8 Common Leadership Styles: Which is Right for You

8 Common Leadership Styles: Which is Right for You?

Published On: 30th May 2023 | Updated On: 2nd June 2023

Leadership is a critical component of success for any organisation or team. The type of leadership style adopted by a leader can significantly impact the team's performance, motivation, and overall success. As such, it is essential to choose the right kind of leadership style that aligns with the organisational goals and values, team dynamics, and individual needs of team members. Choosing the right leadership style can promote collaboration, teamwork, and innovation, while the wrong style can result in conflicts, low morale, and disengaged employees.

There are eight common leadership styles, each with its unique approach to leadership. These styles are Autocratic, Transformational, Servant, Democratic, Laissez-faire, Charismatic, Transactional, and Situational leadership. Each of these styles has its strengths and weaknesses, and a leader must choose the one that aligns with their organisational goals, team dynamics, and individual strengths.

In the following sections, we will discuss each of these leadership styles in detail, highlighting their characteristics, pros and cons, and real-world examples. The advantages and disadvantages of these leadership styles are interchangeable based on the type of leaders.

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Autocratic Leadership

Autocratic leadership, also known as authoritarian leadership, is a leadership style where the leader has complete control over decision-making and the team's activities. The leader is the sole decision-maker and exercises strict control over the team's actions. Autocratic leaders do not encourage collaboration or input from their team members, and they typically make decisions based on their own judgment and expertise. Some of the key characteristics of autocratic leadership include:

  • Centralised decision-making
  • Direct supervision
  • Strict control over team members
  • Minimal input from team members
  • Clear division of roles and responsibilities

Advantages of Autocratic Leadership

  1. Quick decision-making: As the leader has complete control, decisions can be made quickly without the need for consensus or collaboration.
  2. Clear direction: The leader sets clear expectations and roles, which can lead to a more structured and efficient team.
  3. Expertise-driven decisions: Autocratic leaders often have expertise in their field and can make informed decisions based on their knowledge and experience.

Disadvantages of Autocratic Leadership

  1. Lack of collaboration: Autocratic leaders do not encourage input or feedback from their team members, which can lead to low morale and disengaged employees.
  2. Limited creativity: Without input from team members, ideas and innovative solutions may be limited.
  3. Lack of trust: Autocratic leadership can lead to a lack of trust between the leader and team members, resulting in decreased motivation and productivity.

Example of Autocratic Leadership

One real-world example of autocratic leadership is Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Inc. Jobs was known for his strict control over the company's products, design, and decision-making. He had a reputation for being a perfectionist and would not compromise on his vision, often making unilateral decisions without seeking input from his team members. While Jobs' autocratic leadership style was successful in many ways, it also resulted in conflicts with team members and a lack of collaboration.


Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is a leadership style that focuses on inspiring and motivating team members to achieve their full potential. The leader creates a vision for the team and inspires team members to work towards that vision. Transformational leaders encourage creativity, collaboration, and innovation and empower team members to take ownership of their work. Some of the key characteristics of transformational leadership include:

  • Visionary thinking
  • Empowerment of team members
  • Strong communication skills
  • Focus on team development and growth
  • Emphasis on creativity and innovation

Advantages of Transformational Leadership

  1. Motivates and inspires: Transformational leaders inspire team members to achieve their full potential, leading to increased motivation, engagement, and productivity.
  2. Encourages creativity: Transformational leadership fosters a culture of creativity and innovation, allowing team members to generate new ideas and solutions.
  3. Builds strong relationships: Transformational leaders build strong relationships with their team members, promoting trust, collaboration, and loyalty.

Disadvantages of Transformational Leadership

  1. Time-consuming: Transformational leadership requires a significant investment of time and energy to build strong relationships, develop a shared vision, and empower team members.
  2. Risk of burnout: Transformational leaders may put too much emphasis on the team's development and growth, leading to burnout and fatigue among team members.
  3. Lack of focus on detail: Transformational leaders may focus more on the big picture and vision, potentially overlooking critical details and operational aspects.

Example of Transformational Leadership

Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks. Schultz was known for his ability to inspire and motivate his team members to create a culture of excellence and innovation. He emphasised the importance of customer service and experience, empowering his team members to make decisions that aligned with the company's vision and values. Schultz's transformational leadership style led to significant growth and success for Starbucks, making it one of the most recognisable and successful brands globally.


Servant Leadership

Servant leadership is a leadership style where the leader's primary focus is on serving the needs of their team members. The leader prioritises the well-being and growth of their team, helping team members to achieve their goals and reach their full potential. Servant leaders empower their team members and create a culture of trust, collaboration, and mutual respect. Some of the key characteristics of servant leadership include:

  • Empathy and compassion
  • Focus on team development and growth
  • Listening and communication skills
  • Willingness to serve others
  • Building strong relationships with team members

Advantages of Servant Leadership

  1. Builds trust and loyalty: Servant leaders prioritise the needs of their team members, creating a culture of trust, respect, and loyalty.
  2. Encourages personal and professional growth: Servant leaders focus on team development and growth, helping team members to achieve their goals and reach their full potential.
  3. Promotes collaboration: Servant leaders foster a collaborative culture, where team members work together towards a shared vision and goal.

Disadvantages of Servant Leadership

  1. May be perceived as weak: Servant leaders may be perceived as weak or indecisive, as they prioritise the needs of their team members over their own.
  2. May be time-consuming: Servant leadership requires a significant investment of time and energy to build strong relationships, develop trust, and promote growth.
  3. May not be effective in a crisis: Servant leadership may not be effective in a crisis situation, where quick decision-making and action are required. 

Example of Servant Leadership

Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity Payments, a credit card processing company, exemplifies servant leadership through his actions and decisions. In 2015, he made headlines when he implemented a minimum salary of $70,000 for all employees at his company, regardless of their job title or position. This move was a significant departure from the industry norms and aimed to address income inequality and provide a better quality of life for his employees.

Price's decision was driven by his belief that the well-being and happiness of his employees were crucial to the success of the company. He wanted to create an environment where employees felt valued and motivated, and where financial stress wouldn't hinder their ability to perform their best work.

By raising the minimum salary to $70,000, Price ensured that his employees had a living wage that allowed them to meet their basic needs, reduce financial stress, and have a better work-life balance. The decision had a profound impact on the employees, many of whom experienced significant improvements in their personal lives.

Price's approach to leadership extends beyond just the minimum salary decision. He actively listens to his employees, seeks their input, and considers their opinions when making important decisions. He also promotes transparency and open communication within the company, fostering an inclusive and collaborative culture.


Democratic Leadership

Democratic leadership, also known as participative leadership, is a leadership style where the leader involves team members in the decision-making process. The leader encourages team members to share their ideas and opinions, and they work together to make decisions that benefit the team and organisation. Democratic leaders foster a culture of collaboration and communication, where team members feel valued and empowered. Some of the key characteristics of democratic leadership include:

  • Involves team members in decision-making
  • Encourages collaboration and teamwork
  • Values input and opinions from team members
  • Empowers team members to take ownership of their work
  • Builds consensus and commitment to decisions

Advantages of Democratic Leadership

  1. Encourages creativity and innovation: Democratic leaders foster a culture of collaboration and communication, allowing team members to share their ideas and opinions freely.
  2. Builds strong relationships: Democratic leaders involve team members in the decision-making process, promoting trust, respect, and loyalty among team members.
  3. Increases job satisfaction: Democratic leaders empower team members to take ownership of their work, leading to increased job satisfaction and motivation.

Disadvantages of Democratic Leadership

  1. Time-consuming: Democratic leadership can be time-consuming, as the leader needs to gather input and opinions from team members before making decisions.
  2. May lead to indecision: Democratic leaders may struggle to make decisions quickly, as they need to build consensus among team members.
  3. May not be effective in a crisis: Democratic leadership may not be effective in a crisis situation, where quick decision-making and action are required.

Example of Democratic Leadership

Barack Obama, the former President of the United States. Obama involved team members in the decision-making process and valued their input and opinions. He encouraged collaboration and teamwork among his advisors, promoting a culture of openness and transparency. Obama's democratic leadership style helped to build a strong and effective team, achieving significant accomplishments during his presidency, such as the Affordable Care Act and the Paris Climate Agreement.


Laissez-faire Leadership

Laissez-faire leadership, also known as delegative leadership, is a leadership style where the leader gives team members a high degree of autonomy to make decisions and take ownership of their work. The leader provides minimal guidance and direction, allowing team members to work independently and take responsibility for their actions. Laissez-faire leaders typically provide resources and support when needed, but they do not get involved in the details of day-to-day operations. Some of the key characteristics of laissez-faire leadership include:

  • Minimal guidance and direction from the leader
  • High degree of autonomy for team members
  • Empowerment and ownership of work for team members
  • Minimal interference from the leader
  • Freedom for team members to develop their own processes and procedures

Advantages of Laissez-faire Leadership

  1. Promotes creativity and innovation: Laissez-faire leadership allows team members to be creative and innovative, as they have the freedom to develop their own ideas and processes.
  2. Increases motivation and job satisfaction: Laissez-faire leadership empowers team members to take ownership of their work, leading to increased motivation and job satisfaction.
  3. Encourages personal and professional growth: Laissez-faire leadership provides team members with the opportunity to develop their own skills and take on new challenges.

Disadvantages of Laissez-faire Leadership

  1. Lack of guidance and direction: Laissez-faire leadership may result in team members feeling lost or directionless, as they are not receiving clear guidance or direction from the leader.
  2. May lead to confusion and conflict: Laissez-faire leadership can lead to confusion and conflict if team members have different ideas and processes that are not aligned.
  3. May result in lower productivity: Laissez-faire leadership can lead to lower productivity if team members are not clear on their roles and responsibilities.

Example of Laissez-faire Leadership

A real-world example of a laissez-faire leader is Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group. Branson is known for adopting a hands-off approach to leadership, allowing his teams considerable autonomy in decision-making and execution.

Branson believes in hiring talented individuals and giving them the freedom to excel in their roles without excessive micromanagement. He believes that by providing the right environment and support, individuals can thrive and bring their best ideas forward. One notable example of Branson's laissez-faire leadership style can be seen in the management of Virgin Atlantic Airways. Branson entrusted the day-to-day operations of the airline to his team of managers, allowing them the flexibility and autonomy to make important decisions.

Under Branson's laissez-faire approach, Virgin Atlantic developed a reputation for innovation and employee empowerment. For instance, employees were encouraged to use their judgement and creativity to provide exceptional customer service. This autonomy allowed the employees to go above and beyond traditional service standards, leading to a positive customer experience.


Charismatic Leadership

Charismatic leadership is a leadership style where the leader inspires and motivates their team through their personality and charisma. Charismatic leaders have a strong vision and are able to communicate it effectively to their team, inspiring them to work towards a common goal. Some of the key characteristics of charismatic leadership include:

  • Clarity of vision
  • Inspires and motivates
  • Attractive personality drives things
  • Has an element of emotional intelligence
  • Tendency for taking risks

Advantages of Charismatic Leadership

  1. Inspires and motivates team: Charismatic leaders are able to inspire and motivate their team to work towards a common goal.
  2. Builds strong relationships: Charismatic leaders are able to build strong relationships with their team, leading to loyalty and commitment.
  3. Promotes innovation: Charismatic leaders encourage creativity and innovation, leading to new ideas and solutions.

Disadvantages of Charismatic Leadership

  1. Can be too focused on the leader: Charismatic leadership can result in team members being too focused on the leader, rather than the task at hand.
  2. Can lead to overconfidence: Charismatic leaders can become overconfident in their abilities, leading to risky decision-making.

Can lead to dependence: Charismatic leaders can create a culture of dependence, where team members rely too heavily on the leader for direction.

Example of Charismatic Leadership

Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo, is widely regarded as a charismatic leader. Her leadership style encompasses several key aspects that contribute to her charismatic appeal. Nooyi's exceptional communication skills enable her to effectively articulate a compelling vision for PepsiCo, inspiring others to align with her strategies. Her personal charisma, marked by confidence, energy, and enthusiasm, captivates audiences and makes her a charismatic figure in the business world. Additionally, Nooyi's authenticity and relatability, evident through her openness about personal experiences and challenges, foster trust and strengthen her charismatic leadership.

As a visionary leader, she has led PepsiCo's diversification into healthier product offerings and sustainability initiatives, positioning the company as innovative and forward-thinking. Nooyi's inspirational journey from a small town in India to becoming a prominent business leader serves as a powerful example and motivates others, particularly women, to pursue their aspirations and shatter barriers. Overall, Indra Nooyi's charismatic leadership has significantly influenced PepsiCo's growth and reputation while inspiring individuals worldwide.


Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership is a leadership style where the leader provides rewards and punishments to their team based on their performance. The leader sets clear goals and expectations for their team and provides incentives for achieving them. Some of the key characteristics of transactional leadership include:

  • Focused on achieving specific goals
  • Uses rewards and punishments to motivate their team
  • Sets clear expectations for team members
  • It’s a performance and merit-based system

Advantages of Transactional Leadership

  1. Clear expectations: Transactional leadership provides clear expectations for team members, reducing confusion and increasing accountability.
  2. Performance-based: Transactional leadership rewards good performance, motivating team members to work hard and achieve their goals.
  3. Efficient: Transactional leadership can be an efficient leadership style, as it focuses on achieving specific goals and objectives.

Disadvantages of Transactional Leadership

  1. Can stifle creativity: Transactional leadership can stifle creativity and innovation, as it focuses on achieving specific goals rather than exploring new ideas and approaches.
  2. Can create a culture of fear: Transactional leadership can create a culture of fear, where team members are more concerned with avoiding punishment than with doing good work.
  3. Limited motivation: Transactional leadership can provide limited motivation, as rewards and punishments may not be enough to inspire team members to go above and beyond.

Example of Transactional Leadership

Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric. Welch was known for his focus on setting clear goals and expectations for his team, and for providing incentives for achieving them. He implemented a "rank and yank" system, where employees were ranked based on their performance and the bottom 10% were fired each year. This approach was controversial, but it was effective in improving the company's performance and profitability during Welch's tenure as CEO.


Situational Leadership

Situational leadership is a leadership style where the leader adjusts their leadership style to fit the situation and the needs of their team. The leader assesses the level of competence and commitment of their team members and adapts their leadership style accordingly. Some of the key characteristics of situational leadership include:

  • Flexible and adaptable leadership style
  • Focus on developing their team members
  • Assess the level of competence and commitment of their team members
  • Work collaboratively with their team members

Advantages of Situational Leadership:

  1. Adaptive: Situational leadership is adaptive and flexible, allowing leaders to adjust their style to fit the situation.
  2. Focused on development: Situational leadership is focused on developing team members, which can lead to improved performance and job satisfaction.
  3. Collaborative: Situational leadership is collaborative, which can foster better communication and teamwork.

Disadvantages of Situational Leadership:

  1. Can be difficult to implement: Situational leadership requires a high level of skill and experience, and can be difficult to implement effectively.
  2. Time-consuming: Situational leadership requires a significant investment of time and effort, as the leader must continually assess and adjust their leadership style.
  3. Can lead to confusion: Situational leadership can lead to confusion among team members if they are not clear on the leader's expectations and approach.

Example of Situational Leadership:

Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors. Barra is known for her adaptive leadership style, adjusting her approach to fit the situation and the needs of her team. She is collaborative, seeking input and feedback from her team members, and focused on developing their skills and capabilities. Under her leadership, General Motors has undergone significant transformation and innovation, including the development of electric and autonomous vehicles.

How to Choose the Right Leadership Style

Choosing the right leadership style is essential for effective leadership. When selecting a leadership style, different situations and different teams require different leadership styles. Here are some tips for choosing the right leadership style:

  1. Assess the situation: Before selecting a leadership style, assess the situation and determine the best approach based on the goals, challenges, and dynamics.
  2. Consider the team: Take the time to understand the skills, experience, and personalities of the team members. Consider how to motivate and engage them effectively.
  3. Know your strengths and weaknesses: Choose a leadership style that aligns with your strengths and is not too challenging to implement.
  4. Be flexible: While it's important to choose a leadership style, remember that it's not set in stone. Be willing to adapt and adjust your approach as needed.
  5. Seek feedback: Get feedback from your team members to understand how your leadership style is impacting them. Use this feedback to adjust your approach and improve your leadership effectiveness.

By considering these factors and following these tips, leaders can choose the right leadership style for their team and situation, improving their effectiveness and achieving better outcomes.

Concluding Thoughts

It's important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. Leaders should be willing to experiment with different styles and adjust their approach based on the situation and team. By doing so, they can improve their leadership effectiveness and achieve better outcomes.

In conclusion, choosing the right leadership style is a critical component of effective leadership. By understanding the various styles and factors to consider when selecting the appropriate approach, leaders can increase their effectiveness and achieve success for themselves and their team.

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