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Last updated: 24.08.21

What are the Different Styles of Leadership?

There are many different examples of leadership and management in the workplace, from company directors to line managers and project leads. Depending on the context, different approaches to leadership are needed to ensure that those involved work as efficiently as possible and that a group, team or department operates without any conflict or resentment.

Nine Different Types of Leadership Styles

There is no official number of defined styles of leadership, although there have been several psychologists who have come up with their own sets of characteristics for leaders. Below are definitions of the nine most common leadership styles in management, along with explanations of their key characteristics and the situations they are most suited for.

Autocratic

An autocratic leadership style does not come strongly recommended. It operates on a ‘Do as I say’ basis, where decisions are made by the leader and the rest of the team do not get much of a say.

Autocratic leaders tend to work on the belief that they know better than everyone else and do not tend to listen to much, or any, input from others when it comes to making decisions. A key feature of this leadership approach is also that members of the team do not tend to be consulted before changes or decisions are made, and everyone is expected to work with what is best for the leader.

Understandably, autocratic leadership is not a style that works for the majority of people. Whilst it can be useful on occasions where a snap decision needs to be made or someone is an expert on a situation, in the majority of cases it leads to other members of the team feeling ignored and underappreciated, which is not conducive to harmonious working.

If your workplace seems to be demonstrating an autocratic style of management, it is definitely worth reevaluating those in leadership positions and thinking about implementing a different approach.

Authoritative

An authoritative style of leadership is quite similar to autocratic, but involves much more interaction with the other members of the team. It is a much more popular approach to leadership because of this, and can be summarised by the phrase ‘Follow me’.

Authoritative leaders tend to be experts in their area and are often very confident and strong-willed individuals who are happy to take on the responsibility of leading an entire team. They make the majority of decisions for a group, but take the time to explain their reasoning and ensure that their choices aren’t going to cause any problems for anyone else.

This style of leadership also involves working with and coaching members of the team to help everyone give their best to a project. It’s particularly useful when you have a group of people who lack experience and are more uncertain in their roles, as an authoritative leader establishes a clear way forward and brings everyone along with them.

The only drawback to this style is that it does still put most of the power into the leader’s hands, which other team members may find frustrating.

Affiliative

The affiliative style of leadership is a total opposite to the above two types, working on the basis that the leader gets to know everyone on the team on a personal level and makes decisions based on how everyone is feeling. It’s this feeling of affiliation that drives the team forward, which is why the style can be summed up by the phrase ‘People first’.

An affiliative leader prioritises harmonious working within a team and collaborates with everyone to ensure that agreements are reached consensually. There are clear channels of communication open between everyone involved, and the team leader often works with the rest of the group to gain a better understanding of their work.

This leadership style is most effective when you’re in a situation where conflict has taken place, such as a team disagreement or a formal complaint. Affiliative leaders are also very beneficial in stressful group work situations, as they are well equipped to reassure others and ease points of tension.

Coaching

The coaching leadership approach is similar to the affiliative style in that it involves the team leader working closely with everyone in the group, only with this type, there is an emphasis on nurturing growth. The style can be described as ‘Consider this’ leadership, as it focuses on guiding others towards making decisions and progress.

Those with a coaching leadership style will identify and nurture the strengths of everyone in their team, thinking about the best overall strategy to ensure that everyone’s talents are utilised. It’s a really useful style of leadership and management when you’ve got a team that all have individual areas of expertise, as it allows for personalised development plans to be made and implemented within a project.

A key aspect of being a leader who uses the coaching style is that you do not solve your team’s problems for them. Instead of offering direct advice, a coaching leader will give people the tools to make their own decisions and establish their own paths towards success, using their own knowledge to inform this.

Coaching leadership is best suited to situations where personal development is a priority, whether this is as part of a team project or in a more welfare-orientated scenario.

Democratic

A democratic leadership style is the total opposite of an autocratic one. It operates on a ‘What do you think?’ basis, where the leader asks for everyone’s input before making a decision.

A group that is being led by a democratic leader is a democracy; everyone is given a chance to have their say and influence the overall direction of a project. This leader is still tasked with deciding a project’s direction and often has more skills or knowledge than those they are working with (although not always), but only makes choices after running them by everyone who is going to be affected.

Democratic leadership is best suited for a wide range of scenarios where you are managing a group working together and want to ensure that everyone’s input is heard and valued. It’s one of the most effective types of leadership because it means that all team members have a say regardless of their skills or experience, leading to more harmonious working relationships and a better sense of camaraderie.

Laissez-Faire

Laissez-faire leadership is another style of management that is very different from the autocratic approach. The term "laissez-faire" is a French phrase that literally translates to ‘let them do’, which is what a leader following this style embodies when it comes to organising the other members of their team.

A laissez-faire leader makes very few significant decisions, instead letting their team dictate processes and priorities without implementing much, or any, structure. Those working underneath laissez-faire leadership are empowered to make their own choices and manage tasks as they see fit, using the leader as a touchpoint for discussion instead of confirmation or permission.

Scenarios where laissez-faire leadership is effective tend to be with small teams or companies, where there is an emphasis on flexible or agile working. Whilst there are many benefits to giving workers this much freedom, it can lead to disorganisation and shouldn’t be implemented without forward planning and guidance.

Pace-Setting

The pace-setting style of leadership operates on a ‘Do as I do’ basis. The leader in this scenario is in charge of setting the standards, deadlines and expectations of a team and the rest of the team have to ‘keep up’ with this established pace.

Pace-setting leaders are very driven individuals who want to get the best out of their team and use motivation and high standards to keep everyone moving. When everyone else involved is equally hardworking, it can be a great way of making progress quickly and smashing through targets.

This type of leadership is also most suited to situations where results are needed quickly and you have a team that is motivated by pressure and the drive to succeed in tight circumstances. Whilst some people thrive off working in this kind of fast-paced environment, others can find it incredibly stressful and tense, so it;’s not a leadership style that works for everyone.

Transactional

The concept of transactional leadership operates on a reward management basis. This kind of leadership style uses incentives to drive progress, giving clear direction and expectations of what needs to be done and what will happen when these goals are met.

In scenarios where transactional leadership is used, the leader establishes the responsibilities of everyone involved and identifies what can be gained from completing tasks or reaching milestones. This leader will still have a lot of responsibility and decision making power; the key feature of this style is that the team is motivated by a clear reward. 

Transactional leadership is quite a common style that is used in a lot of workplaces, where managers or team leaders give rewards to those who do the best work or motivate their team members by promising something desirable when certain tasks are completed. It’s a very effective leadership approach when you’re working with a team that has a clear goal in mind and will be motivated to reach this goal and reap the rewards of success.

Transformational

Finally, transformational leadership is an approach where the leader’s overall goal is to drive change with the work that they are doing and the decision they are making. Whilst there may be set tasks and projects within a company under transformational leadership, there will also be wider aspirations of making significant changes to company values or overall processes as well.

A transformational leader will not only provide their team with classic leadership support such as giving direction and offering help; they will also implement incremental changes into work that has a bigger overall impact. This might be through setting personal goals, establishing internal projects or gradually increasing the pace or way that work is done in a company.

Transformational leadership is seen more and more in workplaces nowadays that are striving to break away from conventional modes of working and find the most efficient way to operate and grow. It’s suited for individuals who have strong morals and are determined to see their plans through to fruition, as well as those who are good at coaching others to succeed and develop.

FAQs

What are the four leadership styles?

As you’ll see from this article, there are a wide range of different types of leadership styles. The four most common styles however are autocratic, authoritative, pace-setting and democratic, which are used in the majority of professional leadership situations.

Why are leadership styles important?

Different leadership styles are more suitable for different kinds of tasks and teams, and it is important to understand which of these styles you embody and how you can use this approach to the best of your advantage. This means that it is easier to identify the ways in which you can improve your leadership skills, get a better understanding of how the people in your team will feel working under your direction, and improve communication within your team.

What affects leadership styles?

As well as the personality factors that influence what kind of leadership style certain people are most suited for, several external factors can affect types of leadership. Things such as resources, technology available, the characteristics of people in your team and the organization environment and culture may all affect how someone’s leadership style manifests itself and can limit the effectiveness of their approach.

Summary

There is a time and a place for every different type of leadership, and certain people will be more suited to certain approaches to managing a team. This comparison of leadership styles has covered nine of the most popular approaches and outlined where each of them can be the most effective, whether you’re using them in a workplace, as part of a recreational team or to pursue a personal project.

If you’d like to find out more about leadership styles and the best approach to use when in charge of a team, we offer a ‘Management and Leaderships Styles online course which goes into more detail about the different approaches to leadership and their strengths and weaknesses.

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