Types of Leadership Styles: A Guide To Effective Influence

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons by Traitor

The more styles you can play, the more influential you are. This article lists eleven leadership styles. With each leadership style is a short definition.

by Murray Johannsen. First Published: March 9, 2014. Last Updated: October 14, 2017. Feel free to connect with the author by  Linkedin,  Google+  or by  email. Last update June 2017

What Is a Leadership Style?

A leadership style is a very different beast than a leadership trait. A leadership trait, like a personality one, is something that is stable and tends to be active across many situations. For example, if you are an extrovert, that behavior pattern shows up across many different situations. Likewise, the autocratic leader tends to be autocratic in most situations. And that is the problem with traits — the lack of flexibility.

Using a leadership style means that you are role flexible—we can shift from one style to the next, like wearing a set of clothes. You are not locked into a particular one, but can change your leadership style depending.  So you might say, a leadership style definition is:

“A set of behaviors that one consciously chooses to use that BEST FITS the situation. When the situation changes, so does the style.” Murray Johannsen

Defining Leadership 


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Abit of History On Leadership Styles Research

When developing your leadership skills, you must soon ask yourself, “What leadership style work best for me and my organization?”

To answer this question, in the 1950s, management theorists from Ohio State University and the University of Michigan published a series of studies to determine whether leaders should be more task or relationship (people) oriented. The importance of the research cannot be over estimated since leaders tend to have a dominant style; a leadership style they use in a wide variety of situations.

Surprisingly, the research discovered that there is no one best style: leaders must adjust their leadership style to the situation as well as to the people being led. 

In fact, choosing the right style, at the right time in the right situation is a key element of leader effectiveness. But that’s not what most people do—they have one style used in many situations.

It’s like having only one suit or one dress, something you wear everywhere. Of course, all of us would agree that having only one set of clothes is ridiculous. But then, so is having only one leadership style.

Why Leadership is Important

“Any one can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” — Publilius Syrus.

This video talks about the importance of leadership. It uses different examples ranging from student organizations to three historical examples: Japan, China and Britain and three leaders who had such an immense impact on those nations: Emperor Meiji, Queen Elizabeth I and The Dowager Empress Ci Xi. 


Eleven Important Leadership Styles

“The best way to have a good idea, is to have a lot of ideas.”  — Dr. Linus Pauling (Two times winner of the Nobel Prize).

You will find that some styles overlap (i.e. charisma and transformational); some can be used together (facilitative and team leadership); others are used less frequently (strategic and cross-cultural); and some are polar opposites (autocratic & participative). Below are descriptions of styles you can use.

1. The Autocratic Leadership Style

David and Ingres, before 1815: Portraits of Napoleon I. Notice the symbols of authority in each portrait.

One leadership style dimension has to do with control and one’s perception of how much control one should give to others. For example, the laissez faire style implies low control, the autocratic style requires high control while the participative one lies somewhere in between. Kurt Lewin (1939) called these styles: authoritative, participative (democratic) or delegative (Laissez Faire).

Take an on-line Quiz on these Leadership Styles

Partly, your style choice on the control dimension is a matter of personal choice. The style has its advocates, but it is falling out of favor due to the many weaknesses of autocratic leadership. Some people have argued that the style is popular with today’s CEO’s, who have much in common with the feudal lords of Medieval Europe. 

2. Bureaucratic Leadership Style

An autocrat doesn’t require a bureaucracy, but the autocrat and the bureaucracy goes together like a hand and glove. One  reason has be do with obedience to authority. In fact, one can make an argument that in large groups such as the multinational corporations and government agencies authority is the most common type of influence used.

Read More on bureaucracy  and its impact on leadership

3. Coaching as a Leadership Style

“A groom used to spend whole days in currycombing and rubbing down his Horse, but at the same time stole his oats and sold them for his own profit. “Alas!” said the Horse, “if you really wish me to be in good condition, you should groom me less, and feed me more.” — Aesop’s Fables.

A great coach is definitely a leader who also possess a unique gifts ability to teach and train.They groom people to improve both knowledge and skill. 

4. Cross-Cultural Styles

Not all individuals can adapt to the leadership style expected in a different culture, whether that culture is organizational or national. In fact, there is some evidence that American and Asian Leadership Styles are very different, primarily due to cultural factors.

5. Emergent Leadership Style

  “The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.”Confucius

Contrary to the belief of many, groups don’t automatically accept a new “boss” as leader. Emergent leadership is what you must do when one taking over a new group. One way to emerge so involves the exchange of favors. An exchange can be hierarchical between the boss and subordinate or occur between two individuals of equal status. But for this leadership style to work, you must know how to develop, maintain and repair relationships.

6. The Laissez Faire Leadership Style

The style is largely a “hands off” view that tends to minimize the amount of direction and face time required. Works well if you have highly trained, highly motivated direct reports.

7. Military Leadership

This is practiced by the military services such as the US Army, US Air Force,. It stresses the competitive nature of running an organization and being able to out fox and out wit the competition.

8. Team Leadership

A few years ago, a large corporation decided that supervisors were no longer needed and those in charge were suddenly made “team leaders.” Today, companies have gotten smarter about how to exert effective team leadership, but it still takes leadership to transition a group into a team.

9. The Facilitation Leadership Style 

This styles has much in common with the democratic or participative leadership style. This is a special style that anyone who runs a meeting can employ. Rather than being directive, one using the facilitative leadership style uses a number of indirect communication patterns to help the group reach consensus.

It’s hard to order and demand someone to be creative, perform as a team, solve complex problems, improve quality, and provide outstanding customer service. The participative style presents a happy medium between over controlling (micromanaging) and not being engaged and tends to be seen in organizations that must innovate to prosper.

10. Servant Leadership

“The Roots Of Our Problems Are: Wealth Without Work, Pleasure Without Conscience, Knowledge Without Character, Commerce Without Morality, Science Without Humanity, Worship Without Sacrifice, Politics Without Principles.” – Mohandas K. Gandhi

Some leaders have put the needs of their followers first. For example, the motto of the Los Angeles Police Department, “To Protect and Serve.” reflects this philosophy of service. But one suspects servant leaders are rare in business. It’s hard to imagine a CEO who puts the needs of employees first before the needs of the stockholders and the bankers.

Since transformational leaders to take their followers into the light or into the darkness, its helpful to have a set of values that uplift, rather than destroy. One such set of values known as servant leadership. While this leadership style has been around for thousands of years, the American Robert Greenleaf coined the term servant leader in 1970 in his book The Servant as Leader.

This style rests on a set of assumptions (Greenleaf, 1983). In this case, it is not the leader who benefits most, it is the followers. We have leaders not acting selfishly, but socially. A second aspect to this is an orientation toward service with a primary orientation toward using moral authority. Finally, the approach emphasizes certain positive values such as trust, honestly, fairness and so on.

11. The Transformational Leadership Style

“Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits” — Mark Twain

The primary focus of the transformational leadership style is to make change happenThe transformational style requires a number of different skills and is closely associated with two other leadership styles: charismatic and visionary leadership.

This is a leadership style that applies to many of the most famous leaders in history.

a. Charismatic Transformational Leadership


“Throw away those books and cassettes on inspirational leadership. Send those consultants packing. Know your job, set a good example for the people under you and put results over politics. That’s all the charisma you’ll really need to succeed.”  Dyan Machan.


Do You Need Charisma? So do you need the charismatic leadership style? The answer is no. One can be a small cog in the great machine. However, it you want to be a leader, if you want to have followers, if you want to do anything great, you better have it. Transformational leaders need a bit of charisma. But if you are in a large bureaucratic organization, you can use your authority and the power associated with the position. Indeed, most people in large organizations lack charisma. 

b. Visionary Transformational Leadership


Visionary leadership related to the transformational leadership style. The major difference is between the visionary leader and the transformational one involves the focus on the future. Visionary leaders live more in the future and they often use a vision to mobilize followers.


A Few Classic Books

Burns, James MacGregor, (1982).  Leadership, New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.

Considered a classic by many, the book was the winner of both a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award after it was published in 1978. It focuses on the many different types of leadership. Burns argues that the type of leadership exercised by a general in the military is in many respects different from that used by an executive in a multinational corporation, a mayor of city or the head of a religious organization.Two chapters of the book cover power and purpose of leadership, three chapters on the origin of leadership, four chapters are dedicated to understanding transformational leadership and five chapters cover transactional leadership. On the change side of things, he covers heroic, moral, revolutionary and reform styles of transformational leadership.He illustrates his points with vivid historical stories on Joan of Arc, Freud, Gandhi, Mao, the Roosevelt’s, Stalin and others. He also puts forth his belief that great leaders play to mutual need, empathy and growth; whether one lives within the status quo or tries to transform it.

Goleman, Daniel, et. al. (2002). Primal Leadership.Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press.

In his book, Goleman presents the theory on why emotional intelligence is an important foundation for leader effectiveness.It makes sense that leaders are not only be aware and in control of their own emotions, but also able to influence individuals at an emotional level. Can you take someone who is feeling “down” and leave them feeling “up?”

Yukl, Gary. (2013) Leadership In Organizations., 8th Edition Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press.

Much can be learned by a good book honed by constant improvement. Originally published in 1981, Yukl’s book continues to get reprinted. The book is jammed packed full of sound theory on leadership. It contains fifteen chapters, some of which are listed below:

• Participative Leadership
• Leaders and Their Followers
• Power and Influence
• Traits and Skills
• Charismatic and Transformational Leadership
• Leading Change in Organizations
• Developing Leadership Skills

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The Psychology of Leadership

The more you know about psychology, the better prepared you are to lead. This is due to the fact that leadership is influence, and we don’t influence things, we influence people. And the more you understand about how cognition affects behavior, the better you will understand what you see.

  • Good and bad leadership traits,
  • The essence of success as a team leader, and
  • Why people follow good leaders,
  •  The development of wisdom
  • Why they obey the bad ones,
  • Assessments to determine strengths and weaknesses.
  • A focus on ethics


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