Culture

What are the different leadership styles?

There are 7 different types of leadership styles. Which are you, and which would you rather work for?

Ryan Carruthers

October 19, 2022

The importance of high-quality leadership can’t be understated.

According to Gallup, leaders alone account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units.

In other words, how you manage a team greatly impacts how your employees feel about their roles. That’s a big deal, with a separate Gallup study finding that the top quartile of business units for employee engagement see…

  • 81% lower absenteeism
  • 10% higher customer loyalty/engagement
  • 18% higher productivity
  • 23% greater profitability

…than the bottom quartile of units.

But “good leadership” isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario. To be an effective leader, you need to find a leadership style that works for you while also taking into account the types of people on your team.

With so many factors at play, it’s easy to see why the matter has become a burning question for HR leaders.

To make life easier, we’ve rounded up nine common leadership styles, along with the pros and cons of each:

1. Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders are all about the big picture. Rarely happy to micromanage or obsess about tiny details, they’d much rather spend their leadership skills focusing on the company’s direction of travel (and considering what happens when they arrive). 

This future-oriented vision has a big impact on the objectives they set and their expectations for team development. When it comes to setting individual development goals for team members, these leaders look to push people outside of their comfort zones. From an employee perspective, this can be challenging to adapt to — but also inspiring.

Pros of Transformational Leadership

  • Transformational leaders can be a catalyst for business growth.
  • Forward-thinking goal-setting can be highly motivating to ambitious team members.
  • If employees feel “bought in” to the organization’s future plans, they’re more likely to feel engaged.

Cons of Transformational Leadership

  • Big-picture goals can feel less tangible to employees, which could be demotivating.
  • By focusing on the future, transformational leaders risk missing key day-to-day details.

2. Visionary Leadership

Also known as affiliative leadership, visionary leadership is another leadership style that’s very much focused on the future. Leaders who fall into this category are big proponents of teamwork, emotional intelligence, and collaboration.

With strong communication skills and a natural ability to rally people together around a shared cause, visionary leaders understand how to motivate teams. This makes them highly effective at achieving growth.

But these leaders aren’t just great orators. They also plan meticulously, ensuring employees are given a clear path to follow in order to deliver the desired results.

Pros of Visionary Leadership

  • Giving employees a vision to work toward can be highly motivating, thereby unlocking the myriad benefits of an engaged workforce.
  • As long as they buy into the vision, team members feel inspired to go the extra mile to achieve organizational objectives.

Cons of Visionary Leadership

  • Much like transformational leaders, visionary leaders can sometimes sacrifice important short-term milestones through their constant focus on “what comes next”.
  • While visionary leadership can feel inspiring and motivational to some employees, it may also come across as vague and unstructured.
  • Visionary leaders tend to be laser-focused on a single, big objective — to the potential detriment of other valuable goals.

3. Delegative Leadership

Delegative leadership is also known as hands-off and laissez-faire leadership. Whatever you call it, the methods of team management are the same: giving employees a minimum of guidance and backing them to solve problems or deliver results using their own initiative.

That description might make delegative leaders sound detached, uncaring, or even lazy. Those might be traits of bad delegative leaders. But strong leaders in this category take the time to outline specific expectations and guidelines rather than throwing their team in at the deep end with no armbands.

Even with clear instructions, there’s a lot of scope for employees to veer off track under a delegative leader. As such, the leader must be on hand throughout the project to discuss decisions, offer feedback, and monitor performance toward targets and milestones.

Pros of Delegative Leadership

  • By freeing them up from day-to-day decision-making, delegative leaders are better able to concentrate on the big picture.
  • Highly qualified and motivated employees often feel most empowered under delegative leaders.
  • Delegative leadership gives experienced employees the freedom to take full advantage of their skills.

Cons of Delegative Leadership

  • Delegative leaders are less likely to be present to deal with disagreements, which can make friction harder to overcome. 
  • Less experienced team members can feel rudderless and unsupported.
  • If expectations aren’t clearly defined, productivity is likely to drop under a delegative leader.

4. Autocratic Leadership

Autocratic leaders make their own decisions without consulting any of their direct reports. Often obsessive micromanagers are more likely than any other type of leader to want to learn how to keep track of time and work hours or impose strict guidelines on how tasks should be approached.

All of this makes autocratic leaders sound distrustful and generally unpleasant to work for, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Where less experienced teams are concerned, autocratic leaders who give clear instructions can be highly effective, giving employees all the tools they need to accomplish important tasks and deliver fantastic results. When things go smoothly, this can feel extremely motivating.

Autocratic leaders typically thrive in conditions when predictability is essential. This makes them less common in creative industries and more prevalent in highly regulated ones, such as construction and healthcare.

Pros of Autocratic Leadership

  • Autocratic leaders create a clear, unambiguous roadmap to deliver consistent results.
  • Decision-making processes are clearly defined and highly efficient.
  • Less experienced teams often achieve better results under more autocratic leaders.

Cons of Autocratic Leadership

  • With little or no group input in the decision-making process, autocratic leaders can hamper creativity and innovation.
  • If an autocratic leader loses the confidence of their team, they have few tools to rebuild it.
  • Highly qualified and experienced team members are less likely to thrive under a controlling autocratic leader.

5. Democratic Leadership

The polar opposite of autocratic leadership, democratic leaders rely heavily on input from team members to inform decisions. While the ultimate responsibility for the direction of travel rests on their shoulders, all employees on their team will be given an opportunity to have their say.

Typically, the leader will give their team a challenge to overcome or a result to achieve, then open up the floor to suggestions. Through further discussion, they aim to rally everyone — or at least the majority of their team — behind one course of action, then move forward.

Pros of Democratic Leadership

  • Democratic leadership encourages out-of-the-box thinking.
  • By democratizing decision making, all employees feel empowered to have their say, which can boost engagement.
  • The decision making process is totally transparent because everyone gets involved, which can improve buy-in and trust.

Cons of Democratic Leadership

  • Fast decision making can be tricky under a democratic leader, which can be problematic when immediate action is required.
  • If the team fails to agree on a course of action, the whole decision making process is derailed.
  • Similar to delegative leadership, democratic leadership is less effective with inexperienced teams that lack the knowledge and skills to make the right call.

6. Coaching Leadership

Also known as conscious leadership, coaching is about building on the strengths of individual employees to drive the whole team forward. Coaches strive to understand what makes each team member tick and what types of knowledge they require to develop in their role.

In some ways, coaching leadership shares similarities with democratic leadership. It relies on leveraging the strengths and experiences of the team to guide actions, rather than taking a top-down approach to decision making. However, coaching leaders place greater focus on achieving success through driving individual development.

Pros of Coaching Leadership

  • Individuals feel highly motivated under a coaching leader who gives them the tools to build new skills.
  • Coaches can work effectively with teams of any experience level.
  • Investing in people can be a valuable tool in improving talent retention.

Cons of Coaching Leadership

  • Coaching leadership falls down if the “wrong” candidates are hired, as their individual strengths may not complement those of other team members.
  • By concentrating on the individual, coaches may be less focused on big picture business goals.

7. Pacesetting Leadership

Pacesetters are highly driven and energetic leaders who love to get involved in delivering results. Their approach is all about setting a goal and working tirelessly to achieve it. They lead by example and expect the same dedication and relentless perseverance from their team members.

As such, pacesetting leaders thrive in high-pressure environments. When a crucial deadline is approaching or a crucial business objective needs to be hit, their single-minded focus is highly effective. Their enthusiasm for delivering results can be infectious and motivating. But it also risks causing burnout, both for the leader themselves and their employees.  

Pros of Pacesetting Leadership

  • Pacesetters are arguably better than any other type of leader at achieving specific results efficiently.
  • Their high-energy, dynamic approach can be extremely motivational for like-minded employees.
  • Because they are prepared to “get their hands dirty”, pacesetting leaders inspire hard work and dedication from team members.

Cons of Pacesetting Leadership

  • This leadership style works best for short, sharp sprints. Over time, the relentless pace can lead to burnout for all involved.
  • When teams are stressed and working to strict deadlines, mistakes are more likely.
  • Employees who enjoy regular feedback and coaching are unlikely to thrive under a pacesetting leader.

Final Thoughts

There is no such thing as the “perfect” form of leadership. As you can see, each style has its own strengths and weaknesses and is well-suited to different scenarios and working environments. Rather than simply picking a leadership style and sticking with it, consider the makeup of your team, the goals of your organization, and your own natural leadership skills. And don’t be afraid to adapt your approach as you progress in your career or face specific challenges.

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