Effective leadership can make or break an organization.
Leaders are responsible for guiding their teams toward success, and how they approach this responsibility can significantly impact their team's performance.
There are some common leadership styles, each with its unique characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. You may already identify with one leadership style or want to know the key differences.
Either way, this blog provides valuable insights into 7 common leadership styles (with pros and cons) and how you can determine yours.
What is a leadership style?
When you hear the word “leader,” what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
Someone who holds a title and a position of authority, right? While that is true, a leader is much more.
“Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.”
― John Maxwell
Leadership styles are the approaches and methods a leader uses to guide their team forward. It’s a mix of how leaders communicate, manage, and make decisions.
No two leaders are exactly alike because each person's personality, experiences, and skills shape their leadership style.
Influential leaders are versatile and capable of changing as per the situation. But everyone tends to have one prominent style that they exhibit more often.
Why you should know your leadership style
A perfect leadership style is a myth—each has its pros and cons, and it’s essential to be aware of them.
Knowing your leadership style lets you play to your strengths and limit your weaknesses. It helps you become a better leader.
For instance, if you prefer transparent communication with your team, they will feel comfortable coming to you with a problem. On the contrary, if you have an authoritarian style, you will expect your team to follow your instructions without questions.
As a leader, your behavior and actions significantly impact your employees' perception of you. They will judge you by your ability to communicate, solve problems, and handle crises.
Understanding your leadership style will make it easier for you to adapt to the needs.
7 common leadership styles (with pros and cons)
1. Charismatic leadership
People admire charismatic leaders for their charm, communication skills, and passion for their work.
A team leader’s energetic and positive attitude is often contagious, leading to a motivated atmosphere. Such leaders are good communicators who provide clear direction on tasks, improving the team’s focus.
Example: The deadline for a crucial project is approaching, but the team feels that it’s not possible to complete it on time. In this situation, the leader calls for an online meeting to motivate the team and suggests changes in the strategy.
If the new strategy fails to work, they understand the problem and are open to giving an extension. If it does work, the team feels motivated by the support and finishes the project before the deadline.
- Increased motivation: Inspire the team to work towards a shared vision, increasing motivation and engagement.
- Better communication: Effectively convey their ideas and vision to their team members.
- Improved team morale: Create a positive work environment by making their team members feel valued and appreciated.
- Dependency: When you get a supportive leader who supports you through the good and the bad, it’s natural for a team to develop a reliance on them. If they leave, the team might find it difficult to adjust.
- Overconfident in their abilities: Charismatic leaders heavily rely on their likeability and the ability to motivate people. The problem is it doesn’t work every time. When a highly complex problem arises, the team will need more than just motivation.
- More talk, less action: They might say the right things at the right times, but it won’t necessarily help their team with their tasks. Their vision may impress initially, but as time goes on, it might not deliver.
2. Transformational leadership
As the name suggests, a transformational leader will help your team and organization transform. These are supportive individuals who always encourage everyone to give their best.
They praise the team’s strengths, encourage them to learn new skills, and give better results overall. Employees usually develop a sense of loyalty toward such leaders.
Example: Before a team started working on a new project, the team lead talked about its potential. Each team member got a specific set of responsibilities, but they were encouraged to present new ideas that might help the project.
The team pitched some new ideas to their leader. After discussion, the leader decided to accept some ideas that had potential. Eventually, the project’s success exceeded everyone’s expectations.
- Individuality: Creates a workplace where everyone feels respected, heard, and valued for their unique skills.
- High-performing team: When people are encouraged to do their best, it motivates them to outperform themselves.
- Visionary approach: Have a clear and compelling vision of the future, which helps to provide a sense of direction and purpose for the team.
- Better professional development: Inspire people to learn new skills or enhance their existing abilities. Either way, these leaders transform their team members into more agile and skilled professionals.
- Probability for burnout: People might feel tempted to impress their leader by learning new skills on their own time. If their work-life balance takes a hit, it will inevitably lead to burnout. The leaders can counter this by giving high emphasis on maintaining a balance.
- Probability of risk: Since this leadership approach depends on finding new and effective ways to get things done, it might lead to reckless decisions.
- Neglect short-term goals: Visionaries who always focus on the bigger picture might fail to concentrate on the organization's short-term goals.
3. Autocratic leadership (Authoritarian leadership)
An autocratic leader cares less about the team's input. They don’t like anyone questioning their leadership, believing their methods are the best.
The team is supposed to do everything precisely as instructed. These leaders don’t encourage changes and alternate routes for any tasks.
Example: While working on a project, an employee wants to try an alternate approach that could reduce the turnaround time by three days. The employee shared the idea with the manager only to be rebuked for questioning the existing approach. Eventually, the employee has to strictly follow the manager’s instructions.
- Swift decision-making: In situations where time is of the essence, it can help to have a leader who can make quick decisions without needing much input from others.
- Transparent hierarchy: Create order and structure in an organization with a well-defined hierarchy between a leader and the team.
- Accountability: Autocratic leaders make their own decisions, and the team has to follow. It doesn’t matter if the outcome results in success or failure; they can be held accountable.
- No room for creativity: Some team members may have better ideas than the current approach. Since these leaders don’t seek others’ opinions, it can kill the entire team’s creativity.
- Decreased morale and productivity: The team might feel undervalued because of a leader who isn’t interested in listening to them. If the team develops a sense of reluctance towards work, they may become demotivated and unproductive.
- Lack of communication: Poor communication can cause setbacks and conflicts as team members hesitate to approach their leader, creating a communication gap.
4. Democratic leadership (Participative leadership)
A democratic leader makes decisions only after the consensus of the entire team. The leader presents the issues to the team, and everyone shares their approach to solving the problem.
This leadership style engages the team in constructive debate, promoting teamwork and collaboration.
Example: A team underperformed consequently for two quarters. The leader gathered them all to get to the root of the problem. After an in-depth discussion, they concluded they were short-staffed.
The leader gave the team extended time for the next quarter to complete the project. The leader also promised that two new people would join their team soon.
- Fosters collaboration: As every team member has some authority in the decision-making, it encourages them to collaborate.
- Better job satisfaction: Because employees feel valued and heard, it makes them feel satisfied with their job.
- Creates an open-communication culture: The team feels comfortable expressing their ideas and opinions in front of their leader.
- Time-consuming: The leader heavily relies on the inputs of the entire team. It is bound to take more time before they reach a conclusive decision.
- More conflicts: If two team members have conflicting ideas, it might be difficult for the leader to reach a consensus.
- It can be overwhelming for the leader: The leader needs to ensure that every team member has an opportunity to share their ideas and perspectives. It can result in lengthy discussions and decision-making processes and potential leader burnout.
5. Laissez-faire leadership (Delegative leadership)
In this leadership style, team members have complete control over their decisions. The leader provides minimum guidance but rarely intervenes in their processes and approaches.
People have complete autonomy, and the leader trusts that they will finish the job on time. Employees who don’t like being micromanaged admire these types of leaders.
Example: A marketing team is gearing up for a client’s new product launch. The marketing manager briefs the team about the product and its features.
The team works independently to create a go-to-market strategy. The manager believes in the team's ability to create a winning strategy.
- Individual autonomy: People are in charge of their decisions and take accountability for the same.
- Encourages personal growth: Helps employees develop decision-making and leadership skills.
- Less micromanagement: The leader doesn’t get overly involved in managing the work to check what each employee is doing.
- Can create confusing situations: Employees might need more guidance from their leader to understand their responsibilities.
- Less focus on collaboration: Everyone is responsible only for their tasks, and their decisions might not align with the project’s requirements. Due to this, collaboration might take a hit.
- Inconsistent results: The final results may vary when the team works independently. Some projects would be a huge success, and some might fail.
6. Strategic leadership
Strategic leadership is an effective leadership style in management. These leaders always focus on long-term organizational goals and plan their strategies accordingly. They have a thorough knowledge of the competition and change their strategy to stay one step ahead.
Example: A sports shoe company is currently second in the market share and has struggled to take the first spot for some time. A new leader with a thorough knowledge of the market space is appointed.
The leader suggests new strategies while altering the current process. They introduce a new range of shoes with unique USPs to capture new customers. Within a year, the company started ranking first.
- Better chance of success: When the entire team works together on a long-term strategy, it’s more likely to be successful.
- Encourages organizational flexibility: Strategic leaders know when their strategies are ineffective. They are quick to change and adapt to cut back the losses.
- Resource allocation: Strategic leaders plan ahead and can accurately determine the resources needed, such as the number of employees and necessary tools.
- Demands patience: Long-term goals aren’t something a company achieves overnight. The strategies might take time to show positive results.
- Less emphasis on the present: Focusing on the bigger picture might lead such leaders to neglect employees' day-to-day problems.
- Can be costly: Strategic planning and execution can be resource-intensive, requiring significant money to achieve the goals.
- Less emphasis on individual growth: The entire organization focuses on long-term strategies. While it might benefit the organization in the long run, it does little for the employees’ personal development.
7. Coaching leadership
Everyone has some strengths and weaknesses. A coaching leader identifies them and helps the entire team improve. They believe in one team, one dream.
These leaders take a hands-on approach to management, providing regular feedback, guidance, and support to their team. Employees usually feel valued and appreciated under such leaders.
Example: Instagram reels are just starting to catch on, and the marketing team is struggling to make the most out of the platform, as they need more experience with vertical videos.
Their leader takes the responsibility of helping the team understand the platform’s nuances. For an entire month, they learn by experimenting with different types of vertical content. Soon, the group started seeing positive results and felt comfortable with the platform.
- Encourages personal growth: Such leaders always help their team work on their weaknesses and provide effective feedback.
- Builds a positive work environment: Constantly supporting the team to become better versions of themselves leads to a positive organizational culture.
- Improves productivity: Employees constantly learn new skills under their leadership. It boosts the productivity and efficiency of the team.
- Time-consuming: This leadership style depends on analyzing your team members from time to time and finding out weak links. Giving them proper feedback and guidance can take a lot of time.
- Not suited for everyone: Calling out weaknesses can be uncomfortable for some people, leading them to resist this leadership style.
How to identify your leadership style
Identifying your leadership style can be challenging, but it's important. Here are some steps that can help you:
- Reflect on your behavior: Take a step back and ask yourself: How am I interacting with my team? Am I communicating effectively? Am I providing clear direction and guidance?
- Take feedback from the team: If you’re unsure about how they feel, there’s nothing wrong with asking for feedback. Take feedback on your communication style and their thoughts about you being their leader.
- Consider your decision-making approach: Do you like to make decisions independently, or do you prefer to involve your team in the decision-making process? Your decision-making style can be a good indicator of your leadership style.
- Assess your management style: Are you a hands-on manager who likes to be involved in every aspect of your team's work, or do you prefer to delegate tasks and let your team work independently? Understanding your management style can help you identify your leadership style.
- Take a leadership assessment: You can find a variety of leadership assessments online. These assessments contain questions about your values, beliefs, and leadership behaviors. It might give you a detailed insight into your leadership style.
The final note
A directive and micromanaging leader might be effective in a crisis where quick decisions making is required. The same style could be demotivating and stifling for a team that needs more autonomy and independence.
It's important to note that no leadership style is inherently better than another—-the most effective style depends on the situation and the team. A good leader is adaptable and can adjust their style to meet their team's needs and tasks.