Common Leadership Styles

Common Leadership Styles

Updated 8 March 2021

Written by Alice Watts

What Is Leadership?

Leadership is an essential quality for those in charge of a team at all seniority levels, including managers, senior managers, directors and c-suite executives.

Leaders are relied upon to manage, encourage and inspire the members of their team towards achieving a common goal.

There are numerous styles of leadership. The most appropriate form will depend on an individual’s personality and the pressures of the situation in which leadership is required.

The most suitable leadership style may be a single approach or a mixture of different leadership styles. Either way, it will be adaptive and responsive and rooted in the context and demands of the situation.

Skilled leaders are adept at employing their diverse range of leadership skills to deliver results.

Effective leadership ensures a high degree of productivity, satisfaction and inspiration in the workplace.

Leadership is not naturally imbued with the granting of a senior position but is built through social influence, the demonstration of skill and competence, and the display of a fair and measured demeanor.

Regardless of seniority, any individual possessing the correct skills can become an effective and valued leader.

Improving your leadership skills can transform your teams’ perception of you, how you work within the hierarchy of your organization and can display to your employer (both current and prospective) your suitability to adopt greater managerial responsibilities.

This article is aimed at employees who wish to learn more about developing their leadership skills.

It will cover the tenets of effective leadership, leadership styles and how to find your approach to leadership in the workplace.

What Makes an Effective Leader?

An effective leader understands that there are multiple types of leadership which, most often, will be required in combination.

They are observant and adaptive, and able to appropriately react to the situation at hand by combining and switching leadership approaches with ease.

Strong leaders possess the necessary leadership qualities of:

  • Creativity
  • Vision
  • Confidence
  • Commitment
  • Empathy
  • Self-reflection
  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Humility

To establish yourself as an effective leader, you should first reflect upon your own personality traits and the type of leader you wish to be.

An understanding of the different types of leadership will help you to comprehend where your leadership strengths and weaknesses lie and how you communicate and connect best with a team.

It is also important to know the assets and limitations of your team, as a whole and as individuals, to understand what your team requires from you as their leader.

Effective leadership skills are developed over years of experience, self-reflection and personal development.

Respect as an effective leader is achieved through action and leading by example.

The 11 Most Common Leadership Styles

As aforementioned, there are a range of different leadership styles. Each style encourages a different way of working, producing different dynamics and results.

Certain styles are best suited to particular personality types or workplace situations.

Each leadership style is described below, along with its advantages and disadvantages as an approach.

1. Charismatic

A charismatic leader draws people in with their charm and spirit. They are positive, innovative and enthusiastic, and draw others into their creative process and vision. Their confidence puts individuals in the team at ease, whilst their passion encourages dedication and creativity from others.

A charismatic leader places value on working relationships and seeks to build rapport through their personality. They are adept at rousing teams to reach their goals, whether through engaging speeches or their commitment and fervor.

Charismatic leadership is beneficial in situations where companies are required to rally against the odds, perhaps to meet goals that at first appear to border on unachievable.

People are inclined to follow a charismatic leader, as a large personality and excellent communication skills make them a likable character.

Charismatic leadership can fall short in situations where team members doubt the skill or competency of the leader.

Whilst personality is important, it is key that this is not all that charismatic leaders are seen to be. They require the substance and proof of delivery to support the commitment and enthusiasm they inspire.

2. Visionary

Visionary leadership is characterized by innovative, broad view thinking. Visionary leaders tend to be ambitious in their goals and motivate others to raise their expectations about what can be achieved.

They inspire people to work towards an aspirational future but are often less involved in the technical detail of how to realize the vision, relying on the advice and expertise of a trusted team.

Visionary leadership is beneficial to scale and improve the impact, profitability or reach of a business or organization.

Visionary leaders are often more willing to take risks to realize their vision for the organization. They can, however, be known for single-mindedness in pursuing their visionary ideas and a tendency to work alone, propelled by their vision.

Therefore, they may be in danger of alienating or distancing themselves from their team and the realities on the ground.

Whilst having a vision is important for progress, visionary leaders need to possess the commitment and know-how to translate vision into reality.

3. Transformational

A transformational leadership style is defined by an ambition to improve and transform the overall company or organization.

Similar to visionary leadership, this style focuses on large-scale thinking and overall organizational growth.

Transformational leaders use a shared vision of the future to motivate their team. They place great emphasis on inclusion and open communication.

As they expect everyone in the team to contribute towards the transformation, they inspire participation and camaraderie through working together towards a common goal.

This feeling of joint ownership encourages commitment and accountability.

Transformational leadership leaves team members feeling valued and part of something aspirational, increasing job satisfaction and feelings of fulfillment at work.

Transformational leadership is particularly beneficial in a crisis or profit slump as it priorities creativity, conviction and courage, and seeks to overhaul current organizational conventions and practices to achieve better results.

Transformational leaders are not, however, commonly involved in the minutiae of day-to-day activity and must make an effort to stay grounded, up to date and connected with their team.

4. Coaching

A coaching leadership approach seeks to build the competencies and confidence of the members of a team.

It focuses on personal professional development as well as organizational development by following the principle that investing in the team is investing in the results and future of the organization.

A coach-style leader invests time in understanding the strengths, weaknesses and working style of the individuals they manage while developing an awareness of their values and motivations.

Through understanding these factors, the coach-style leader’s team is optimized to deliver effectively.

This leadership style involves regular feedback, creating a constructive environment that privileges growth and development.

Individuals are often content working in a coaching environment as they feel heard, understood and supported.

Coaching leaders develop a strong team culture and gain the respect of their team through their investment in each member, as well as the functioning whole.

Coaching leadership is a style that involves considerable time investment on identifying strengths and weaknesses and then committing to improving skills through effective training and support.

As this style is an investment, it is not well suited to achieving rapid results in a fast-paced environment.

5. Pacesetter

A pacesetting leader is competent in driving progress to gain quick results.

It is a performance and goal-focused leadership style, with team members accountable for delivering rapidly against their agreed outputs.

Pacesetting leaders expect high standards and are good at motivating their team to achieve these. They commonly expect their team to be good at self-directing to reach their own individual goals.

In a fast-paced environment or for a time-sensitive project, pacesetting leadership is a beneficial leadership style.

A downside of this approach can be that it does not always leave space for adequate collaboration, or time for feedback between the leader and team members.

If the focus is solely on speed and efficiency, the lack of personal connection or investment in team dynamics can leave employees feeling under-appreciated or burnt out.

The targets and deadlines set by pacesetting leaders must be realistic and ambitious; otherwise, morale can be damaged and team members may suffer from feelings of inadequacy.

A pacesetting style requires balance and should be used when necessary, rather than as a consistent approach.

6. Servant

A servant leadership style priorities employee satisfaction, believing that catering to the needs and fulfillment of the team will encourage the best quality work and deliver results.

Values, ideals and ethics are central to this leadership style.

Servant leaders are open, generous and possess high levels of integrity.

By ensuring the needs of the team are met, they earn respect and engender a positive workplace culture.

Servant leaders can, however, find themselves overlooked amongst the leadership pool, despite often possessing the highest team approval ratings.

Effective servant leadership also takes time and effort to enact. Therefore, it is a leadership style less suited to pressured high-stakes situations requiring rapid decision-making.

Servant leaders often emerge as opposed to being created. Perceived leaders without formal recognition or seniority are likely to exhibit servant leadership qualities.

In a world that places an increasing emphasis on values, servant leadership is a good approach for solid, supported leadership advancement.

7. Transactional

A transactional leadership style relies on a clear work agreement, sustained through workplace incentives and penalties. A transactional leader rewards strong performance, whilst poor performance triggers disciplinary action.

The style tends to be characterized by compliance to an agreed and clearly outlined work standard.

A transactional leadership approach has a well-defined structure and creates an environment where individuals are acutely aware of their responsibilities and ensuring they deliver effectively against them.

As success is measured through evidenced good performance, it is a style under which self-motivated and ambitious team members often excel.

It can, however, emerge as impersonal, damaging attempts to build rapport. It can also stifle innovation and expression so is not well suited to creative or knowledge-based industries.

The Most Common Leadership Styles and How to Find Your OwnThe Most Common Leadership Styles and How to Find Your Own

8. Laissez Faire

A laissez-faire leadership style is a hands-off approach, considered to be the opposite of micro-management.

Laissez-faire leaders are not, however, absent. They know what is going on and monitor progress from a distance, without being directly or overly involved in all aspects.

The style is often characterized by considerable amounts of delegation, which can lead team members to feel valued as they are trusted with increased responsibility.

It also encourages personal growth and demands employees challenge the limits of their abilities.

Senior laissez-faire leaders trust the organizational management structure in place and the managerial talent in-house, to overly insert into the business.

At all levels, a laissez-faire approach translates to a belief in the capacity of the team to deliver against outcomes. This faith can empower individuals and have a positive impact on work ethic, productivity and quality.

A laissez-faire approach can, however, lack structure. It relies on employee self-regulation and the ability to independently manage workload.

This means it is not suited to environments with strict quality control standards and may not be the best approach for meeting rigorous deadlines.

It is important that the right balance between freedom and managerial oversight is struck. Whilst less stringent inspection of work increases speed, quality and accountability checks must still be in place.

A laissez-faire leader needs to ensure they are present enough to be considered an effective, knowledgeable and capable leader with their finger on the pulse of the organization.

9. Democratic

Democratic leadership is a participative leadership style, where all team members are engaged in the decision-making process.

It involves ensuring all voices are heard and considered before a judgment is reached and is based around the concept that no decision should be made by an individual authority or expert.

A democratic leader will create an open and comfortable working environment, ensuring each member of the team feels confident enough to offer their ideas and opinions.

This approach understands the value of different perspectives, insight levels and types of knowledge.

Characterized by collaboration, a democratic style will encourage creativity, foster confidence and create a forum for constructive feedback.

Democratic leadership can also lead to increased job satisfaction, as team members feel they are valued contributors, having had input into realizing the final result, product or goal.

For occasions where decisions must be made rapidly and decisively, the luxury of a democratic leadership style may not be afforded.

In this case, the democratic style may delay key decisions being made and enacted.

10. Autocratic

Autocratic leadership involves unilateral decisions, with a marked absence of consulting with team members.

Autocratic leadership can be seen as inflexible and sometimes aggressive.

These leaders may not always be liked; however, in certain environments, such as within the military, they are respected for their ability to be decisive on crucial judgments.

Whilst this style may be acceptable within companies and organizations when making calls for which there is no necessity for wider input, or where success is not contingent upon agreement, an autocratic approach is generally considered to be a less effective leadership style.

There are occasions, however, where an autocratic style may be most beneficial for encouraging quick decision-making and delivering results, particularly when under extreme pressure.

Autocratic leaders may also become known for their preciseness and perfectionism, which can be a considerable asset in certain fields.

An autocratic leadership style should not be overly relied upon, however, as it can be demoralizing, leading to dissatisfaction, and can trigger indifference and high staff turnover.

It should instead only be employed when strictly necessary, in balance with other styles that encourage rapport building, growth and development within a team.

11. Bureaucratic

A bureaucratic leadership style adheres to company conventions and traditions. It is a rigid style, characterized by defined responsibilities and expectations within a clearly outlined hierarchical structure.

The approach is systemic and often meticulous, well suited to highly regulated industries or departments. It can also be commonly found in administrative work.

Bureaucratic leaders are persistent, dedicated and detail-oriented, and they like to be aware of everything that is going on within their company, department or project.

Adherence to rules and procedures takes center stage, leading to a highly efficient yet dry environment.

It is a style useful for work environments with a high level of health & safety risk such as work with heavy machinery, toxic chemical substances or work located in dangerous locations.

As the approach minimizes risk and margin for error, it is also suited to companies dealing with extremely large funds.

Bureaucratic leadership is, however, a style that can dampen creativity and innovation as it discourages breaking from traditional ways of working to create new paths.

It is not suited to organizations that rely upon being resourceful, flexible and adaptive.

Finding Your Leadership Style

Understanding the type of leader you are will help you to appreciate your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to leadership, allowing you to evolve and improve your approach and communication.

Below are our tips for determining your leadership style:

Study the Different Leadership Styles

Having an awareness of the different leadership styles listed above will help you to self-reflect on your current behavior as a leader.

By recognizing certain leadership traits within yourself, you will be able to determine your leadership leaning.

Most people will exhibit traits from multiple leadership styles, and indeed, the best leaders can adapt their approach to the situation at hand.

Understanding the leadership styles will give you an awareness of the management techniques available.

Develop Your Self-Awareness

Good leaders do not only have a comprehensive understanding of their team’s capability, but also of themselves.

Often your personal traits translate into your leadership style, so reflect on what defines your character.

Knowing your strengths, weaknesses, nature and values is essential to good leadership. Being self-aware and reflective will help you to find a leadership style that matches your personality.

Reflect on the Leaders You Have Encountered

Leaders, good and bad, can leave an imprint on our lives. Consider the past and present leaders in your life, the leadership styles they employ, and to what ends they employ them.

Think about which approaches you have witnessed deliver results and why.

Consider also whether you have experienced any of the detrimental impacts of a leader who is set in one leadership style.

Reflect on which approaches have resonated the most with you as a team member. A strong leader knows what it is like to be a part of the team and tailors their approach to best suit each situation – in terms of results and team morale.

Take a Leadership Assessment

An online leadership assessment is a tool aimed at helping individuals to pinpoint their leadership style.

If you feel you need a bit of extra help to ask yourself the right questions and trigger adequate self-reflection, take a leadership assessment.

These assessments are commonly comprised of scenarios or statements. For each one, you select the answer that most accurately reflects your opinion or the course of action you would take.

This results in a numerical score that correlates to a leadership style.

Try the Korn Ferry Leadership Assessment

Ask for Feedback From Trusted Individuals

Gaining feedback from the individuals you lead is the best way to gain insight into how you are perceived and the impact you have as a leader.

This will help you to explore what type of leadership qualities you express and highlight which leadership styles you tend to operate within.

Asking for feedback on your skills and traits not only provides insight into your areas of strength and weakness but helps to build an open culture of constructive feedback within your team.

Key Tips for Good Leadership

Good leadership requires self-reflection and commitment.

Certain individuals may be said to be born leaders; however, while it could be true that particular characters possess a propensity for charismatic or visionary leadership, effective and adaptive leadership skills are developed through experience.

Here are our top tips for improving your leadership skills:

Hone Your Comfort With All Leadership Styles

To be a good leader, it is not enough to just know of the different leadership styles – you must be able to work with them.

The most effective leaders work flexibly across approaches, depending on the demands and particulars of the situation.

First, work with leadership styles that feel genuine to you, improving how you embody the style and communicate when applying its approach.

Next, it is important to develop the styles of leadership that do not come as naturally. The ability to apply elements of each style, even those that are not closely aligned with your personality, will make you a competent leader through any scenario.

Seek to Constantly Build Upon Your Leadership Skills

Leaders should remain committed to practicing and developing their unique leadership style.

Just as great leaders seek to develop the competencies of their team, the skills of the leader should also be continually improved.

The best leaders view leadership as an area for continuous development. They are self-reflective and use this insight to drive improvement and address the areas in which they may be falling short of the needs of their team.

For example, if you struggle to motivate your team, assess how you can adjust your style to inspire.

Practice agility across a diverse range of management situations, evaluating yourself and the impact of the leadership traits you exhibit.

Believe in Your Leadership (and Technical) Abilities

As a leader, self-belief permeates through the hierarchy. It helps to instill trust and confidence within your team and elicits faith from your superiors.

The teams of the best leaders have faith in the capability of their leader to guide them over any hurdles to achieve success.

Confidence does, however, need to be balanced. Be self-confident but not overtly, as intense confidence can be mistaken for arrogance and have a damaging impact on workplace dynamics.

Be Authentic

To be an effective and respected leader, do not try to conform to a type of leadership you don’t wish to embody.

The leaders that resonate most with their teams or companies are true to themselves and reflect their values and personality through their leadership style.

Whilst it is necessary to be able to apply a mixture of leadership approaches to be a well-equipped leader, your predominant or default leadership style should be authentic to you.

Good leaders aim to maintain a genuine connection with their team, something that can only be fostered through an authentic leadership style.

Final Thoughts

Whether you lead an entire company, a department, a project or a meeting, certain behavioral traits can lead to stronger, more effective and impactful leadership.

Whilst defined leadership styles can help give an idea of the range of application of different leadership qualities, the best leadership style will flexibly adopt a range of approaches.

The best leadership is adaptive and situational, tailored to the circumstances that are presented.

Becoming an adept leader is a learning process which involves constant self-reflection and evaluation.

By being consistently self-aware and unafraid to adjust your approach, you will be able to settle into an authentic yet flexible leadership style and confidently handle the diverse range of leadership challenges that will arise throughout your career.