A good leader can step into any given situation and construct a vision for a better future, brainstorm strategies for realizing that future and execute a plan to see it to fruition.
But great leaders take it a step further by understanding their strengths and weaknesses and learning to practice the types of leadership that best suit them and their team, allowing them to accomplish more, compel change and create a legacy that extends beyond their lifetime.
There are as many great leaders as there are leadership styles. These are the individuals that are capable of channeling their skills and guiding teams toward amazing results – building some of the most powerful companies, sports teams and organizations in the world. To follow in their footsteps, you must answer two questions: What is your leadership style? And how can you embrace different leadership styles to become an even stronger leader?
Why are leadership styles important?
Understanding the leadership style best suited for your particular personality will not only make you a more effective leader, it will help you better understand and master yourself. You’ll learn about your strongest qualities so you can maximize them, while also becoming more aware of what to work on so you can be the best version of yourself. Your leadership style affects how you connect and communicate with your team, relate to your team’s working style, resolve conflicts and more.
It’s important to note that just because you feel more naturally inclined to a certain style doesn’t mean you can’t use another if the situation calls for it. Some types of leadership styles are more effective for a particular set of challenges than others, so don’t be afraid to pull from another style if you feel it will help your cause.
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Types of leadership styles
Strong leaders come in all genders, ages and personality types. What they have in common is the ability to inspire others – and get things done. You’ll likely utilize different leadership styles depending on how you handle stress, who you are interacting with and your current goals. However, you’ll also have a predominant leadership style that comes most naturally to you. Here are 11 leadership styles – do any of them fit you?
1. Servant leadership
No matter which style resonates with you the most, everything you do as a leader must be rooted in servant leadership. Servant leadership means using your leadership skills to serve a greater good. To truly be a servant leader, you must find your purpose and integrate it into everything you do. This could mean working to benefit your workplace, community, culture or the world at large. Having a purpose is vital in business: It informs your company’s values, culture and its success or failure.
Servant leadership is the most effective and powerful way to lead. It is the universal leadership style that you must master – because servant leaders are inspiring leaders. They have a vision so clear, others see it, too. They’re able to persevere through hard times that may come their way because they have a deep belief in themselves. They make a big impact through their contributions and leave the world a better place.
2. Authentic leadership style
In addition to using leadership skills to fulfill a higher purpose in life, the best leaders are also authentic. Authentic leaders focus on building transparent, open relationships with their employees. The truth is important to them, and their values and beliefs often include being ethical, honest and genuine. Because of this, they inspire loyalty in their team and are excellent at getting long-term, positive results. Yes – authenticity can be a business advantage.
3. Democratic leadership style
Democratic leaders place high value on the diverse skills, qualities and knowledge of their team. They cultivate consensus within the group by consistently asking for opinions and deeply listening to the answers. Democratic leaders tap into the collective wisdom the group has to offer in order to discover the next best step, and allow others to develop confidence in the leader.
United States senators, regardless of their party affiliations, are theoretically democratic leaders in that the decisions they make are heavily informed by the thoughts, opinions and desires of their constituents. Of all the different leadership styles, democratic leaders are the most collaborative and effective at long-term planning.
However, this style is not ideal for crisis leadership as it can be more time-consuming than other styles. It’s beneficial to know where your team stands on any given issue, but sometimes you have to make decisions – especially fast ones – alone.
4. Visionary leadership style
Visionary leaders excel at finding new directions and new potential solutions to a given problem. This leadership style relies on abstract thinking and is able to visualize possibilities that others aren’t yet able to see. They’re “big picture” thinkers who can see future potential and articulate it to the group. They tend to be passionate, creative and open-minded and are most effective at inspiring forward momentum.
Steve Jobs is a quintessential visionary leader. Known for his big ideas and his knack for creating an innovation culture, he’s infamous for being able to envision a future that didn’t quite exist (yet!) through the lens of his groundbreaking technology.
Visionaries conceptualize new goals and ideas, but they’re likely to enlist others to make an actionable plan – they typically don’t like to be bothered with minute details. Visionary leadership is an essential piece of a team, but also highlights how important different leadership styles are. When you create a cross-functional team with a variety of talents, one person can formulate big ideas while others execute.
5. Charismatic leadership style
Charismatic leaders share many traits with visionaries. They are charming and persuasive, and are able to connect with others on a deeper level. They are confident and decisive, but make others feel like their opinions are valued. Most of all, charismatic leaders are loved by those around them. They’re viewed as trustworthy, knowledgeable and invaluable to the company – and they are able to inspire others to big accomplishments.
6. Coaching leadership style
Coaching leaders focus on cultivating deep connections that allow for a more thorough understanding of an individual’s hopes, beliefs, dreams and values. One of the types of leadership styles that focuses on guiding rather than instructing, coaching leaders will lift their team to new heights by knowing what inspires them into action. They cultivate a positive environment where encouragement and communication can flow freely.
One of the best examples of this leadership style is Mike Krzyzewski, better known as “Coach K.” As head coach of the Duke University men’s basketball team, he has the most victories in NCAA Division I history, plus five national championships. And he doesn’t just coach his team to victory: There are nine current Division I head coaches that served under Coach K and consider him a mentor. Clearly, Coach K knows how to inspire greatness.
Coaching is one of the more effective leadership styles in the right circumstances, but it does run the risk of making others feel micromanaged. Coaching leaders focus their time and energy on the individuals in a given group. If coaching speaks to you most out of the different leadership styles, remember to occasionally step back and let your team breathe.
7. Affiliative leadership style
For affiliative leaders, the team always comes first. This type of leadership style focuses on building trust within the group and creating emotional bonds that promote a sense of belonging. Affiliative leaders are very effective in times of stress or when group morale is low. This is one of the best leadership styles for repairing broken trust in the workplace, improving communication and fostering a sense of team harmony.
The most famous example of affiliative leadership also comes from sports. As manager of the New York Yankees, Joe Torre led his team to a World Series victory in 1999. Torre made multiple statements to the press praising his team and emphasizing the importance of every player. He would occasionally spotlight players who were going through difficult times, as well as those whose contracts were up. Torre made it clear he wanted to keep the team together – the perfect example of affiliative leadership.
This leadership style must be careful not to let poor performances go unaddressed, however. Praise and encouragement are very important in a group setting, but affiliative leaders tend to overlook issues in their efforts to build a strong, happy team. They must ensure they address problems that could harm the company’s bottom line.
8. Empathetic leadership style
Affiliative leaders are often highly empathetic. Empathy in business is essential, but those with an empathetic leadership style have particularly mastered this skill. They take a genuine interest in their team and are always there to offer support however they can. However, like affiliative leaders, empathetic leaders may need to work on their willingness to confront challenges head-on.
9. Pacesetting leadership style
Pacesetting leaders are known for taking action. They lead by doing and set high standards for themselves, inspiring others to follow their example. This is a good choice for groups of high-performing people who are dedicated to improvement, which is why it’s one of the most common military leadership styles.
Julius Caesar is famous for never having asked his soldiers to do something that he wouldn’t do himself. He’d frequently fight with them, join them in their daily activities and be the kind of soldier he wanted them to be. This empowered his troops to give their jobs their all, because if their leader was willing to do it, that meant they could too.
Of the 11 types of leadership styles, this one relies the most on autonomy, which can be problematic for those who require a lot of guidance. Pacesetting leaders must ensure that their expectations are reasonable and that their team has all of the skills and tools they need. Pacesetting leadership can also create an environment in which some might feel they’re being pushed too hard by a leader whose standards don’t mirror their own.
10. Commanding leadership style
Commanding leaders are the kind we most often see in movies and read about in books. They approach leadership with an attitude of “do as I say because I’m the boss,” giving directives and expecting others to follow orders without question.
Commanding personalities are one of the most effective leadership styles in times of crisis when quick decisions need to be made. This type of leadership style is also common in top-down organizations, such as the government and the military.
However, long-term usage of this style can leave group members feeling as though they have very little say or influence in the group’s direction and goals. In many business models, this will undercut morale and sense of job fulfillment. You want your employees to be raving fans of your company, and to achieve this, you need to treat them with respect and offer a listening ear.
11. Situational leadership style
The ability to choose different leadership styles according to the situation at hand is a true sign of a strong leader. Situational leaders are agile. They look at the challenge, weigh the variables and then decide on the leadership style that will best help them accomplish their goals. They are also resourceful. They understand that as Tony says, “It’s not about your resources, it’s about your resourcefulness.” Situational leaders can adapt no matter what.
Situational leadership can even involve combining leadership styles or using several different styles in the course of solving the same challenge. For example, when faced with planning a company’s next steps, it’s common for CEOs of major companies to deploy visionary, coaching and democratic leadership styles at the same time. They’ll cultivate a community by fostering meaningful connections (coaching) that make its members feel comfortable collaborating (democratic). Then they’ll utilize the resulting strength to carry out the vision in their mind’s eye (visionary). This type of leader is a master of influencing others and achieving their goals.
Finding your leadership style
There is no “right” or “one-size-fits-all” leadership style. The world needs all types of leadership styles to fit various situations, challenges and obstacles. But before you can climb the career ladder or start your own business, it’s essential to answer the question, “What is my leadership style?” Exploring the types of leadership is a vital first step in developing your own skills, becoming an adaptable, agile leader – and in determining how to lead your company effectively.
Discovering your leadership style takes honesty and the ability to take constructive feedback. You can start by developing self-awareness in leadership – become aware of your emotions and your interactions with others. Learn your patterns, both positive and negative. Ask for input from others. Once you know your own strengths and weaknesses, you’re ready to work on becoming a real leader.
Answer the question “What is my leadership style?”
Take the Leadership Style Quiz to find out which of these different leadership styles is your most natural