, you should always strive to stay true to what your organization and team need and be flexible in your approach.
Simply put, you may not have the luxury to be the leader you want to be, but you should always be the leader you need to be.