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10 Common Leadership Styles and How They Work

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leadership styles and how they work

Leaders see the big picture.

They’re adept at motivating and delegating.

These charismatic individuals inspire their teams to do more and go beyond. 

What all great leaders have in common is a style.

If you familiarize yourself with types of leadership styles, you open the door to (i) recognizing those traits in yourselves, (ii) improving your skills, and (iii) expanding your leadership style. 

Let’s take a close look at ten common leadership styles as established by the work of Kurt Lewin.

Importance of Leadership Styles

There is no doubt you find sound teamwork in leadership.

Employees get promoted on the ability to lead because leaders drive company success.

When it comes to leadership styles, good leaders share a range of qualities.

  • Accountability
  • Focus
  • Optimism
  • Awareness
  • Honesty
  • Empathy
  • Inspiration
  • Decisiveness
  • Confidence

The effective leader has a talent for bringing group members together.

Successful leaders nurture individual strengths and focus strategies into creating a winning team.

The leadership approach strengthens the team and builds a productive operation.

When used appropriately, common leadership styles promote job satisfaction

Types of Leadership Styles

Here are ten of the top leadership styles and their application.

Coaching Style

Teamwork requires a leader getting a group to work as one for the common good.

Successful leaders look to nurture individual strengths and to focus on strategies for creating a winning team

This style has similarities to democratic and strategic leadership.

The difference is coaching has a stronger emphasis on the success and growth of individuals.

Coaching takes advantage of employee-specific skill sets, expertise, and talent.

The coaching leader strives to develop a team that communicates and embraces the uniqueness of team members.

Here’s an example of this leadership style.

Attributes of the Coaching Leader 

To be an effective coaching leader, you need to:

  • Offer guidance
  • Be self-aware
  • Be supportive
  • Ask guided questions
  • Value learning
  • Balance sharing knowledge and guiding teams to finding it themselves

What’s Wrong with the Coaching Leadership Style?

  • Results from this style may take time before you see its effectiveness.
    A lot of companies don’t want to make the upfront commitment.
  • Coaching is mentoring and not necessarily good for leading.
    There’s only disappointment and frustration if the coach works harder than the mentee.
  • Coaching leaders must have a natural tendency to lead.
    If you lack this, the risk of mismanagement significantly increases.

Democratic Style

Also called the participative leadership style, the democratic style is a blend of laissez-faire and autocratic leadership.

A democratic leader creates a cooperative environment.

He tracks input and feedback, using the insight to make informed decisions. 

Knowing their contributions and opinions make a difference, team members foster an impressive level of engagement and job satisfaction.

The democratic style’s use of participation and discussion is ideal for the organization looking for innovation and creativity.

Here’s an example of this leadership style.

Attributes of the Democratic Leader 

To be an effective democratic leader, you need to:

  • Value and utilize group discussions
  • Provide information to team members before making decisions
  • Create a work environment where all share their ideas
  • Be rational and flexible
  • Be a good mediator

What’s Wrong with the Democratic Leadership Style?

  • Individuals come to expect the implementation of their opinions.
    Many democratic managers find themselves distracted by employees who want to know why their ideas didn’t make the cut.
  • The style takes up time.
    Getting employee input often leads to debate and procrastination.
  • Getting to final decisions stalls getting started.
    Culling through even the brightest ideas and applying them can delay goals.

Autocratic Style

The autocratic style is also called the authoritarian leadership style.

The authoritarian style focuses on efficiency and results.

This manager pretty much controls decision-making. 

With autocratic leadership, subordinates do what’s expected of them.

This style is excellent for organizations with guidelines and compliance to follow.

This is the style for companies where you need supervision.

Autocratic leadership streamlines productivity with delegation and direct and clear communication.

Also, you reduce employee stress when employees know what’s expected of them.

Here’s an example of this leadership style.

Attributes of the Autocratic Leader 

To be an effective autocratic leader, you need to:

  • Follow set rules
  • Be self-motivated
  • Be dependable
  • Have self-confidence
  • Communicate consistently and clearly
  • Appreciate structured environments
  • Believe in stringent supervision of work environments

What’s Wrong with the Autocratic Leadership Style?

  • Group members can feel neglected and left out. ​​​
    Capable employees under the autocratic leader will believe their contributions aren’t appreciated.
  • This form of leadership hurts morale.
    As autocratic leaders make decisions, the group may keep ideas to themselves.
  • Engaging in the creative process promotes job satisfaction.
    Team members left out of the process tend to feel stifled and dissatisfied.

Visionary Style

A visionary is an individual who sees the big picture.

She sees a future with advancement.

Visionaries are ahead of their time.

The visionary leader drives progress through inspiration and trust in concepts.

She establishes a management style that generates strong operational bonds.

This leader promotes confidence in superiors, colleagues, and subordinates.

You want this leadership in small, entrepreneurial organizations or in larger enterprises in the middle of corporate transformation.

Here’s an example of this leadership style.

Attributes of the Visionary Leader 

To be an effective visionary leader, you need to:

  • Value and utilize group discussions
  • Provide information to team members before making decisions
  • Create a work environment where all share ideas
  • Be rational and flexible
  • Be a good mediator

What’s Wrong with the Visionary Leadership Style?

  • When the emphasis focuses on the future, visionaries may lose sight of the present.
    There’s less emphasis on details that impact day-to-day operations. 
  • Fixation on vision can result in good ideas getting tossed aside.
    There’s no objective outlook to revise the vision or abandon it for something better.
  • A vision can be exciting but result in no follow-through.
    A visionary leader can get a team pumped about a project that loses momentum when higher-ups or other obstacles come forward.

Transformational Style

Transformational leadership has traits similar to coaching.

The leader drives engagement through goals, communication, and motivation.

The major difference is there is no emphasis on individual employee objectives.

As a transformational leader, he focuses on the organization’s goals.

With the big picture in mind, the design of this leading style is for teams handling a variety of tasks without constant supervision.

Here’s an example of this leadership style.

Attributes of the Transactional Leader 

To be an effective transactional leader, you need to:

  • Share your team’s mutual respect 
  • Be encouraging
  • Inspire others
  • Place value on challenging your team intellectually
  • Have a firm grasp of organizational needs

What’s Wrong with the Transactional Leadership Style?

  • Transactional leadership is often unbendable.
    Not following policies or instructions is forbidden and can make it difficult to adjust operations to situations.
  • The style hampers creativity and innovation.
    Members of the team with ideas are mostly viewed as followers with no real voice.
  • The style doesn’t take into account employee feelings so long as tasks get completed.
    Transactional managers have more of a transitory relationship with employees than emotional ones.

Servant Style

Servant leadership entails seeing that team members are professionally and personally fulfilled.

He operates on a people-first mindset.

The emphasis on job satisfaction and collaboration tends to lead to higher levels of comfort, respect, and loyalty.

The servant-leader is effective with nonprofits, where building employee morale is critical.

He helps individuals re-engage with work and purpose.

At his most effective, a servant leader boosts productivity and loyalty, cultivates trust, improves decision-making, and inspires future leaders.

Here’s an example of this leadership style.

Attributes of the Servant Leader 

To be an effective servant leader, you need to:

  • Have emotional intelligence
  • Encourage engagement and collaboration
  • Care about team members
  • Have exceptional communication skills
  • Commit to professionally growing the team 

What’s Wrong with the Servant Leadership Style?

  • As staff plays a larger part in the agenda, the decision-making process is often arduous.
    It can take longer to finalize planning.
  • The style’s leaning on employee support can backfire at the worst times.
    At times of crisis, teams may wait for the leader to take charge, and this style doesn’t promote that.
  • Management may have difficulty adapting to this philosophy.
    The style requires giving up a certain amount of authority.

Laissez-faire Leadership Style

Also referred to as a Hands Off leadership style, the Laissez-faire leader puts her focus on delegation.

She assigns tasks and leaves the team to do the work with minimal to no supervision.

As a laissez-faire manager, she’s focused on the bigger picture as opposed to the management of employees.

The style can be a detriment if employees can’t self-motivate. 

This style is best suited for teams that are well trained, seasoned, and need little oversight. 

Here’s an example of this leadership style.

Attributes of the Laissez-faire Leader 

To be an effective laissez-faire leader, you need to:

  • Effectively delegate
  • Allow freedom of choice
  • Provide the resources and tools your teams need
  • Provide constructive feedback
  • Encourage and leadership in your team
  • Develop an autonomous work environment

What’s Wrong with the Laissez-faire Leadership Style?

  • The laissez-faire style can lead to poorly defined roles.
    With little to no guidance, teams may not be confident about their role.
  • Laissez-faire leaders are often seen as withdrawn.
    If a leader appears uninvolved, followers may show less concern about the project.
  • The wrong leader will take advantage.
    They may use the style to dodge responsibility for group failures. 

Pacesetter Style

When he takes a leadership role in the Pacesetter style, the manager’s setting his team up to produce fast results.

While the different styles of leadership focus on coaching, collaboration, or authority, this one is solely driven by performance.

The pacesetter aims for a higher standard.

He holds his teams accountable for meeting objectives; this leadership role requires self-motivation and the ability to keep teams energized.

He will need his set of leadership skills to get jobs done efficiently and on time.

These types of leaders are not the option for inexperienced teams that need feedback and mentorship. 

Here’s an example of this style.

Attributes of the Pacesetter Leader 

To be an effective pacesetter leader, you need to:

  • Focus on objectives
  • Be highly competent
  • Set high standards
  • Lend a hand to meet goals as needed
  • Value performance above soft skills

What’s Wrong with the Pacesetter Leadership Style?

  • Groups supervised by a pacesetting leader can crumble.
    Not meeting set requirements lead to stress, feelings of inadequacy, and self-esteem issues in teams.
  • With a bias for results, pacesetting leaders leave less room for creativity and innovation; this may result in short-sighted workers, seeing their jobs as repetitive and boring.
  • With no focus on building relationships and team morale, the team doesn’t feel like a team.
    Employees fall into a rut: come to work, complete tasks, meet deadlines, go home.

Transactional Style

Like the pacesetter, the transactional leader focuses on performance in conjunction with company goals.

She uses predetermined incentives to reward and disciplinary action for not meeting goals.

The difference is the transactional process includes instruction, training, and mentorship.

Using a defined structure and short-term goals, transactional leaders facilitate achieving goals.

This leader is ideal for operations and teams determined to hit specific goals with revenue and sales. 

Among the different leadership styles, this is not the one for promoting creativity or encouraging independence.

Here’s an example of this leadership style.

Attributes of the Transactional Leader 

To be an effective transactional leader, you need to:

  • Micromanage
  • Be reactionary
  • Value organizational structure
  • Value hitting goals
  • Not question authority
  • Be pragmatic and practical

What’s Wrong with the Transactional Leadership Style?

  • Transactional leadership is often unbendable.
    Due to this inflexibility, the leader finds it difficult to adjust to unexpected situations.
  • Of the different leadership styles, this one hampers creativity and innovation.
    It’s not the norm to ask team members for their opinion.
  • In its structuring, transactional leadership leaves employees responsible for outcomes.
    Employees feel the organization doesn’t put their welfare first. 


Effective leadership styles come in a variety of forms.

But whether you’re the bureaucratic leader or participative manager, a true leader knows how to adapt.

They utilize the best leadership style to encourage loyalty, productivity, and success.

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