6 Types of Leadership: Which Leadership Style is Right For Me?

March 21, 2024
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Within organisations, there are many different types of leaders and styles of leadership. Leadership style refers to the leader’s behaviours and techniques when influencing and managing their teams. Their style also determines how they implement strategies and plans and consideration of stakeholders and the team. A leader’s particular style results from their experiences, personality and professional development and training. An effective leader is successful in engaging the individuals in their team and delivering results. To do so, they must recognise their current leadership style and take steps to further develop their leadership skills. 

It’s important to recognise that leadership differs from management in many ways. The main difference is that leadership is about motivating and encouraging employees, while management is about ensuring tasks are completed as intended.

Whether you are a leader, manager or employee, it’s useful to understand the different types of leadership and how these can shape and change an organisation. This article explains six common leadership styles and the advantages and disadvantages of each, as well as which leadership style is considered the most effective.

A leader in an organisation leading a meeting

What are the Different Styles of Leadership?

There are many different styles of leadership and various theories, with some overlap between these. Leaders frequently adopt a range of leadership styles and an effective leader will understand how to adapt their style depending on the situation. However, they will often have one particular leadership style that they use most of the time. 

We will be covering six common types of leadership here, though there are numerous others:

Coaching Leadership

Coaching leadership focuses on the needs of the team by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of individual members and the overall team. This provides individuals with direction to work to their strengths and develop themselves in weaker areas. Coaching leaders are committed to getting the best from each individual in their team through clear direction and support. The leader works with individuals to help them to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to understand how they can improve.

The leader must support their team with their development and provide each member with constructive feedback to improve performance. They should encourage the team to consider solutions to problems they encounter by asking prompting questions, rather than the leader making all the decisions. In doing so, team members feel included and listened to and will develop their ability to find solutions themselves.

Advantages of coaching leadership include:

  • Objectives are clear and team members understand what is expected of them.
  • Team members enjoy working as part of a group towards a shared outcome. 
  • Effective communication and collaboration is encouraged.
  • Weaknesses are addressed and individuals are supported to improve.
  • Team members feel trusted and empowered, resulting in them being motivated and productive.
  • Organisations develop talent, creating a skilled workforce.

Disadvantages of coaching leadership include:

  • It can be time consuming to successfully implement because it includes one-on-one time with all team members.
  • The leader must have the necessary skills and experience. They must be an effective communicator to ensure they deliver feedback in an appropriate way so that team members feel encouraged to improve, rather than criticised and unmotivated.
  • Some teams may not want to work together in this way or want this type of leader. Individuals may resist attempts at coaching leadership and be uncooperative which can cause problems for the wider team.
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Want to Learn More?

Our Coaching and Mentoring online training course is designed to give you the practical tools and techniques needed to get started with successful coaching and mentoring. We also offer a range of articles on the topic, including How to Develop Coaching and Mentoring Skills and Coaching vs. Mentoring: What’s the Difference?

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Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is characterised by leaders who take control and influence others through emphasising change and transformation within people and organisations. They engage others by recognising their needs, motivating them to succeed and developing a relationship of trust and participation. This type of leadership involves strong communication to encourage team members to feel invested in a shared vision. As with coaching leadership, there is a focus on people, with each individual’s potential recognised and leaders working with them to achieve this.

Advantages of transformational leadership include:

  • The organisation innovates and changes for the better. People are guided by the leader to adapt to change and the challenges that may come with it.
  • Team members feel motivated and have a sense of purpose. They understand and believe in a clear vision established by the leader and the part they play in achieving it.
  • Individuals are supported to develop and grow professionally, increasing their skills and capabilities.
  • Relationships within teams and across organisations are strong due to the trust placed in the leader.
  • As a result, performance and productivity often improves.

Disadvantages of transformational leadership include:

  • Individuals may experience burnout and feel overworked due to the perceived pressure to perform. If a leader is highly committed to an organisation, team members may feel as though they need to display the same level of commitment by working unreasonable hours.
  • Individuals may feel under appreciated if they aren’t motivated or the leader fails to recognise their achievements.
  • Some team members may require more structure and support than being led by example.
  • Unless the leader provides clarity on the tasks that need to be completed, team members may be confused about responsibilities. This can result in a decrease in productivity.
  • Team members may not raise concerns. As transformational leadership involves promoting a shared mindset, issues or different approaches may not be recognised or raised. Individuals may not feel comfortable with raising concerns if these could be interpreted as going against the shared mindset.
  • For the leader, maintaining a high level of enthusiasm and engagement can become time-consuming and emotionally draining. 

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Servant Leadership

This type of leadership originates from the idea that leaders serve their team. Instead of exercising all power themselves, the servant leader shares this power with others, putting their needs first and supporting them to develop and perform well. The growth and well-being of the team is at the forefront of decisions.

Successful servant leaders must have the ability to listen, empathise and be self-aware. Servant leaders lead by example and are willing to carry out any task that needs doing in order to help their team. They strive to include all team members in decisions, ensuring that everyone feels heard, and make decisions that benefit those involved.

Advantages of servant leadership include:

  • Team members are encouraged to be creative and empowered to share their ideas, resulting in more effective processes and greater investment in the organisation.
  • It creates strong working relationships within teams and a productive working environment.
  • Teams are inspired by the example set by the leader and feel motivated to do their best.
  • Communication is effective. Leaders take the time to listen to their team and take action with this in consideration.
  • When combined, these advantages establish a people-oriented culture which results in a decrease in employee turnover.

Disadvantages of servant leadership include:

  • As the main focus is on ensuring team members are happy and included, leaders may be less demanding which could result in targets not being achieved.
  • Some individuals may need a leader who holds them to account in order to work most effectively.
  • The leader may be perceived as weak and lacking authority, particularly by those who are used to a more traditional style of leadership.
  • For the leader, the role can be time-consuming and require a lot of effort to succeed in.
  • Decisions and progress may be slow due to the required input of many people.
  • In larger teams or organisations, it’s difficult to have frequent, effective direct contact with every team member.

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Democratic Leadership

Democratic leadership is where team members play a participative role in decision-making. The leader makes or approves the final decision, but everyone is encouraged to participate by contributing their opinions during discussions. All team members have the opportunity to share their input, knowing they play an important role in the decision-making process.

As well as overseeing the final decision, the leader must direct and guide the team to ensure that they don’t dedicate time to planning decisions that aren’t feasible and stray from the objective. Leaders should facilitate these conversations and support the team to reach a joint decision.

Advantages of democratic leadership include:

  • Individuals are empowered to contribute to the decision-making process and feel engaged. This can increase their job satisfaction.
  • Employees have confidence in themselves and their capabilities and aren’t afraid to share their ideas.
  • More suggestions are put forward which leads to greater innovation and creativity.
  • Teams learn to listen to one another and respect their one another’s valuable input. This creates mutual respect and fosters more effective teamwork.
  • Productivity increases when individuals are motivated and involved.

Disadvantages of democratic leadership include:

  • Involving more people in decision-making can slow the process down and cause delays.
  • If there are differing options within a team, it can be challenging to reach a consensus that everyone is happy with.
  • Some members of the group may not have the knowledge required to contribute to decision-making discussions.
  • It can be difficult to maintain a clear focus if many different ideas are put forward for discussion. This can lead to confusion unless the leader is able to steer the team in the right direction.
  • Leaders have a lot of responsibility which can result in them feeling overwhelmed.
  • Team members may become frustrated if a decision is made which they believe isn’t the best option or they don’t feel as though their ideas are given enough consideration.
  • Employees may expect to be involved in all decisions. This could lead to conflict if they don’t understand why they aren’t included in some decision-making processes.

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Authoritative Leadership

Authoritative leadership is a hands-on style which involves the leader establishing targets and processes and overseeing them to completion. Instead of simply giving orders, they explain their thinking and manage expectations. If successful, an authoritative leader makes quick decisions that deliver effective results.

This type of leader is seen as a mentor who guides and inspires team members and encourages them to follow them to successfully achieve common goals. By getting to know each team member well, the leader can provide them with tailored guidance and support to motivate them to succeed.

Advantages of authoritative leadership include:

  • Fewer mistakes are made because the processes and rules are clearly defined by the leader.
  • Clear processes and structure improves productivity.
  • Leaders can look ahead and present an actionable vision.
  • Employees feel motivated to succeed and perform well as a result.
  • Difficult decisions can be made quickly without the input of the whole team.
  • Team members feel supported and recognised by the leader.
  • It’s an effective leadership style if an organisation is undergoing significant change or uncertainty.

Disadvantages of authoritative leadership include:

  • There is a risk of leaders micromanaging their team which can cause individuals to feel as though they aren’t trusted or fearful of doing something wrong.
  • Leaders may become overbearing, causing teams to disengage with their work and lose enthusiasm for the vision. 
  • Extreme pressure may be put on the leader if they have to always be seen as leading by example.
  • Failures in projects or processes are the responsibility of the leader who must accept accountability.

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Autocratic Leadership

Autocratic leadership, also known as authoritarian, follows a top-down approach to decision-making processes. The leader makes decisions based on their thoughts and ideas, with limited involvement from others in the organisation. It is expected that team members will follow instructions given to them by the autocratic leader and there is limited room for discussion. Power is held by the leader and isn’t distributed in any way to the team members.

This type of leadership is used less frequently in organisations today, though it may be suitable in some situations. For example, if a critical decision needs to be made immediately.

Advantages of autocratic leadership include:

  • Team members are given clear instructions and understand how to complete tasks.
  • Results are delivered on time and to a high standard. 
  • Work environments are highly structured with everyone knowing what is expected of them and others.
  • For team members, pressure can be relieved in stressful situations.
  • The leader provides clear direction to the organisation.

Disadvantages of autocratic leadership include:

  • Team members are discouraged from sharing their ideas and lack a voice in decisions.
  • Morale can be low across the team and wider organisation. Some may be fearful about speaking out about poor leadership practices.
  • Creativity and innovation are suppressed. Individuals can feel as though they aren’t valued or able to grow professionally. New perspectives and ideas which could hugely benefit the business aren’t shared.
  • The leader may be under immense pressure as they feel responsible for everything.
  • There may be tension and conflict in the workplace. 
  • Morale can be low. If team members don’t feel satisfied at work, they may disengage and underperform, or seek employment elsewhere.
A leader with his group in discussion

What is the Best Leadership Style?

Research by Kurt Lewin and his team in 1939 established three core leadership styles – autocratic (authoritarian), democratic (participative) and delegative (laissez-faire). Lewin’s study identified democratic leadership as typically the most effective leadership style. Democratic leaders encourage input from team members, while giving guidance and having the final say in decisions. This empowers and encourages team members to contribute creative ideas and play a key part in processes, often resulting in individuals with higher job satisfaction.

Today, most theorists argue that it’s important to recognise that there isn’t one leadership style that works the best in all organisations and situations. Instead, a strong leader will know how to adapt their leadership style accordingly and incorporate different skills to ensure the best outcome for the team and task. This is called ‘situational leadership’. Situational leaders are able to identify and meet individual needs, adapt between different leadership styles successfully, gain their teams’ trust, analyse problems and guide towards a solution and know how to support individuals with feedback.

However, in some environments, a certain type of leadership style will likely be more successful than others. If you work as a teacher in a school, you may find that transformational leadership style is the most well-received. Using this style, you can encourage and inspire your students to achieve their full potential. While, for army conflicts, an autocratic leader may be the most appropriate type to relieve pressure in stressful situations.

To find out which leadership style you should adopt, you need to consider what you want to achieve and the organisational circumstances in which you operate within. You should also consider your personality and how you currently lead teams. With this in mind, you could determine which leadership style you currently use and what you want to change and improve on. As there are numerous leadership styles and none are superior, you can experiment and see which delivers the best results for you, your team and your organisation.

Recognising which leadership style is right for you will enable you to develop your skills further and become the most effective leader possible. You must understand which style is appropriate and actively seek out constructive feedback from those you lead to understand what works well and how you could improve. As well as providing successes for the organisation, effective leaders develop and improve their teams to achieve their potential too.

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