12 popular leadership styles for success

If you’ve ever had a leader who could inspire you, confidently steer your team towards a common goal, and support you to do your best, you’ll understand what outstanding leadership can look like. 

You’ve probably come across the opposite too. Perhaps work expectations were unclear; you felt a lack of support, or the leader didn’t seem to care about the job at hand. 

What do good leaders have that others lack? It can all come down to understanding who they are and their role in the team. Leadership styles provide a framework to confidently motivate, guide, and support others. 

If you’re looking to accelerate your skills and become a better leader, it’s essential to understand common leadership styles and discover which style could help you perform at your peak. 

What is a leadership style?

Your leadership style refers to the mindset and strategies you bring to motivating and managing people. These guiding principles are the structure that enables you to look after your team, be accountable, manage expectations, and achieve goals. 

Why is it essential to understand your leadership style?

How you lead has a profound impact on everyone on your team. Your leadership style can determine how much they enjoy their work, feel valued and respected, and whether or not they achieve their work-related goals. Recognizing this influence can make you more responsible and considerate in your leadership approach, fostering a more positive and productive team environment. 

Understanding your leadership style and recognizing your key strengths is about more than just self-awareness. It's about empowerment. It's about showing up as the best possible leader, steering your team to success, and taking control of your professional journey. Knowing your style can also help you put feedback in context or highlight areas for improvement. For instance, imagine your employees complete an anonymous survey. The results indicate they’re feeling aimless and disengaged. 

This insight might suggest that your current laissez-faire leadership style isn’t well suited to their need for structure and direction, and adopting more of a coaching style may be more suitable to reach desired productivity and boost morale.

12 common leadership styles

When it comes to leadership, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Different leadership styles will work better for certain people, teams, and projects.

Some of the most popular styles include democratic, strategic, and coaching. Let’s take a closer look at all twelve. 

1. Democratic leadership 

To allow all team members to have input, a democratic leader allows everyone to use their voice and share their ideas. Team members can also typically vote on potential strategies and agree before proceeding with the work. 

Democratic leaders tend to be: 

  • encouraging 
  • fair 
  • open to creative ideas 
  • good communicators 
  • good listeners
  • confident

Advantages  

  • Democratic leadership promotes open contribution, increases inclusivity, and encourages creativity, innovation, and solutions-based thinking.  
  • Individuals working under a democratic leader may feel more motivated because their ideas are heard and valued.  

Challenges or drawbacks  

  • Democratic leadership can be more time-consuming, especially regarding reaching a consensus.
  • It can also lead to sub-par results because, as the saying goes: “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”
  • Too many ideas may also bog down the creative process.
  • Sometimes, a decision must be made!

2. Servant leadership 

Servant leadership bases itself on the philosophy that leaders serve their team by supporting, encouraging, and promoting employee well-being. 

Servant leaders typically focus on the greater good of the organization and its team members (and less on financial gain or personal success). 

Servant leaders tend to be

  • empathetic 
  • selfless 
  • humble
  • supportive 

Advantages

  • When employees feel respected, supported, and valued by leaders, they will likely enjoy their work. 
  • This atmosphere can result in a better work culture, lower employee turnover rates, stronger collaboration between leaders and teams, and improved innovation.

Challenges or drawbacks

  • Servant leadership can fall short when rapid decisions need to be made, putting increased pressure on employees during times of crisis. 
  • The role of the leader in this style may also be less clear. 
  • Employees often need to have a clear framework and have the leader take decisive action.

3. Transformational leadership 

Those who embody a transformational leadership style tend to be strong motivators, role models, and visionaries who can steer a team toward transformation.  

An effective transformational leader can rally a team to work at their best—all to achieve an overarching vision. 

Transformation leaders tend to be:

  • excellent communicators
  • proactive problem solvers
  • vision-focused 
  • accurate predictors

Advantages

  • As a team member, feeling supported by a transformational leader can lead to higher work satisfaction, increased motivation, and heightened creativity. 
  • Going on a journey with a transformational leader can also be exciting.

Challenges or drawbacks

  • Transformational leadership relies heavily on the leader to inspire and motivate.
  • This type of leader must be very present and engaged to ensure clear direction and keep their team’s momentum going. 

4. Coaching leadership

Coaching leaders focus on helping their team to perform at their best. The coaching leader will typically identify their team member’s core skills, promote personal growth, and focus on employee success. 

This style of leadership can result in a strong culture, increased work satisfaction, and lead to high-performing employees. 

Coaching leaders tend to be:

  • strong motivators 
  • highly encouraging 
  • committed to employee success
  • adept at spotting potential

Advantages

  • Coaching leadership promotes the idea that everyone is an individual with something important to contribute. 
  • Coaching-style leaders help make employees feel valued, encouraged, and motivated (they are not there to give all the answers but to enable excellent outcomes by providing appropriate resources and support).

Challenges and drawbacks

  • Coaching leadership can require more commitment and dedication from both leaders and teams.
  • This style is generally more time-consuming.

5. Situational leadership 

Some leaders choose a more flexible approach. The situational leader is flexible to allow for the fluctuating needs of employees and the tasks at hand. 

Situational leaders use four main leadership styles, depending on the situation: directing, coaching, collaborating, and empowering. 

Situational leaders tend to be: 

  • attuned to their team’s competencies
  • adaptable to various situations 
  • strong communicators 

Advantages

  • Situational leadership can increase collaboration between team members and managers and grant team members a high level of autonomy. 
  • This style promotes high employee engagement. 

Challenges or drawbacks 

  • Situational leadership requires constant monitoring and assessment to understand employee competencies and where to direct resources. 
  • It can be time-consuming, require continuous adaptability, and may lead to frustration for managers and employees. 

6. Charismatic leadership

Charismatic leaders use exceptional communication skills to motivate, encourage, and inspire team members to work towards specific goals or an overall mission. 

Charismatic leaders tend to be: 

  • excellent communicators 
  • confident in their abilities 
  • clear on a vision or mission
  • persuasive 
  • charming

Advantages

  • Team members may feel motivated and inspired by a charismatic leader. 
  • This can lead to higher engagement, work satisfaction, and productivity. 

Challenges or drawbacks 

  • The charismatic leader can often be a big thinker focused on overall objectives but less clear on the necessary steps, leading to challenges over time.
  • Charismatic leadership, while effective at inspiring people, can lead to over-reliance on the leader for decision-making and direction. 
  • This dependency can be problematic when the leader is away. 
  • Charismatic leaders may be such vocal figures that they unintentionally inhibit independent thinking or sharing diverse perspectives.

7. Strategic leadership

Strategic leaders use long-range planning, creative problem-solving, and analysis techniques to achieve an overall vision.  Strategic leaders are adept at making challenging decisions because they consider the big picture. 

Strategic leaders tend to be: 

  • problem solvers 
  • creative
  • analytical
  • vision-focused 

Advantages

  • Strategic leaders can help drive a team towards a common goal by taking the essential steps. 
  • A strategic leader will help to improve planning proficiency, employee accountability, and overall business success. 

Challenges or drawbacks

  • Some strategic leaders get caught up in an overarching vision and neglect the day-to-day needs of the business. 
  • There can also be a lack of flexibility and adaptability in a strategic leader's plans.

8. Laissez-faire leadership 

The laissez-faire leadership style is more relaxed than many leadership styles. It allows team members to make decisions, be creative, and be accountable for their work. Loosely translated, laissez-faire is French for “let it be.” It's a hands-off approach that can empower team members but tends to require a strong work ethic from employees to succeed long-term.

Laissez-faire leaders tend to be: 

  • strong delegators 
  • highly trusting of team members 
  • focussed on the big picture 

Advantages 

  • With less intrusion on one’s day-to-day tasks, team members with a laissez-faire leader may feel empowered, less concerned about failure, and more likely to come up with creative ideas. 

Challenges or drawbacks

  • A laissez-faire leadership style can lead to confusion. 
  • There is a lack of centralized decision-making and potential despondency if there’s a perception that the leader isn’t taking the reins and assisting when required. 

9. Autocratic leadership

An autocratic style is inflexible (see also: authoritarian). An autocratic leader tends to have a centralized vision and a strong sense of authority and responsibility. 

Team members in an autocratic style are not encouraged to share equally or be creative but rather to be subordinates and complete prescribed tasks per the leader's request. 

Autocratic leaders tend to be: 

  • authoritarian
  • confident 
  • structured 

Advantages

  • The autocratic style can promote direct, fast decision-making, better crisis management, and clear communication of requirements across a team. 
  • They use time efficiently.

Challenges or drawbacks

  • Teams with an autocratic leader may feel micromanaged and dependent on the leader.
  • Employees may harbor negative sentiments about limited autonomy and lack of creative expression.

10. Transactional leadership

A transactional leader relies on pre-defined rewards and penalties to motivate and ensure team members understand expectations.

Transactional leaders tend to be: 

  • clear about expectations 
  • inflexible 
  • consistent 

Advantages

  • Transactional leaders offer their teams clarity about what is and isn’t expected of them. 
  • Some employees may thrive in a rule-based and inflexible environment.
  • Organizations can also benefit significantly from having a team that delivers consistent work. 

Challenges or drawbacks

  • Transactional leadership tends to stifle creativity, individuality, and innovation.
  • This lack of expression may demoralize some employees, resulting in higher-than-average turnover rates. 
  • Not everyone is equally motivated by rewards.

11. Bureaucratic leadership 

A bureaucratic leadership style is a hierarchical, top-down approach similar to autocratic leadership.

However, unlike the autocratic approach, leaders make decisions based on predetermined rules rather than having the freedom and autonomy to go by their preferences. These rules may be there for the greater good and don’t allow for much change (with the rationale of maintaining order, consistency, and accountability).

This leadership style tends to be most relevant in government, military, healthcare, and education sectors, where safety and standardization are paramount. It clearly outlines responsibilities for team members and ensures following procedures. 

Bureaucratic leaders tend to be: 

  • impartial 
  • rule-based 
  • strong-minded

Advantages

  • There’s a clear hierarchy of decision-making and clarity around roles and responsibilities, which can boost productivity and be helpful for quality control. 

Challenges and drawbacks

  • Bureaucratic leadership may stifle creativity, reduce flexibility and adaptability, and create an environment where employees feel unable to contribute.

12. Pacesetting leadership

Pacesetting leadership embodies a style where leaders set high standards for performance and expect their team members to excel. Like servant leadership, pacesetting leaders prioritize the success and well-being of their team members. They focus on achieving the organization's goals while promoting their employees' development and growth.

Pacesetting leaders tend to be:

  • ambitious
  • results-oriented
  • diligent
  • exemplary

Advantages

  • Employees often feel motivated and inspired to perform at their best when a pacesetting leader is in charge. 
  • This can lead to increased productivity, innovation, and overall success for the organization. 
  • Pacesetting leadership promotes a culture of excellence and continuous improvement.

Challenges or drawbacks

  • A pacesetting leader must set realistic goals; otherwise, burnout can occur due to high stress. 
  • Pressure to meet the leader's high standards may also overwhelm employees.
  • Pacesetting leaders need to provide clear guidance and support while allowing flexibility and adaptability in their approach.

How to determine the best leadership style for your organization

Discovering which leadership style is best for you and your organization can be a journey of self-discovery. You’ll need to understand your values and default communication style and gain feedback from others. You’ll also need to consider your team dynamics before choosing a successful style (or a combination of styles). 

Step 1: Develop a deep understanding of yourself

Before choosing a leadership style, it’s helpful to understand your core skills and attributes. For example, if you’re highly empathetic, a servant or democratic leadership style could be a good fit for you. 

Self-awareness will help you understand where you thrive and where there’s room for improvement. 

Step 2: Define your core values

As part of understanding yourself, it’s helpful to consider your core values. These values are your subconscious drivers—hidden forces behind your actions, such as past experiences, beliefs, or emotions. They play a big role in how you act and react to different situations. As a leader,  you must know what they are. 

If you aren’t sure of your values, you could take an online values test or run a values workshop with your team. 

Step 3: Try different leadership styles

While something might sound appealing on paper, in practice, it may not be the most effective style for you or your team. 

Rather than committing to a leadership style immediately, try different styles to see what works well. It will be an opportunity to get comfortable with the uncomfortable and explore previously unconsidered styles. Be sure to communicate with your team to ensure they can let you know what’s working and what isn’t.

Step 4: Ask for feedback

Your team members are your ideal source of feedback. You could ask directly for comments on leadership styles that work best for them or send an anonymous survey to get candid feedback. 

Step 5. Consider your organization 

The appropriate leadership style will vary considerably depending on the organization itself. If you’re a leader in a tech company, you’ll likely need exceptional creativity, flexibility, and agility. But, if the organization is a chain of fast-food restaurants, then you’ll require strict quality control and employee consistency. Industry-appropriateness will heavily impact the leadership style you choose. 

Step 6: Learn from other leaders

"Perfection" is not a quality that exists in a leader. It is essential to realize that continuous effort and improvement are necessary to become a great leader. 

One way to achieve this growth is by learning from others. You might do this by observing people you admire on your team or by studying renowned leaders who possess qualities you want to develop. You may find it beneficial to have a mentor who can assist you in refining your leadership abilities.

Being the best leader you can be

Understanding different leadership styles is not just a theoretical exercise but a practical tool that can significantly impact your professional growth and your team's success. 

Identifying with a specific type or blend of leadership styles will help you, your team, and the organization to thrive. 

Keen to become a better leader? There are many techniques you can use to help your team succeed. Discover more about leadership accountability, psychological safety, and employee accountability

FAQs

What are the five qualities of a good leader?

While good leadership can vary in style, good leaders tend to embody five specific traits. According to Silver, winner of the London Chamber of Commerce's Young Business Person of The Year 2024 and CEO Rachel Wells, those qualities are: 

  1. Confidence
  2. Charisma 
  3. Resilience
  4. Courage 
  5. Humility 

How do I know my leadership style?

Understanding your leadership style can take time. It requires a degree of self-awareness and typically feedback from others – those both junior and senior to you. For some, this comes with time and experience. Multiple factors can influence a style: age, industry, role models, positions held in a company, and so on. Consider a mentor to provide insights into your leadership style and help you discover areas of improvement. 

What is the least effective leadership style?

While no one leadership style can be thought of as the least effective, some qualities don’t tend to align with good leadership. 

Leaders who don’t value their team members are focused only on monetary gain and see employees as just another number, so they are not likely to be effective in their leadership. These types of leaders are likely to encourage despondency and high turnover. 

Which leadership style is the best?

When it comes to leadership and choosing your style, there’s not necessarily a right or wrong. 

What’s best for you will be the leadership style that suits your aims as a leader, the company's goals, and your team's needs. 

The right leadership style might also embody aspects of multiple styles. You might find, for example, that although you’ll aim to be a servant leader, you may also use democratic leadership and coaching leadership techniques to help your team members feel valued and do their best work.

Can you change your leadership style?

If you want to be a great leader, chances are you’re always looking to grow and improve. Fortunately, your leadership style isn’t set in stone. Good leaders continually upskill, train, and adopt new and better techniques. 

Being open to new leadership styles will help you adopt better ways of working to help your team members thrive.


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