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Which of These 11 Leadership Styles Are You?

“I measure my own success as a leader by how well the people who work for me succeed.”

Young woman outside

Photo courtesy of Mathias Huysmans

“I measure my own success as a leader by how well the people who work for me succeed.”

—Maria Shi, managing director of client growth at PayPal

Leadership styles can generally be divided into two main categories: reward and punishment. Managers and CEOs who tend to be very strict aren’t always as draconian as they seem; in fact, can be impartial (but fair) and follow through on consequences. Leaders who are friendlier and less rigid tend to motivate workers through example and empathy, making work a collaborative effort and boosting employee confidence and morale.

Both styles can be effective on their own or when combined, and you’ll see examples of each in the major leadership styles below.

Autocratic leadership

This is the old school-kind of iron-fist leadership, with the decision maker at the top of the organizational hierarchy pyramid. While the autocratic leader does take counsel and feedback, their decision is final, even if it goes against the majority.

Pros

This approach is good when decisions must be made quickly and also for new or inexperienced employees. Similarly, teams are kept on task and on time.

Cons

There can be a real lack of creativity under autocratic leadership and it’s usually not popular with employees who may wish to contribute. It can deter initiative and lower morale with employees feeling ignored and restricted. At its worst, it can be abusive.

Participative or democratic leadership

The participative leader looks to their teams to work collaboratively. Decision-making isn’t siloed to particular individuals or departments, but rather contributed to by everyone in the company. Democratic leaders may make the final decision, but it’s usually based on a majority consensus.

Pros

Employees feel valued and the approach can help lower-level employees develop over time. It promotes loyalty, morale, and teamwork.

Cons

It’s a slower process, so can impede decisions that need to be made quickly.

Read more: The Qualities That Make a Good Leader…and Those That Don’t

Charismatic leadership

As the name implies, a charismatic leader is one whose own strong personality is compelling enough to ignite passion, excitement, and commitment among their team members. In addition to being magnetic and persuasive, charismatic leaders are fully committed to achieving their objectives.

Pros

Employee engagement is high, tied to the confidence built by the charismatic leader.

Cons

The leader themselves become necessary to the success of the organization; this means their absence can be destructive. Also, charismatic leaders can be so focused on their goal that they create a kind of tunnel vision and lose sight of the bigger picture.

Read more: Is an Open-Door Policy a Good Idea?

Laissez-faire leadership

This hands-off approach to leadership needs to have the right setting and the right team of employees to be successful. Everything is delegated to the employees: They are told what the company expects and that they are accountable. Under laissez-faire leadership, it’s the team members who make all the decisions and are responsible to complete all the projects.

Pros

A laissez-faire approach provides support and doesn’t micromanage its employees. Organization with experienced employees and small groups inside large corporations can do extremely well with laissez-faire leadership.

Cons

Employees who need more guidance may fumble and the approach can limit employee development. Without oversight and monitoring, standards and productivity can slip.

Read more: Why a Personal Leadership Philosophy Is Important (Even if You're Not the Boss)

Transformational leadership

The transformational leader leads by example, inspiring others to improve their own behaviors and processes for the good of the organization. They share their vision of the future with team members, and everyone works together to achieve it.

Pros

The focus is constant improvement, so transformational leadership can keep employees motivated and engaged. It’s also excellent for professional development purposes.

Cons

Some employees can fall by the wayside if the training provided isn’t appropriate for their learning style. There’s also the risk of change fatigue and the approach can cause problems if existing processes that are highly valued are up for transformation.

Transactional leadership

Rewards and penalties are used by the transactional leader in this carrot-and-stick management method. They expect employees to do the job they were hired for, and the company will reward them as per the terms of their employment contract, including scheduled bonuses for targets met. 

Pros

Expectations are very clear with a transactional leader, and roles and responsibilities are also clearly established.

Cons

The businesslike nature lacks warmth and may lead to low employee engagement. It can also lead to workers doing the minimum amount of work to get by, creating a sort of work-to-rule environment.

Read more: Emotionally Intelligent Leaders Are the New Successful CEOs

Servant leadership

The servant leader actually serves their employees by working alongside them, as an equal. Their main thrust is helping others, which includes elevating and developing employees. Titles and positions don’t mean much under servant leadership, but customer service and putting the needs of their team do take priority.

Pros

Team members feel appreciated and empowered. Servant leadership promotes trust and morale.

Cons

Difficult strategic decisions may be hard to make by a servant leader due to their desire to make workers happy. There is an inherent conflict of interest when putting employees ahead of business objectives. Also, not many people are true servant leaders: putting your needs last doesn’t come naturally.

Read more: How to Delegate Like a Boss

Strategic leadership

The strategic leader has two jobs: One is to maintain current operations, which includes keeping employees satisfied; another is to seek out growth opportunities for the organization. In this approach, leaders motivate and align their team, instead of micromanaging, moving the company forward.

Pros

Strategic leadership promotes highly motivated and engaged employees.

Cons

It can be difficult to support employees while at the same time exploring opportunities and determining the best path for the business. This approach may be best for professional teams who work well with little supervision.

Read more: 3 Reasons Why Women Walk Away From Leadership Positions

Bureaucratic leadership

The bureaucratic leader is by-the-book. Bureaucratic leadership is all about the rules and regulations, past practices and procedures for this boss and their team members.

Pros

This method of management and leadership is good for highly complex organizations, such as health and safety, as well as for routine-oriented jobs. It allows an organization and its employees stability, even through change.

Cons

It can be a bad fit for a creative group because the focus on rules can limit innovation, creativity, and growth.

Read more: How to Influence Your Company Culture Even if You're Not the CEO

Situational leadership

A situational leader is highly agile, and can adapt their leadership style to whatever the circumstances demand. Known as the Hersey-Blanchard model, situational leadership relies on the leader’s decision-making skills, and they’ll adjust those depending on the people they’re working with and the abilities of those employees.

Pros

Leaders can change direction of leadership style quickly, which can increase employee effectiveness and satisfaction.

Cons

This leadership style puts enormous responsibility on one person. It may not work in cross-cultural situations and can possibly prioritize relationships over corporate vision.

Coach-style leadership

A form of servant leadership, the coach-style leader nurtures and develops each team member’s strengths, much like the coach of a sports team. Every employee might have different abilities and skills to offer, but overall the team can use that mix to grow its productivity.

Pros

That focus on employees allows for their professional development and success. It also creates a collaborative spirit and high morale.

Cons

Coach-style leading is time-consuming. It can be ineffective for unmotivated employees and does not necessarily guarantee an increase in overall productivity or effectiveness.

Read more: 11 Absolutely Inspirational Female CEOs You Need To Know

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By Stephanie Olsen

Contributor

Stephanie Olsen is a freelance writer and copy editor. She writes about everything from women’s issues in the workplace and Ethiopian coffee culture to facilities management and expatriate life. Laughs uproariously at her own jokes.  

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