When you think about leadership, what words come to mind? Most of us think about leaders as either good or bad—someone who can either effectively lead a team or fails to do so.
If you aspire to take on a leadership role in a business—or are about to start leading a team—it is important that you understand the different leadership styles used in a business.
Indeed, there are many different leadership techniques, and each has its own set of intended use cases. In this guide, we’re going to discuss why you should think about your personal leadership style, and talk through eight of the main approaches used in the workplace.
Why Should I Think About My Leadership Style?
Thinking about your leadership style is a good exercise, even if you are not yet ready to make the transition to a leadership role.
Do you want to take a more hands-off leadership approach? Or do you prefer to get the input of all team members before making a decision? Knowing how you want to lead will make it easier for you to take responsibility for your actions in the workplace.
For instance, if you want to be a hands-on leader, that will affect how you think about your long-term goals. You may want to spend time getting your hands dirty with a core project as soon as possible to help prepare you for this style of leadership.
Great leaders have a clearly defined style. So, if you aspire to be a great leader, you will need to spend time considering what your style is, and how you are going to apply that approach in your future career.
Top 8 Different Leadership Styles
While there are dozens of different leadership styles, there are a few which are more common than others. Here are the eight main types of leadership that you may want to consider when establishing your personal leadership style:
A democratic leader is a person who will ask questions like, “What do you think?” before making a final decision. Democratic leaders believe in the importance of getting the thoughts and opinions of the team members in making effective decisions.
There are a number of benefits to this leadership approach. By getting team members involved with decision making, you can build up a strong culture of trust in a business. In addition, if team members feel like they had a say in a decision, they may be more likely to commit to the outcome, even if it was not the outcome they desired.
An autocratic, or “authoritarian,” leader is someone who will make most of their decisions by themselves. These people will consider all the evidence they have around why a particular course of action should be taken and will make a decision either alone, or with the input from a small group of other employees.
Autocratic leadership styles are common in businesses with strict regulatory guidelines. This is because there are usually clear systems that need to be followed for a particular action, and managers typically have more experience implementing those systems. However, autocratic leadership can result in less creative output by a team, because team members may feel like their ideas are not valued.
A laissez-faire leader is someone who is hands-off and provides little oversight to their subordinates. Instead, laissez-faire leaders believe in delegating work to employees who are the best fit for a task and giving them ownership over that task.
Laissez-faire leadership styles are appropriate in organizations where all team members have experience working on a given task. This is because seasoned employees typically need less motivation. In addition, many employees thrive when given ownership over a task because it shows their manager trusts them.
However, if a team is not already motivated to work on a task, they may not be able to function effectively under a laissez-faire leader.
A coaching leader is someone who will analyze what their employees are good and not good at, and work with each employee to improve their skills. Coaches prefer to work with an employee, instead of as their superior. They will work with an employee to set actionable goals and give them progress updates as they advance toward those goals.
The coaching leadership style is effective because it gives employees more control over their own direction and personal growth. Instead of having to listen to an order given by a manager, employees can work closely with their manager to determine goals and approaches that make sense for them to use in their job.
Coaching leadership styles are time-intensive, which means that they do not work in many organizations.
A pacesetting leader is someone who is driven by performance and expectations. This type of leader will set clear goals for their team and will lead by example. Instead of asking people to do something, they will demonstrate their ability to do it and expect people to follow their lead.
Pacesetters have strong experience in their field of expertise and believe firmly in pushing the bar as often as possible to drive performance on their team. This type of leadership works best in fast-paced and results-driven cultures where team members need constant motivation to keep going.
However, this approach to leadership can result in employees feeling burnt out after a certain period of time—especially if they are pushed too hard.
A bureaucratic leader is someone who goes “by the book.” They expect all their team members to follow every procedure in place when making a decision.
This type of leadership is common in large organizations and governments, where each employee has clear expectations and a specific list of responsibilities they have to undertake. The people who benefit most from bureaucratic leaders are those who thrive on safety and security in their work.
Bureaucratic leadership can result in decisions being made only on the merit of policy, without regard to new and innovative approaches that could potentially produce better results.
A transformational leader is similar to a coach in the sense that they believe in working individually with each employee to set goals and expectations. The main difference between coaches and transformational leaders is that transformational leaders are motivated by the goals of a particular organization in their work.
Transformational leaders can be thought of as someone who always thinks about the big picture. They want to see their organization thrive as much as possible.
This leadership style often promotes creativity, because employees are encouraged to think more about what drives the best results for the business than what approaches have been done in the past. But, for people who are less open-minded, working under a transformational leader can be difficult, because they are usually more hesitant to changes.
A servant leader is someone who believes firmly in the abilities of the people with whom they work and strives to make those people feel fulfilled. Servant leaders focus on how they can improve the morale of their employees because they believe that more motivated employees are more likely to produce high-quality work.
Servant leadership styles are beneficial because they can boost morale and make employees feel more involved in the decisions that they will impact their work. This, in turn, leads to better performance.
However, servant leadership can be difficult to maintain because it can involve moving personal priorities aside for the good of other workers. This is a skill that takes practice and time to refine and perfect.
Implementing a Leadership Style
So, now you know a few of the different types of leadership that you can adopt. You may have found one that interests you and asking yourself, “How can I become this type of leader?”.
Maybe you thrive on rules and want to be a bureaucratic leader. Or maybe you believe in autonomy and want to use the laissez-faire approach. Whatever style you want to implement, know that, with practice, you can successfully adopt that new leadership style.
Here are a few steps you should follow when implementing a new leadership style:
#1: Reflect on How You Work Best
The first step to implementing a leadership style is to reflect on how you work best. How have you acted as a leader in the past? What strengths and weaknesses do you have? It may be helpful to get the opinion of those who have worked with you in the past so you can get a firmer insight into your working routines.
#2: Research a Leadership Style
Once you know how you work best, you can use that information to decide on the leadership style you want to implement. Suppose you want to be a laissez-faire leader. Your next steps will be to learn more about how hands-off leadership works and what practices you can use to implement this type of leadership.
It can be helpful to read case studies from people who have exercised a particular style of leadership in the past. These case studies will give you detailed accounts of how leadership styles are applied in practice, which will help you prepare for using a new style.
#3: Practice Makes Perfect
The best way to implement a new leadership style is to practice as much as you can.
Even if you are not yet in a leadership role, you should still be able to find opportunities in your work to embrace a specific style. Here are a few things you can try to practice:
- Volunteer to help coach a co-worker who is new to using a specific process
- Ask if your team can start hosting stand-ups so you can develop closer relationships with your colleague
- Ask for feedback on your work as often as possible, to collect the thoughts and opinions of your co-workers
There is no “right” leadership style to use. In fact, a solid leadership style may look like a blend of a few of those we’ve mentioned in this article.
Insurance companies, for instance, thrive on bureaucratic leaders, due to the intense regulation in the space. Technology startups, on the other hand, often have a large number of laissez-faire managers, because new ideas are essential to the survival of the business.
Whatever leadership style you decide is best for you, the best way to adopt the style is to practice. Over time, as you practice, you’ll figure out what leadership strategies work best in certain situations, and which approaches do not work. You can then use this information to improve as a leader.
With the information in this article, you’ll be able to start thinking about what leadership style works best for you, and how you can start applying that in your job.