10 Common Leadership Styles

Updated on February 18, 2019
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There are numerous different approaches to leadership used by people in organizations, this article looks at ten of the most common.

Having the correct style of leadership for the environment is vital for an organization to thrive.
Having the correct style of leadership for the environment is vital for an organization to thrive. | Source

It's fair to say that there is no single correct leadership style. Different environments demand different approaches, and leaders may even choose to change their style to suit specific situations. Combining elements of two or more different styles can be effective.

The quality of an organization's leadership affects virtually every aspect of its work and output. Morale, productivity, creativity, efficiency, and the effectiveness of communication are all strongly influenced by the way that people are led.

Below, in no particular order, are ten different styles of leadership found in organizations.

10 Common Styles of Leadership

  1. Autocratic Leadership
  2. Democratic (Also Known as 'Participative') Leadership
  3. Laissez-Faire Leadership
  4. Transformational Leadership
  5. Charismatic Leadership
  6. Strategic Leadership
  7. Transactional Leadership
  8. Servant Leadership
  9. Coaching Leadership
  10. Situational Leadership

1. Autocratic Leadership

In this style, leaders have considerable control over staff, share power rarely, and do not request or consider suggestions from workers. Strict control by an individual can result in lower morale and a higher staff turnover. Workers can feel that their ideas are not taken seriously. Creativity and knowledge are limited, as the pool of ideas come from just one person rather than many.

On the other hand, decision making at the top is more likely to be quick, unambiguous, and decisive. This style of leadership is best suited to an environment where the tasks are relatively uncomplicated and routine, or where a rigid hierarchy is deemed as essential, such as in the military.

2. Democratic (Also Known as 'Participative') Leadership

This style involves workers being asked for their input, and then after a consideration of the merits and demerits of the suggestions, the leader makes a decision.

Leadership responsibilities are delegated and shared, therefore this style often results in workers feeling a greater sense of job satisfaction because they are contributing to the direction of the organization. There is also a greater pool of creativity and knowledge to draw upon with group involvement.

However, decision making can be slow, so this style does not suit organizations where quick responses from management are vital. Disputes and factionalism can arise, plus communication processes can become clogged, when everybody wants their opinion to be listened to.

3. Laissez-Faire Leadership

This style basically means leadership takes a 'hands-off' approach and allows workers to just get on with it. Laissez-faire leaders trust their workers and only offer direction when requested. This style works best in organizations where workers are experienced, motivated, and responsible.

Laissez-faire leadership is good for worker morale and removes unnecessary restrictions and interference from management. Conversely, work quality and productivity may suffer if employees aren't held to firm deadlines and expectations.

Donna Karan, founder of DKNY, is an example of a leader who uses a laissez-faire style, by allowing her designers freedom to create.
Donna Karan, founder of DKNY, is an example of a leader who uses a laissez-faire style, by allowing her designers freedom to create. | Source

4. Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders "transform" a work environment by pushing workers beyond their comfort zones. They expect the best from their employees and lead by example.

This style of leadership is especially effective in organizations where creativity and innovation are needed. Transformational leaders are skilled at motivating and enthusing employees and producing a stimulating work environment.

While often visionary, transformational leaders need support from detailed-oriented managers to make sure practical goals are achieved and that strides are made towards bigger strategic outcomes.

5. Charismatic Leadership

This style has some overlap with transformational leadership, but relies directly upon the presence and ability of an individual leader to transform the values, beliefs, and aspirations of an organization through the strength of their personality and ability to charm.

Common in politics and religion, this style also works well in businesses and other organizations. One downside is that the health of the organization depends on the presence of a single individual; if he or she leaves, then the organization will immediately suffer.

Steve Jobs is one of the most famous charismatic leaders from the business world. Using his charm, vision, and force of character he made Apple into a leading world brand. When he parted from the company, however, it suffered.
Steve Jobs is one of the most famous charismatic leaders from the business world. Using his charm, vision, and force of character he made Apple into a leading world brand. When he parted from the company, however, it suffered. | Source

6. Strategic Leadership

This style requires the leader having a strategic vision and persuading workers to pursue it, usually through supplying them with an appropriate set of prescriptive habits. The leader effectively occupies the space between possibilities and practicalities

This form of leadership works particularly well in organizations where radical change is required or ongoing. Benefits include the creation of a environment where workers have the training, skills and tools to real with the challenges that are come at them. It also has the effect of producing more leaders within the organization.

7. Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership focuses on group organization by establishing clear roles and responsibilities and rewards workers who achieve the tasks and targets set for them. The essence of this approach is to motivate workers through incentives.

This style works well when employees perform relatively basic tasks. It can often fail when more creative approaches are needed from staff. Some workers may also only perform at the minimum level they need to achieve a bonus and give no more.

8. Servant Leadership

Servant leaders prioritize the needs of their workers over the needs of the management and generally stay out of the limelight. This style favors power-sharing and group decision-making over individual leadership authority.

Servant leadership often contributes to high staff morale and is most common in organizations that have an over-riding mission at their core, such as nonprofits and customer-service orientated businesses. It's not a style that works well when there are tight deadlines to fulfill or when fast decisions are needed.

9. Coaching Leadership

Coaching leadership relies upon teaching and supervision. Organizations are improved when employees are motivated and encouraged to develop their skills. Coaching leaders are particularly useful in environments where performance outcomes require improvement and staff need grooming for future advancement.

10. Situational Leadership

Situational leadership involves having a range of styles on hand and utilizing the most appropriate one for a specific situation or environment. This might mean adopting a democratic style in a boardroom meeting, but then using a transactional style when attempting to motivate a marketing team.

Situational leadership is very effective when organizational procedures need to be updated, revamped, or dispensed with. However, switching styles often or suddenly can confuse workers. Some leaders may not have the ability to switch styles, and assessing which style is best for each situation can be a difficult and time-consuming process.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Paul Goodman

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    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      6 months ago from UK

      I guess everyone has their own style of leadership, which is not necessarily best suited to the situation they are in. I was intrigued to see how badly a collaborative leadership style fared during a task on the UK Apprentice show recently.

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