6 types of leadership styles

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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 the best leaders take it a step further by understanding their strengths and weaknesses and learning to practice the leadership styles that best suit them and their team, allowing them to accomplish more, compel greater change and create a legacy that extends beyond their lifetime. Those around you then learn how to lead themselves, creating a positive cycle of growth.

But how many styles of leadership are there, and why do you need to adhere to one? 

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 and therefore be able to refine and maximize them, while also becoming more aware of the qualities that you need to work on to be the best version of yourself.

What is your leadership style?

Knowing which of the different leadership styles you most closely resemble is important because it helps you connect and communicate better with your team, resolve conflicts and develop your leadership skills and personal growth. Hopefully, you’ve already discovered your team’s working style, but to find out how to best mesh with different types of personalities, you also need to know your own. When your employees can answer the question “What type of leader are you?”, they feel more comfortable in their positions and their interactions with you. They know what to expect – and what not to expect – and can better understand your own unique brand of support.

What type of leader are you? Most leaders fall into one of six types of leadership styles: 

Democratic, visionary, coaching, affiliative, pacesetting and commanding. It’s important to note that just because you feel more naturally inclined to a certain style doesn’t mean you can’t jump around to 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.

Are you curious as to which style of leadership most speaks to your personality? We’ll explain the six leadership styles in more detail so you can identify which one resonates with you. But before diving in, we need to talk about servant leadership.

Servant leadership

What is your leadership style? 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. This could be working to benefit your workplace, community, culture or the world at large. Servant leadership is the most effective and powerful way to lead and allows you to make a big impact through your contributions. When you focus on your ultimate purpose or vision, you’re better equipped to persevere through hard times that may come your way.

Types of leadership styles

The following are the basic types of leadership styles. Though you may recognize one as your predominant style, you’ll likely utilize different leadership styles depending on how you handle stress, who you are interacting with and your current goals.

Democratic leadership style

A democratic leader is one who places high value on the diverse skills, qualities and knowledge base of their team. They will work to cultivate consensus within the group by consistently asking those around them, “What do you think?”and deeply listening to their answers. Doing so will 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. This is a very collaboration-heavy leadership style that makes for effective long-term planning.

If the answer to “What is your leadership style?” is democratic, be aware that this style is not an ideal approach in an emergency or crisis 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.

Visionary leadership style

Visionary leaders are at their best when it comes to finding new directions and new potential solutions to a given problem. This type of leader relies on abstract thinking and is able to visualize possibilities that many 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.

A visionary will be able to come up with new goals and ideas, but they’re likely to enlist others to plan how to achieve those goals as they typically don’t like to be bothered with minute details. Visionary leadership highlights how important it is to create a cross-functional team with a variety of talents. That way, one person can formulate big ideas while others execute.

Coaching leadership style

coaching leadership style

A coaching leader is one who spends a great deal of time and energy on the individuals in a given group. They will work 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, a coaching leader will direct others based on what influences their deepest desires, and cultivate a positive environment where encouragement and communication can flow freely.

While coaching is one of the more effective leadership styles in the right circumstances, it does run the risk of making others feel as though they’re being micromanaged. If coaching speaks to you most out of the different leadership styles, remember to occasionally step back and let your team breathe.

Affiliative leadership style

If you answer “The team always comes first” when asked what type of leader are you, your style is likely affiliative. Out of all the different leadership styles, affiliative leadership focuses most intensely on building trust within the group and creating emotional bonds that will promote a sense of belonging to the organization. Affiliative leaders are particularly effective in times of stress or when group morale is low and are very successful at turning employees into raving fans of their companies. They have a knack for repairing broken trust in an organization, improving communication and fostering a sense of team harmony.

Praise and encouragement are very important in an affiliative group setting, but in their efforts to build a strong, happy team, affiliative leaders may run the risk of overlooking issues. This can be detrimental to the success of the organization if done too often as poor performances must not go unaddressed.

Pacesetting leadership style

pace setting leadership

A pacesetting leader is one who leads by doing. They set high standards for themselves in the hope that others will follow their example. This is a good choice for groups that consist of self-motivated, high-performing people who are dedicated to improvement, which is why it’s commonly found in the military.

Julius Caesar, for example, 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 try and excel at the task, that meant they could, too.

However, leadership styles that rely on autonomy (like this one) can become problematic for those who require a lot of detailed guidance as it often comes with an expectation that folks should already know what to do or be comfortable figuring their direction out quickly. It can also create an environment where individuals in the group might feel they’re being pushed too hard by a leader whose standards don’t mirror their own.

Commanding leadership style

A commanding leader is 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. This is a very effective style in times of crisis when quick decisions need to be made.

On the other hand, long-term usage of this style can undercut morale and job satisfaction as it often leaves group members feeling as though they have very little say or influence in the group’s direction and goals. You want your employees to be raving fans of your business, and to do so, you need to treat them with respect and offer a listening ear.

commanding leadership

There's no wrong way to be a leader

What type of leader are you? When answering this important question, it’s important to keep in mind that there are many types of leadership styles for a good reason: there is “no one size fits all.” Different situations call for different approaches depending on the needs and challenges of the moment. And sometimes, a problem is best solved by combining different leadership styles. 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).

So, when contemplating solutions, be mindful of the different strengths and weaknesses within these types of leadership styles and explore whether combining two, three or even four can help you achieve your goals.

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