Tips You Can Use to Choose the Right Leadership Style for You
Every business has one key objective in mind: providing the goods and services that fulfill customers’ needs and desires. To succeed in that goal, however, companies need to be able to harness and organize resources in a way that efficiently meets that customer demand while still earning a profit that enables the business to continue its operations and even grow over time.
But why is it that some companies can succeed in that mission while others fail? The answer is usually pretty simple: good leaders who employ effective leadership styles.
In this post, we will explore the most common leadership styles in use today and examine why those styles are so effective. We will also offer some helpful tips you can use to identify the best leadership style for your personality and needs.
What is a leadership style?
Leadership styles are simply the way that different kinds of leaders use their talents and abilities to motivate, inspire, and lead their subordinates or followers. These styles impact every aspect of a leader’s actions, from the development of plans and strategies to daily interactions with their team. At the highest levels of leadership, these styles determine how leaders manage other stakeholders’ expectations, how they empower and care for members of their team, and how their companies go about the business of achieving their corporate mission and vision.
In many instances, leaders develop and adopt leadership styles that mesh with their own professional experiences and personalities. Of course, good leaders also have to consider their companies’ needs and culture, as well as the working habits and well-being of those they are tasked with leading. Leaders who properly understand their own style and leverage its benefits to maximum effect can more effectively harness their teams’ talents and abilities to achieve their organizations’ goals.
Why is it important to understand these leadership styles?
Whether you are leading a small team within a larger company or serving as the CEO of your organization, it is vitally important to understand your own leadership style. Without that understanding, it will be difficult for you to identify any weaknesses in your style or make any serious improvements in your leadership ability. A full understanding of the different types of leadership styles may also inspire you to adopt a new style that may be more effective for your current leadership needs.
Of course, this is just as important for anyone who simply aspires to a leadership role. By examining and learning about the most common effective leadership styles in use today, you can start to develop the habits you need to eventually become the leader you want to be. Moreover, many of the techniques and mindsets used to employ these leadership approaches can help to make you a better employee and coworker, no matter where you are on your career journey.
What are the 9 most common types of leadership styles?
While there are many different ways to lead, we will focus on nine of the most common leadership styles in use throughout today’s economy. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and some work better than others in different corporate environments. As you consider each option, you will likely identify one or two approaches that at least somewhat resemble your own preferred style.
The so-called autocratic style of leadership can be one of the most difficult styles to use effectively since it typically involves the leader retaining all or almost all responsibility and authority over the organization’s decision-making process. Most autocratic leaders take an almost dictatorial approach to leadership, leaving little or no room for input and suggestions from subordinates. Organizations with this leadership structure simply expect everyone on the team to follow instructions without question.
With an experienced leader who knows exactly what the company needs to succeed, this type of leadership can be highly effective at producing solid results. However, its excesses can also lead to increased employee discontent if those workers feel that decisions are being made without considering their well-being and best interests. As a result, even the most autocratic business leaders typically find ways to ensure that they receive regular information about their employees’ morale and expectations.
The democratic approach to leadership is a reverse image of the autocrat’s style. These types of leaders thrive on a freer exchange of ideas and welcome input from managers and their subordinates. Collaboration is seen as the highest ideal and the best path to achieving the right decision for any given situation. These leaders are also quick to delegate authority to others, trusting them to properly utilize labor and other resources to achieve the company’s goals.
Companies that utilize this leadership style often see higher rates of employee morale, engagement, and job satisfaction. It is a style that empowers individuals by ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard during the decision-making process. At the same time, however, that process can sometimes be overly complex, especially in instances where decisions need to be made quickly and efficiently. That’s why democratic leaders insist on reserving the ultimate decision-making authority for themselves.
A bureaucratic leadership style relies on set rules and established processes to get things done. Bureaucratic leaders typically establish or maintain hierarchical structures within the business, defined by formal departments, positions of authority, and set titles. This traditional approach to business leadership provides opportunities for input from subordinates, but leadership will usually ignore ideas that challenge the status quo or run counter to existing procedures and rules.
This type of leadership is most effective in businesses that require constant focus on safety, or that involve managing large sums of money or other valuable resources. Typically, companies that employ bureaucratic leadership styles are seen in industries where the work is routine and there is less need for innovation. It is a more traditional style that would be largely useless in many of today’s most innovative industries. Still, some elements of a process-focused approach can be useful when incorporated into more dynamic leadership styles.
4. Hands-off, or laissez-faire
Some leaders take a more hands-off approach to things, adopting what has come to be known as a “laissez-faire” (loosely translated: leave it alone) leadership style. This style comes from an economic theory that suggests that groups of people work most efficiently without interference from higher-ups in their businesses or government. Leaders who use this style of leadership typically focus only on the big picture, leaving managers and workers to make their own decisions about how things get done. These leaders typically only intervene in situations where a problem has become such a threat that only they can solve it.
Like democratic leadership, the hands-off approach can be a great way to empower individual workers to make maximum use of their knowledge and skills. That tends to increase motivation, raise morale, and spark innovation at every level of an organization, especially among the most experienced members of the team. Unfortunately, it can also leave less experienced workers rudderless, since they may not receive the coaching they need to progress in their jobs.
Visionary leaders rely on their own energy, charisma, and communication skills to inspire and motivate those who follow them. These leaders are able to focus on the company’s vision and use their personal charisma to get others to follow them in pursuit of that broader objective. Their enthusiasm and clear style of inspiring communication can build the employee trust and confidence good leaders need to get others to adopt their vision and agenda.
Visionaries need to take care, however, that they do not become so invested in the big picture that they fail to see problems developing in the company’s daily activities. In addition, any leader who is exclusively focused on the future always runs the risk of neglecting their team’s need to feel appreciated. However, leaders who are conscious of this potential weakness can usually utilize this leadership style to great effect, inspiring everyone around them to become the best possible version of themselves.
The pacesetter leadership style is one that is most commonly seen at lower levels of leadership within an organization. Pacesetters are focused on leading by example, setting the standard of excellence for everyone on their team. This style of leadership is best reserved for workplaces that already have high levels of morale and motivation since the pacesetter is often too busy setting the pace to focus on coaching others.
This leadership style can be especially effective in factory environments or other settings where production speed is a high priority. However, it is important for those who employ this style to remember that they will need to also ensure that employees who meet their expectations will need to be praised for that effort. In addition, good leaders will try to make sure that the expectation they set is one that every employee can reasonably meet.
The transformational leadership style focuses on inspiring and motivating employees to reach their full potential. The ultimate goal is for every employee to experience a transformation that involves dramatic growth in talent, focus, and achievement. Expectations are consistently raised to encourage every member of the team to reach new heights of excellence. Over time, this effort can lead to rapidly changing organizations that continually grow and innovate.
Obviously, this type of leader is most effective In companies that can benefit from constant innovation and increases in productivity. One example of this would be a cutting-edge tech firm that needs to rely on innovation to enjoy ongoing success. Transformational leaders need to ensure, however, that they never lose sight of individual workers’ needs or set expectations so high that the learning curve cannot be met. To avoid that, these leaders need to also focus on providing the right level of coaching and feedback so that no member of their team gets left behind.
Transactional leadership styles are simple to understand. Leaders create a vision and set tasks that need to be done by their subordinates. Obviously, every type of employment involves some measure of a transaction, since employees are paid for doing set jobs. But transactional leadership goes beyond that by including things like performance bonuses and other rewards as motivating tools to encourage improved productivity and results, as well as potential penalties for performance failures.
Since these types of results-based reward systems emphasize performance over everything else, leaders who lose sight of their employees’ other needs can sometimes neglect coaching and morale-building. Moreover, rewards-based transactional leadership is not always effective with employees who prioritize creativity and innovation over monetary needs. That is why transactional leadership is often restricted to sales and other work environments where employees are driven by performance metrics and monetary rewards.
Coaching leadership styles lean toward an approach that focuses on providing employees with the motivation and support they need to reach their full potential. Like the transformational style of leadership, this approach attempts to help every member of the team become increasingly valuable in their role within the company. As a result, the coaching leader will strive to understand each employee, identify their strengths and shortcomings, and find the right blend of opportunity and responsibility to maximize their effectiveness.
This style of coaching is similar to what sports coaches do with their athletes. A coaching leader will offer guidance to team members, encourage them to learn new skills and techniques from their coworkers, and put each employee in the best position to succeed in their job role. Coaching may take time, and this style of one-on-one mentoring can have mixed results in some cases, but it can also result in highly motivated employees who appreciate that their leaders care enough to invest in their success.
How to choose your own leadership style
Naturally, you might find yourself wondering which one of these leadership styles is the most effective. The reality is that none of them is inherently superior to the others, and each can have a role in any company’s success. In fact, you might be surprised to discover that many leaders employ styles that are a hybrid mix of these leadership approaches.
You will find democratic leaders who incorporate elements of a transactional or visionary style. You are just as likely to see autocratic leadership that consciously employs a measure of democratic openness. Often, leaders will blend elements of different styles, pragmatically drawing from the best of multiple philosophies in a conscious attempt to avoid any singular style’s potential weaknesses. Keep that in mind as you try to determine which leadership style is best for you. While you may find yourself in alignment with one particular style, you should also be open to elements of other styles to ensure that you are as effective as possible.
Ultimately, there are several different factors that you need to consider when you choose your preferred leadership style, including:
Your own personality
The first thing you need to think about is how your personality can align with any given leadership style. Are you comfortable making decisions and confident that you know exactly what needs to be done to achieve goals and just want others to let you lead the way? If so, then there is a good chance that some form of top-down autocratic leadership style might fit well with your preferred approach to leading a group. Just recognize that you will want to moderate those tendencies to avoid some of that style’s deficiencies.
Alternatively, you may be someone who prefers to collaborate with your team to ensure that every good idea has a chance to be heard. Or you might like to delegate responsibility so that you can focus on the big picture. You may even be someone whose primary mission in life is to empower others, by offering them guidance, greater liberty to make their own decisions, and opportunities to grow and develop in their careers.
Take stock of your personality and how you prefer to interact with others. Also, identify several key traits that you recognize as potentially beneficial for your leadership style. As you consider the other factors below, think about which type of leadership style can employ those traits to produce the best results.
The type of company you are leading
Once you have identified possible styles that you could effectively use to lead others, it is time to consider the type of company you work for. Is it a large enterprise with many moving parts and a wide variety of responsibilities and departmental missions? Or is it a small, nimble firm that needs to remain agile and energetic to fuel continued innovation? Different types of companies may require a different approach to leadership, so try to choose a style that aligns with your company’s culture and needs.
The work that needs to be done
As you noticed from our examination of various leadership styles, the effectiveness of any given approach can often depend upon the type of work that the company does. For example, when your team’s productivity is impacted by serious concerns about safety, productivity time, and routine tasks, leadership styles that encourage adherence to rules, processes, and directives are usually more effective than democratic or hands-off styles.
Meanwhile, companies that need constant innovation to succeed often thrive under less restrictive leadership, since a less-controlling environment can empower employee creativity and problem-solving. In short, try to find a style or combination of styles that can effectively help your team get the work done in the most productive way possible.
Your team’s habits, experience, and skills
The fourth factor that you need to consider is the team itself. Are your employees already highly motivated, or will they require more attention to inspire them to greater heights? Are they experienced enough that you can safely delegate responsibility without worrying about the entire team falling apart? Do they have the skills needed to perform every task you need them to do? Take the time to learn about your team so that you can confidently choose the right way to lead them.
Tips you can use to make your leadership style choice
After you have considered all of those factors, use these tips to help you make your choice:
Think about the challenges you face and the values you want to focus on as you work to overcome those obstacles. The leadership style you choose will need to align with your values if you want to be successful. An inauthentic approach is doomed to failure.
Take some time to consider other leaders and how they have successfully led their teams or companies. If possible, find a mentor with leadership experience and get them to help you develop the skills and style you need to succeed.
Do not be afraid to change course if your chosen style doesn’t yield the results you need. Most of the best leaders in history have experienced setbacks on their way to success.
Rely on your network for advice and feedback. Chances are that you won’t know everything that you need to know as you embark on your leadership journey. Never hesitate to seek out input and criticism from people you trust.
Leadership styles play an important role in any organization’s success, but there are many different ways to lead and there is no universal approach that is guaranteed to work in every environment. By understanding the different types of leadership and figuring out which one will work best for your leadership needs, you can improve your odds of becoming the successful leader you want to be.
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Ken Chase, Freelance Writer
During Ken's two decades as a freelance writer, he has covered everything from banking and fintech to business management and the entertainment industry. His true passion, however, has always been focused on helping others achieve their career goals with timely job search and interview advice or the occasional resume consultation. When he's not working, Ken can usually be found adventuring with family and friends or playing fetch with his demanding German Shepherd. Read more resume advice from Ken on ZipJob’s blog.
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