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9 Leadership Styles Explained

Which of these statements would you want to hear from your boss?

  • “My way or the highway.”
  • “Do what you want.”

Probably something in between, right? Leadership styles can vary based on multiple factors, including the level of control and power a leader possesses compared to that of her or his followers.

Also, different situations call for different measures. Leadership types aren’t always used in isolation; rather, a combination of styles may often be deployed.

Let’s take a closer look at nine types of leadership style.

Authoritarian

Authoritarian leadership emphasizes the distinction between the leader and followers. In this style, direct supervision is necessary for success. Authoritarians engage in one-way and downward communication, and control the discussion and interactions of followers.

Works best: When clear tasks have to be completed urgently.

Warning: The focus on efficiency may hinder progress and create an environment of fear that eliminates discussion.

Democratic

Democratic leaders share the decision making with group members, promote their interests and practice social equality. Democratic leadership is often highly effective and creates better contributions from employees and increased morale and innovation.

Works best: When the organization’s direction is unclear, and the leader needs to utilize the wisdom of the group. Also, when group members are motivated and enjoy sharing their knowledge, and have plenty of time to contribute and vote on the best option.

Warning: Should not be used in times of crisis when timely decisions must be made. Also, when roles are unclear, miscommunication and incomplete projects can result.

Affiliative

Affiliative leadership emphasizes teamwork and focuses on creating harmony between people in a group.

Works best: When trying to improve morale and communication, and in times of broken trust and trauma.

Warning: Focusing on group praise can enable poor individual performance to go uncorrected, and for mediocrity to be tolerated.

Coaching

Coaching leadership focuses on developing individuals and showing them how to improve their performance and align their goals with the goals of the organization.

Works best: With employees who show initiative and want more professional development.

Warning: Isn’t as effective when teammates are unwilling to change or learn, or if the leader is lacking.

Visionary

Visionary leaders create a vision for where the team is going, but not exactly how they’ll get there, which frees employees to experiment and take risks.

Works best: When an organization needs a new direction.

Warning: Visionary leaders may not care about their followers’ sacrifice in their quest to pursue their dream and success.

Laissez-faire

In laissez-faire leadership, followers are free to make all decisions for themselves, and rule themselves with guidance and input from the leader.

Works best: When followers are skilled, trustworthy and experienced, and have pride in their work.

Warning: Should not be used when the leader can’t provide feedback to followers.

Pacesetting

The pacesetting leader sets high standards for performance and efficiency.

Works best: When the team is motivated and skilled.

Warning: Shouldn’t be deployed frequently because it can lower morale and make people feel like they’re not doing enough. This style can also overwhelm followers and stifle innovation.

Commanding

Commanding leadership is the classic “military” type of leadership, which is probably the most popular but least effective. This style features a lot of criticism and not very many compliments, and potentially can do harm to job satisfaction and morale.

Works best: In a crisis when a dramatic turnaround is needed.

Warning: Should be avoided, if possible, because it can isolate people and dampen flexibility and innovation.

Transactional

Transactional leaders motivate their followers through a system of punishments and rewards that is based on two factors:

  • Contingent Reward:Follower effort is exchanged for specific rewards
  • Management-by-Exception:Utilizes corrective criticism, negative feedback and negative reinforcement to alter behaviors when followers don’t meet performance levels

Transactional leaders focus on operational efficiency, goal-setting and productivity, and don’t make changes to the organization.

Works best: In teams where there is a low emotional investment.

Warning: This style may not take individual differences into account.

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