Leadership Styles: Ultimate Guide

By: | Updated: January 10, 2024

This is a guide to leadership styles.

Leadership styles are a leader’s approaches and actions while guiding, inspiring, and managing people. Leadership style also affects how higher-ups devise and carry out strategies while considering team needs. Understanding these styles is important because it helps you learn how your actions will affect individuals directly under your command. These styles are also known as “leadership theories.”

These approaches are similar to leadership skills and help professionals be good team building leaders. These concepts often appear in books about leadership, at leadership conferences and in leadership training programs.

This guide covers:

  • types of leadership styles
  • how to find your leadership style
  • important leadership principles
  • leadership theories
  • theories of leadership

Here is what you should know.

Types of Leadership Styles

You can improve your leadership skills by learning about different leadership styles. Some individuals are better suited to certain leadership styles. This knowledge informs an understanding of strengths, limitations, and communication preferences to make your leadership even more effective. The following are common leadership styles.

1. Authoritarian leadership

Often called autocratic leadership, this leadership style puts the boss’s needs first. The leader wields complete authority over all aspects of a project or operation. The boss communicates from the top down and expects their followers to obey their directions and rules. You can observe the leader and their subordinates engaging in a battle of wits. Authoritarian CEOs trust only their own judgments and want the company to exemplify their ideas completely.

In the eyes of autocratic leaders, socializing and team-building activities are of limited relevance. Bosses hardly listen to the opinions or suggestions of subordinates. When employees know who has the ultimate word, the process becomes more efficient and clearer.

Entrepreneurs just starting their businesses or in high-pressure sectors requiring quick decisions would benefit from an authoritarian leadership style. However, when a company expands to the point that the leader can no longer attend every meeting, many authoritarian leaders struggle to change their leadership style.

2. Servant leadership

Unlike the authoritarian approach, servant leadership emphasizes exemplary leadership and support for employees. Servant leaders are often modest individuals who have worked their way up company ranks. Companies with a value-based mission statement and commitment to solving complicated challenges can benefit significantly from this leadership approach.

Servant leadership fosters a flat-level workplace where employees learn to take leadership roles and be role models. Service-oriented businesses and mid-level management are good places to use servant leadership. This style promotes unity, openness, and stability at work. The leader inspires every employee to contribute to the firm’s mission and become role models.

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3. Laissez-Faire leadership

Also called hands-off leadership, this leadership style is not just about letting workers do their own thing but about empowering them. This style regards employees, not the top executives, as instrumental to the company’s success. Laissez-faire leadership is about enabling brilliant people and giving them freedom without inhibition.

Organizations that thrive on expertise and innovation would benefit from this leadership approach. Laissez-faire leaders equip employees with the necessary tools while shielding them from extraneous pressures that impede progress. You will generally see this style in the startup, media, technology, or investment sectors. These leaders encourage team members to create and be imaginative. Consequently, employees develop a mindset of self-reliance and open-mindedness. The laissez-faire approach also frees leaders to devote their attention to higher-level goals rather than staff monitoring.

This style of leadership is the opposite of micromanagement.

4. Visionary leadership

Visionary leaders often receive more accolades than other managers. These leaders bring a fresh perspective and are more likely to develop a product, service, or procedure with the potential to transform people’s way of life. You do not need to invent the telephone or electric care to be a visionary leader. Success may be as simple as recognizing the potential in your employees and organization.

You have undoubtedly heard of, read about, or seen visionary leaders who have transformed their respective fields. The tales and ideas of visionary leaders tend to inspire others. This leadership style works for startups or a company that wants to be trailblazers in their sector. For instance, being visionary will put you ahead of the competition. This style also gives a business a sense of purpose and long-term direction.

5. Pacesetting leadership

A pacesetting leader’s role is to keep moving forward as others strive to keep up, like a runner in an Olympic track race. Sometimes called “trailblazing leadership,” leaders that use this approach can build high-performing teams in any business. Such leaders generally inspire team members to strive for the highest standard.

Pacesetting leadership is evident in sales or fundraising companies since it emphasizes example over instruction. If you are a business owner, then you undoubtedly either have or need to learn how to be a pacesetting leader. These leaders do not run from challenges and can achieve quick results and rapid growth.

6. Transactional leadership

Like a pacesetter, a transactional leader focuses mainly on getting results. For instance, a manager might provide incentives such as monetary awards for success or penalties for failures. A good example is giving bonuses to bank workers who meet monthly goals. In contrast to pacesetter leadership, transactional leadership emphasizes mentoring, teaching, and training as a tool for achieving objectives and reaping the accompanying benefits.

Although this leadership style is ideal for companies or teams entrusted with set goals or targets, such as sales and income, the approach does not explicitly promote creativity. Instead, transitionary leaders often micromanage, prioritize goals, and hardly challenge authority. Yet, these individuals also tend to be high performers.

This type of leader may embrace employee incentive programs.

7. Coaching leadership

Movies often give us the impression that coaches are people who deliver motivational lectures accompanied by symphonic music. However, beyond firing teams up for important meetings, coaching leadership is about getting the most out of each team member.

Coaching leaders have a firm grasp of what motivates their team and can reproduce success. Middle managers, small teams, and consultants benefit most from this leadership style. Most company CEOs and founders must also become coaches to maximize their employees’ potential. For instance, in the absence of an experienced marketing coordinator, leaders can coach their employees to become marketing managers. The main benefit of this leadership style is that it turns underperforming employees into high-achievers. Such leaders can identify and nurture talents.

Check out this list of books on coaching.

8. Democratic leadership

Democracy is the name given to a leadership style that aims to include employee input into a company’s overall strategy. Since this style places more emphasis on the group than the person, it is often used interchangeably with “participation leadership.”

This leadership style is most effective when a company has a framework for receiving input from its team members. Employees get to provide feedback and opinions through channels like monthly town hall meetings, anonymous staff surveys, or daily stand-ups in the office. Companies in the manufacturing or IT sectors can use organizational processes like Lean manufacturing or SAFe agile to implement this leadership style. When a democratically elected official leads, mid-level managers and workers have equal responsibility with the CEO. This style creates a seamless flow between systems and processes.

Here is a list of employee engagement survey questions.

9. Transformational leadership

Transformational leadership can be the catalyst for business advancements. CEOs of large corporations often embody this style. These leaders’ skills can transform or rescue struggling brands. Top companies like Apple, Google, and Uber use transformational leadership to keep up with the rapid pace of technological advancement and the changing needs of society.

However, transformative leadership does not only appear in boardrooms or Fortune 500 corporations. Transformational leadership can work in any sector or firm dealing with market transition. Transformational leaders bring a fresh perspective to a company and solve major challenges. They can also influence the public impression of a company.

10. Bureaucratic leadership

To put it simply, bureaucratic leadership is “by the book” leadership. These leaders set clear standards and guidelines for their employees and tend to uphold strict adherence to the company’s policy and culture. Leadership in highly regulated departments might benefit from this systematic leadership approach.

11. Directing leadership

Directing leadership style works for projects with clear objectives and no opportunity for flexibility. These leaders direct their team with confidence and assurance because they have a clear vision. Also, these leaders get stakeholders to agree on all aspects of the project.

This technique is one of the best leadership styles to adopt when you have an inexperienced development team that requires continuous supervision. You will also need to make the decisions while providing guidance. The leader keeps the team focused and on track by setting tasks and duties for each member and then supervises their actions.

12. Charismatic leadership

This leadership style relies primarily on the leader. A charismatic leader can inspire the team members to work harder to impress their boss and grow the firm. This leadership style genuinely boosts team morale and pushes employees towards success by inspiring, energizing, and motivating the members. Even if you do not have a naturally contagious personality, you can learn to inspire and motivate others at business and in your personal life.

13. Situational leadership

Strong intuition is an exceptional asset of situational leaders. These leaders can quickly adapt and improvise in a highly competitive marketplace because they have accumulated years of experience and instinct. Situational leaders endure the test of time because they know what leadership style to adopt, make the right call when it matters, and grab opportunities.

This leadership style is highly effective. This dynamic leadership approach calls for flexibility and quick-thinking.

How to find your leadership style

If you recently got into a leadership role or want to structure your style, then you need to define your leadership based on your true self. Your leadership style reflects your personality. If you want to figure out which style works best for you, consider the following:

1. Know your personality

The first step in determining your leadership style is to understand your personality, inspirations, triggers, and abilities. A personality test like the Enneagram or DISK may give you a better understanding of yourself and your reactions to situations.

You can lead better and collaborate if you know your dominating leadership qualities and blind spots. Hiring a freelance project manager is a smart move if you are an excellent visionary yet lack organizational skills. A co-founder with a flair for the spotlight is essential if you like dealing with people personally but are afraid of public speaking.

Here is a list of personality tests for self-evaluation.

2. Define your objectives

Your leadership style will be more effective if you know your short- and long-term objectives. For example, reducing a department to save money may demand an authoritarian style, yet your next brainstorming session may benefit from a more laissez-faire approach. Setting goals can determine your leadership style.

3. Assess your workforce

You cannot achieve your objectives alone. Therefore, knowing your team’s personalities, capabilities, and opportunities can help you make sound choices as a leader.

For instance, you can concentrate your leadership efforts on corporate vision-casting if you engage a new marketing director with several years of expertise. Likewise, a coaching approach might work if you recently promoted a new manager in a department.

People are at the heart of good leadership. As your firm develops and evolves, you will have to adapt your leadership style to fit the needs of your staff.

4. Fine-tune and improve

Leadership is dynamic and ever-changing. Company and personal needs evolve, and leadership approaches should evolve as well. After defining your leadership style, the next step is to put the technique into practice. Being a good leader requires hard work, experience, and a willingness to adapt to new situations.

5. Get feedback

You need to know your leadership style before asking for feedback. This knowledge might help you filter honest criticism. Your staff’s feedback can help you identify your natural approach or choose the ideal leadership style for your company.

Tips for defining your leadership style

Attempting to master a leadership style inconsistent with your personality or principles will come out as unnatural. Instead, it would be best to focus on honing a leadership style that aligns with your abilities.

For example, in the military, authoritarian commanders tend to perform well, yet good leadership entails combining different leadership types. It takes time, practice, and emotional intelligence to know what style to use in the job. It is important to remember that most leaders use several approaches to meet a range of objectives during their careers.

Even if you recorded incredible success with one leadership style in the past, your new team may need different habits to operate efficiently. You can choose the best leadership style for your present scenario if you know what these leadership kinds aim to accomplish.

Important leadership principles

In business, leadership may take many forms. However, all leaders must follow a few fundamental rules, regardless of the field or sector.

1. Lead by example

As a leader, you set an example for the rest of the team. Whether you are a CEO of a multinational corporation or the owner of a small restaurant, your attitude, outlook, actions, and words set the tone of the business.

2. Define success

Leaders set the standards and goals for their teams. This standard usually includes determining what constitutes company and employee success.

3. Understand your impact

When you enter a room, employee reaction shows your effect as a leader. Workers need to see you as a leader. You could have gone through the ranks, inherited your family’s business, or been a leader in an unfamiliar field. Understanding your impact will influence your character and decisions regardless of your situation.

4. Inspire your team

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to building a team. However, you will be a successful leader if you know how to encourage your coworkers.

For example, here is a list of ways to motivate remote workers and a collection of inspiring quotes.

5. Delegate

Leadership requires delegation. However, your approach to delegation gives your team an insight into your values and expectations.


Regardless of your team’s size, your leadership style is critical to your team’s cohesion and ability to accomplish corporate objectives. Influential leaders often have multiple “leadership traits,” such as creativity, inspiration, foresight, and empathy. On the other hand, the most impactful leaders are flexible enough to use a variety of leadership styles to meet different challenges.

Next, check out this guide to leadership vs. management and this collection of leadership books for women.

We also have a list of the best leadership activities for work and a list of management styles for work.

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FAQ: Leadership styles

Here are answers to questions about leadership styles.

What are the most common leadership styles?

The most common leadership styles include democratic leadership, transformational leadership, visionary leadership, and transactional leadership.

How do you find your leadership style?

You can find your leadership style by defining your personality, determining your objectives, knowing your team, and asking for feedback.

Author avatar


People & Culture Director at teambuilding.com.
Grace is the Director of People & Culture at teambuilding.com. She studied Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, Information Science at East China Normal University and earned an MBA at Washington State University.


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