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  1. Blog
  2. Management
  3. September 24, 2021

7 Types of Leadership: Strengths, Weaknesses & Discovering Your Style

What's your sign again?

Woman in cream suit
Photo courtesy of Alena Darmel

Even if you think managing other people isn’t for you, chances are, you’ll be in some kind of leadership role at one point or another. You may have to head up a project or lead a team meeting. Your job could grow into a leadership position without seeing it coming.

When these opportunities arise, your leadership style will begin to take shape. Your approach to management is a mix of your natural proclivities, your personality type, expectations you may carry about other people, the industry you’re in, and other factors. It is a set of principles about managing others that usually aligns with your work ethic and style.

Knowing the different leadership styles out there and their pros and cons will help you stay mindful of how you’re reacting to others and handling issues. There is no one right leadership style, and often the right method involves mixing more than one. It’s helpful to learn how to cherry-pick the benefits to create a style that is detail-oriented but collaborative, patient but performance-focused. And, your style may need to be adapted to each project or team you take on.

Let’s walk through seven common leadership styles, including their benefits and pitfalls, and how to identify your ideal approach.

7 common types of leadership, their strengths and weaknesses

1. Autocratic

Autocratic leaders are your authoritative, strict managers who make a call on their own and expect everyone to follow. They’re confident, motivated, and clear in their expectations. However, they can lack flexibility in their mindset and can push other people away when they try to offer up their ideas. Autocratic leaders may also be referred to as authoritative or commanding.

Pros:

  • Detail-oriented
  • Efficient
  • Clear about expectations
  • Confident

Cons:

  • Strict
  • Inflexible
  • Resistant to others’ ideas

2. Democratic

Just as the name implies, a democratic leader works for the people. They involve others in decision-making. They consistently ask for feedback and are willing to make improvements to their ideas. They make sure people can voice their opinions and work collaboratively. This style helps people on the team feel included and empowered. However, it can sometimes be less efficient since there may be long discussions and frequent changes to a plan.

Pros: 

  • Collaborative
  • Encouraging
  • Flexible
  • Unifying

Cons:

  • Inefficient
  • Expectations may be unclear

Read more: Participative Leadership: Democracy in Action in the Workplace

3. Bureaucratic

Bureaucrats are all about the rules. They expect team members to follow guidelines closely, with little room for creative interpretation. Leaders with this style tend to like details to be clearly outlined, and everyone will know their place in the hierarchy of duties. They have a very strong work ethic and get work done efficiently, but this style can often feel pretty restricting and uptight to workers.

Pros:

  • Efficient
  • Clearly defined responsibilities
  • Good work ethic

Cons:

  • Restrictive to creativity
  • Inflexible
  • Unapproachable

4. Visionary

Visionaries are the people who lead movements. They’re charismatic and positive. They inspire other people to do better and to keep pushing forward. These are often the leaders who found startups or nonprofits, or take big risks with a new idea. Visionaries can unite people around a project and keep spirits high, but sometimes they’re too concerned with the big picture and don’t get all the everyday details worked out quite right.

Pros:

  • Creative thinkers
  • Risk-takers
  • Inspiring to others

Cons:

  • No room for everyday details
  • Not focused on the present

5. Coaching

A coaching leadership style is also a more positive type. Coaches encourage team members to utilize their talents. They help people set and meet goals. They offer lots of support and guidance and quickly recognize employees’ best qualities. This style is optimistic and makes people feel good. But, because it requires a bit more one-on-one attention, following the coaching style doesn’t always mean you’re getting group projects done efficiently or on a tight timeframe.

Pros:

  • Encouraging
  • Optimistic
  • Unites teams

Cons:

  • Inefficient
  • Less attention to deadlines

6. Transactional

Then come the leaders who are all about hitting targets. Transactional leaders are most concerned with performance. They may set up incentives and rewards for employees to encourage them to meet goals, but this also means they may implement punishments when someone fails. Because they’re so focused on performance, they can get stressed out easily and micromanage the team.

Pros:

  • Detail-oriented
  • Goals are met
  • Clear and efficient

Cons:

  • Micromanaging
  • Strict
  • Lack of compassion

7. Laissez-faire

As you can probably guess, laissez-faire leaders are more hands-off than the other styles. They delegate tasks and trust team members to get things done. They may be more focused on their own tasks, so they want to think less about managing other people. This may be the right approach if a leader is dealing with a more experienced team, but they should be careful when they’re not giving enough attention to people who need more support and encouragement.

Pros:

  • Relaxed
  • Trusting
  • Hands-off

Cons:

  • Not much support or guidance
  • Inefficient

Read more: The Importance of Building Trust at Work

How to determine what type of leader you are

Reading through these profiles may already have sparked some recognition about your traits, similar to taking a personality test. After all, we tend to lead others in the ways we naturally lead ourselves and our own decision-making processes. If you’re a stickler for the rules, you’ll see that characteristic in other aspects of your life aside from work. If you identify with the laissez-faire approach, people have probably told you how laid back you are.

Try to pull out the pros of these styles and stay aware of the risks and pitfalls. Perhaps you want to take on an encouraging mindset from the coaching style so people feel supported and recognized, but you also like how autocratic leaders can drive better results. It’s possible to do both.

Think about the inspiring leaders (maybe, these women leaders) who have shaped your own experiences. The role models who helped you through a hard time or encouraged you to push harder. What characteristics did they have? What did you like about them? Were they effective or just plain compassionate? Which is more important to you at the end of the day?

Identifying your leadership style means understanding yourself better, but also leaving room for growth as you create your own unique approach to management.

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Photo of Meredith Boe

Meredith Boe

Contributor

Meredith Boe is a writer, editor, and grant writer, and a regular contributor to InHerSight. Her writing focuses on working women, self-employment, small businesses, finance, and legal, in addition to her literary criticism, poetry, and creative prose. She holds a master's degree in writing and publishing from DePaul University, and her bylines include the GoDaddy Garage, The Chicago Reader, and the Chicago Review of Books.

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