A complete guide to the different leadership styles

min Published on 02 September 2020

Table of content

Leadership is perhaps the most desirable quality to have in the workplace. As a good leader, you're the first one people go to and the last one they disrespect. You're seen as the ultimate authority figure for your mixture of understanding and fearless management skills.

Leadership or  management styles don't look one way in particular. There are a lot of different and respectable leadership styles, and what works for one person may not work for another. If you find you're not a great leader, it could be that you just haven't found your leadership style yet.

So, let's find that leadership style today. Here's a complete guide to choosing the right leadership style.

What is leadership?

To understand the different leadership styles, it helps to have a concrete understanding of what leadership is.

At its core, leadership is defined as one's ability to lead a group of people. It's about a person's ability to handle situations in a productive and thoughtful way without fear. Someone with leadership looks at a situation, sees the right way forward, and leads themselves and their group toward that goal.

A successful leader encourages productivity and enthusiasm in those they're leading. They hear the opinions of those being led but aren't afraid to put their foot down when needed. Leadership style isn't always about rigid commands and a "my way or the highway" mentality, it's also about knowing when to work around your own ideas, and how to lead a given group of people.

Leadership style goes a lot deeper than many care to consider. One team may need a considerate, smiling leader, while another might respond to a more militant, no-nonsense leadership style. This is especially apparent when you look at all the different leadership styles. 

Why is it important to understand your leadership style?

Finding your leadership style is crucially important no matter what line of work you're in.

For one, you never know when your particular leadership style might be needed. Even if you're not in a managerial position, you still need to show leadership from time-to-time. Leadership can be shown by giving your opinion in a meeting, helping a co-worker work through a technical issue, or even leading the workers around you to safety in an emergency situation.

From a managerial position, leadership and leadership style are the most important qualities to train. A manager without the proper leadership style is no manager at all. Without leadership, you'll see a loss in productivity, dwindling levels of respect, and an unhappy, unproductive workplace in general.

If you're leading using the wrong leadership style, your workers won't respond correctly. You may be doing a good job of leading in general, but you have to mold your leadership style to each specific group. You may even have to switch leadership styles at times to deal with certain individuals.

The more you know about leadership styles and which ones work for you, the more prepared you'll be for leading. It's that simple.

The seven leadership styles

There are seven generally accepted leadership styles that everyone falls into. If you're still looking for your leadership style, try experimenting with each of these.

1. Democratic leadership style

The democratic leadership style takes others' opinions as paramount to the way forward.

Like any democracy, there is an appointed leader, but they don't have all the say. They'll ultimately have the final decision but include the input of others every step of the way. When presented with any problem, they'll take in the ideas of those involved, weigh them, and make a decision, sometimes even by vote, like a true democracy.

Pros: The democratic leadership style takes some of the stress off the leader's shoulders and spreads it evenly throughout. Leading like this can be a great boost to your team's morale and feelings of usefulness, as everyone gets their say.

Cons: The collaboration leadership style can be inefficient. It prolongs decision-making, and leads to arguments within the group if the leader isn't careful. It can also be hard to shoot down ideas from the group, especially ones they're excited about, if you don't see them panning out.

2. Autocratic leadership style

In stark contrast to democratic leadership is autocratic leadership.

The autocratic leadership style sees the leader take absolute power over all situations. As an autocratic leader, you're steering the ship. You decide how to handle situations, how to meet goals, what each team member is in charge of, and everything else in-between.

Pros: Under the autocratic leadership style, decisions are often reached much faster. Workers know exactly who to go to for questions or help, and they know not to step outside the rigid tasks given to them. Everyone has a job and a goal, and focus is easy to keep on-track.

Cons: The lack of collaboration with the autocratic leadership style can leave the group feeling unheard or unvalued, which can lead to a lack of motivation, unhappy employees, and a general disliking towards you. In the worst cases, employees may feel abused by your management style. If you're an autocratic leader, it's important to read rooms and know when you might be going too far.

3. Laissez-Faire

The laissez-faire leadership style, roughly translated from French as "leave it be," describes this hands-off leadership style.

Under the laissez-faire leadership style, you provide your team with a goal and the resources they need to work towards their goal, and then stand back. It's the team that handles the decisions, the problems, the time management, and the work. You don't see it as your job to supervise them and keep them on track -- they're adults, and you trust them to do all this themselves.

Pros: The laissez-faire management style can do wonders for a team's creativity, motivation, and productivity. They feel free without constant eyes on them, and learn to collaborate with the team better. They'll also respect their leader more, as they know that respect is given to them.

Cons: Some teams are too unorganized to leave to their own devices, which can lead to absenteeism. Teams may end up getting confused or frustrated, and in-fighting can pop up as the team disagrees on the right way forward. In the worst cases, work may end up getting delayed if certain team members fail to pull their weight.

4. Strategic leadership style

Someone using the strategic leadership style sees what the company wants out of a project and finds a way to expand on that premise through leadership.

The strategic leader follows the accepted leadership style in the workplace (considering the workplace's mission statement, and overall goals) and works to keep their group content. They outline the way toward the goal and make sure each person is kept on track during the project management process. Everyone gets what they want this way.

Pros: Strategic leadership style means paying attention to each worker at an individual level, which leaves every employee happy. You get to know your team and their individual strengths.

Cons: This leadership style limits the input of certain employees and cuts back on creativity. Makes for rigid work processes aimed at a specific product. You have to focus on each individual more, which may slow things down at times.

5. Transformational leadership style

The transformational leadership style is hard to master but effective if done right.

As a practicer of the transformational leadership style, you look to transform your group into an innovative machine. You look for ways to improve the team and product and enact those changes. You're often described as inspiring and empowering as you take in feedback and offer ways to grow that feedback in productive ways.

The transformational leadership style is often quite democratic, with lots of room for creativity.

Pros: The trust levels between you and your employees is going to go through the roof. They'll feel respected and empowered by the freedom you give them, and the way you implement their decisions. The goal feels shared, which leads to boosted motivation and productivity.

Cons: Certain workers like structure and this leadership style doesn't have much. This leaves less creative types unhappy and feeling lesser than certain employees. A transformational leader must find the balance between leading and cooperating.

6. Transactional leadership style

The manager using a transactional leadership style offers rewards to their team for a job well done and punishments for those not pulling their weight.

These aren't often physical rewards and punishments with the transactional leadership style, of course. As a transactional leader, you give praise when necessary as well as criticism. This sets a precedent among your group regarding what's acceptable and what isn't.

Pros: There's no confusion, especially as the precedent is set. Employees know what's expected of them, and what happens if they don't meet those goals. Productivity is often high under the transactional leadership style.

Cons: This style might deter creativity and innovation, as such rigid principles are set. It may also cause feelings of discontent for the same reasons.

7. Coach leadership style

Under the coach leadership style, you study your group's strengths and weaknesses on an individual level and help your employees improve on their weaker areas.

You assign your team members based on their skills and give them performance appraisals regarding improvements. You're positive and motivating, always inspiring your team to get better and better, even in their weakest areas.

Pros: Your team only gets better with coaching under the coaching leadership style. Motivation is high, as well as respect and productivity. Employees feel like they're pulling their weight.

Cons: Tends to take more time than other leadership styles, as it relies on individual focus. If not properly balanced, some employees may feel left out and underutilized.

Becoming the ultimate leader with the right leadership style

Even if you think your leadership style is flawless, there are likely a few changes you can make to perfect it. You might even consider mixing a few leadership styles up to find what works best for your team! Leadership is something we're always working on and growing, and it might take some trial and error to perfect -- be patient and don't be afraid to experiment.

If you're looking for an amazing HR system to make the leadership process that much easier, see what kiwiHR has to offer with a quick 30-minute demo.

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