Five Common Leadership Styles

Hate it or love it, work doesn’t go smoothly without effective leaders who can guide their teams to success. Leadership is about so much more than a fancy title or a swanky corner office. Leaders who can motivate and inspire their teams to deliver their best effort everyday enjoy a productive work environment where everyone thrives. Leadership styles will vary person to person, but there are several different styles that many leaders employ today. Let’s take a look at some of the most common leadership styles.

1. Transformational

Transformational leaders are those who transform and improve upon company conventions. They galvanize their team to deliver above and beyond by providing adequate challenge, for example, in the forms of goals and deadlines. The transformational leader is focused on the big picture, identifying new ways to optimize while motivating employees to commit to a shared grand vision. This leader knows what needs to change and how to unite team members to achieve that change through clear communication and coaching. Transformational leaders are great for growth-minded companies but can risk employee burnout if not careful. Usually, though, transformational leaders contribute to a productive company culture where employees are motivated and valued. 

2. Transactional

Sometimes referred to as managerial leadership, transactional leadership relies on a system of rewards and punishments. These managers set specific goals for their employees and attach rewards for completion, or alternatively, punishments for failure. Transactional leaders provide their team members with structure and clear expectations. Unlike transformational leaders, transactional leaders are not concerned with radical change. They are content to follow established routines and procedures as long as they are efficient. The main benefit of this leadership style is clarity among employees. On the other hand, this style can leave little room for inspiration, leading to low creativity and a fear of penalties. 

3. Delegative/Laissez-faire

Delegative leadership, aka laissez-faire leadership, is about empowering employees to be accountable for their own work. While this leadership style isn’t a free-for-all, it does place trust in the employees to deliver without much oversight or micromanagement. This hands-off approach works well for highly-skilled teams, making them feel respected and valued. But for inexperienced employees, delegative leadership likely won’t work. 

4. Autocratic

Companies with a top-down structure where the boss dictates everything to their subordinates are led by an autocratic leader. Also known as authoritarian, coercive or commanding leaders, these leaders zero in with precise focus on their vision for the company and direct orders to employees in pursuit of that vision. This leader generally does not consult the employees when it comes to decision making. Though this style of leadership can be perceived as negative, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. In a pinch when difficult decisions have to be made, autocratic leaders rise to the occasion. The downside of this approach is that it promotes over-reliance on the leader, who tends to micromanage the employees, which contributes to a less than ideal work environment.  

5. Democratic/Participative

Democratic or participative leadership includes employee input and involvement in decision making. These leaders promote an inclusive work environment and build trust to share responsibilities. Democratic leaders value communication and collaboration, empowering employees to share their ideas, regarding them as valued members of the team. This leadership style contributes to a positive work environment where employees feel that their contributions are meaningful and appreciated. It can be difficult to use this leadership style when working with remote teams. Also, this might not be the most effective leadership style when working with inexperienced or unskilled employees. 

A leader may employ any combination of these styles as they manage their employees. They each have their pros and cons. Consider what leadership style resonates most with you, and think of areas where you can improve to deliver the best for your team.