Be a Better Leader: 7 Types of Leadership Explained

Understanding which style of leadership is most effective for each business situation is crucial for achieving success.

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, but one thing is for sure, good leadership prioritizes good organizational culture. For an organization to succeed, it needs to have a leader who can set strategy, pull their team together, motivate them to do their job well, and create an environment where everyone can succeed. There is no one best leadership style to achieve great results. The best leaders know they must diagnose the demands of the situation and then adjust their leadership style to meet the needs of the moment.

Many leaders tend to select a leadership style instinctually based on their personality type and the current team dynamics. Others model the leadership style of managers and supervisors they've had in the past. Yet, the best leaders understand that there are different leadership styles and they must adjust their leadership style to best suit the situation. This ability to adapt and adjust is not only beneficial to your growth and development as a leader but benefits those looking to you for direction. 

Why Understanding Leadership Types Is Important 

Understanding which type or style of leadership is most effective in any given situation is crucial for achieving success. For example, a laissez-faire leader may excel in a situation where a hands off approach is required for an established high performing team but would likely fail miserably in a democratic culture where cooperation and collaboration are key. Similarly, an authoritarian leader may inspire greatness in others by painting a grandiose picture of the future, but it will go nowhere if concrete steps and strategies don't back up that vision.

Leadership styles often change depending on the situation. You shouldn't expect one leadership style to work in all circumstances. Knowing when to adjust your style is crucial for getting the best results. People respond differently to leadership styles. What works for one person may not work for another, so it's essential to be aware of the different approaches and tailor your style to the individual or group you're working with.

What Are The 7 Leadership Styles?

The following is a list of the 7 most common types of leadership. As mentioned, a competent leader can be comfortable in their leadership technique and have the flexibility to modify it when needed. This list should not be interpreted as a selection of boxes to check but rather as a choice of strategies that one might utilize.

Autocratic Leadership

Autocratic leaders are the lone wolves of leaders. They know how things should be done and expect those in their team to follow suggestions. This leadership style is often thought of as a somewhat archaic leadership style that lacks modern consideration. That being said, there are times when an autocratic leadership style is a great option. For example, in a crisis or when a decision needs to be made quickly and compliance is needed. Deciding without consultation is often a better option than waiting for a decision by a committee. Autocratic leadership also works well when training inexperienced employees who need structure and guidance.

Authoritative Leadership

If you need to mobilize a team or organization towards an inspiring vision, the authoritative leadership style is best. The focus on connecting each person's individual efforts to the overall vision is central to the authoritative style. The core difference between autocratic and authoritative leadership is that authoritative leaders clearly state the end goal however they allow their team the flexibility to accomplish by their own means. 

Another difference is that the authoritative leader will sell their vision versus telling team members how to reach a desired goal.

Authoritative leaders aim to inspire, motivate, and grow their teams, focusing on aspirational outcomes. It works well when organizations have run adrift and require innovative and transformative change to reach their goals.

Pacesetting Leadership

Pacesetting leadership is about setting extremely high performance standards for yourself and your team. Being a pacesetter is about being better and faster; constantly striving for excellence and setting an example for others to follow. It's about having the courage to challenge yourself and others to reach new heights and support the team at every step.

At first glance the Pacesetting style seems like the ideal leadership approach. However, Pacesetting can be destructive to culture. Pacesetters tend to not give feedback or they take over a task if they observe underperformance. The Pacesetting style is most likely to micromanage due to their obsession over the details.

Pacesetting does work well on teams that are high performing and self-motivated.

Democratic Leadership

A democratic leader will explore what others within their organization or group think before making a decision. Democratic leadership takes a considerable amount of organizational skill and requires a delegation of responsibilities, a collection of opinions, and a process that comes to a conclusion by majority. These decisions can be anything from the day-to-day tasks within the organization to employee benefits plans or policies. 

One of the significant benefits of democratic leadership is that it immediately fosters a sense of belonging and often comes hand in hand with a culture of comradeship. As groups make decisions, there is often a greater opportunity for collaboration and innovation through discussion.

Coaching Leadership

A leader that employs the coaching leadership style will seek to find what an employee is good at, where they need improvement, and then help them achieve it themselves. 

These leaders won’t simply tell employees how to complete a task or change how they are going to do something. Instead, they’ll offer slight directions or suggestions to guide them towards a positive outcome. Coaching leaders might provide advice to their employees by helping them find skills within themselves. 

Although Coaching as a leadership style has the most positive affect on performance, it's the least used approach due to the time commitment thats needed to help team members grow.

Affiliative Leadership

Affiliative leadership is a style of leadership where employees are put first. Affiliative leaders place an emphasis on their people and emotions above goals and tasks. These leaders will seek to befriend and get close to their employees with a strong sense of trust. Employees often feel truly valued within the company and can trust their leader.

Affiliative leaders create a positive environment based on praise and building up their employees' self-esteem, which is excellent most of the time but can sometimes lead to overlooked performance issues to avoid conflict.

Laissez-faire Leadership

Directly translated from French as “leave them to do what they will do,” Laissez-faire leaders adopt a policy of leaving things alone to take their course without the interruption from a leader. To use another French phrase, Que sera sera, what will be will be. These leaders have a tremendous amount of trust and belief in their employees and feel that their role is as a facilitator rather than a director.

This leadership style is often visible in young companies and start-ups where the founder has created a close-knit team of people they trust to deliver on their goals. A laissez-faire leader is reasonably hands-off. Sometimes the lack of structure can result in absentee leadership. Absentee leadership is when a leader may be at a company physically but has otherwise checked out—that’s not great for anyone. 

Choosing A Leadership Style

Developing the ability to choose the correct leadership style for the correct situation takes time. Each person has an intrinsic leadership style. It's the style that should come to you naturally and represent who you are as a person and your personality. Now that you understand the basics of leadership, it's time for some self-discovery. This isn't easy to do at first, but it will come naturally with practice.

Understand Yourself

What inspires you? Why should people follow you? Use these answers to help inspire those who are working with you. Remember, leadership is about more than just telling people what to do – it's about helping them see the value in what they're doing and motivating them to do their best.

Start to become aware of the different ways that people respond to different leadership styles. Not everyone will want to be led in the same way, and by understanding these differences, you can more effectively lead a team. See what works and, importantly, ask for feedback. Speak to your employees (you might even roll it into an employee engagement survey), colleagues, and your own leader, and gather information on what worked and what didn’t. Evaluation is key.

Practice Produces Great Leaders

Perfect practice makes perfect, and practicing leadership styles is no exception. Take the time to try different techniques when you realize a situation calls for it, and be mindful that it might not work out how you’d hoped at first. Employees might also push back, but this is only natural if they’re used to a particular style, then suddenly, it changes. The important thing is that you’re altering styles for a reason that benefits everyone involved. Changing style for the sake of it won’t benefit anyone.

Leadership Agility

Once you have a feel for the different styles and what works, you’ll begin to develop leadership agility; you’ll be able to transition seamlessly from one type to another, as required, without noticeable divergence. It’s a brave new world, and you should certainly try and embrace it. Organizations and the world of work have changed a lot from typical autocratic leadership style.

Key Takeaways

Leadership is influence. The first step to becoming an agile and adaptable leader is knowledge and self-reflection.  What's your natural leadership style? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How do you like to be communicated with? What is your ideal way of working? If you can answer these questions, you can start to adapt your leadership style to become more effective. There are many different leadership types, and some are more effective at certain times than others. The key is to find a style that works best for you and your team and use it during the right situation.