This article lists 20 different leadership styles. With each style is a short definition designed to highlight the essential makeup of each leadership style.
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
“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).
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.
Eighteen Critically Important Leadership Styles
“Any one can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” — Publilius Syrus.
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
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.
3. The Leader Who Coaches
“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. The Cross-Cultural Leadership Style
Not all individuals can adapt to the leadership styles 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. Strategic Leadership
This is practiced by the military services such as the US Army, US Air Force, and many large corporations. 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. Facilitative Leadership
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.
10. Styles of Leadership Influence
Here one looks at the behaviors associated how one exercises influence. For example, does the person mostly punish? Do they know how to reward?
11. The Participative Leadership Style
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.
12. The Servant Leadership Style
“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 leadership are relatively 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.
13. 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 happen. The transformational style requires a number of different skills and is closely associated with two other leadership styles: charismatic and visionary leadership.
14. The Charismatic Style
“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.
15. The Visionary Leadership Style
Visionary leader often are able to capture the yearnings of the in statements such as the example below:
“Washington Is Not A Place To Live In. The Rents Are High, The Food Is Bad, The Dust Is Disgusting And The Morals Are Deplorable. Go West, Young Man, Go West And Grow Up With The Country.” — July 1865, Horace Greely Concerning America’s Expansion To The West.
The “vision thing” is something all great leaders have. It was seen through out history in the great ones. For example, Alexander the Great clearly had a vision of how to make an empire work. Visionary leadership has many different elements to it.
It’s surprising how few leaders really have a clear view of what is happening socially or economically in their industry, nation or globally. In one respect, you might say they are blind. Leaders need a vision, but great leadership turns that vision into reality. So remember:
“If the blind shall lead the blind, both with fall into the ditch.” — The Bible, Matthew 15:14
16. Transactional Leadership
The approach emphasizes getting things done within the umbrella of the status quo; almost in opposition to the goals of the transformational leadership. It’s considered to be a “by the book” approach in which the person works within the rules. As such, it’s more commonly seen in large, bureaucratic organizations where political considerations are part of daily life.
17. Level 5 Leadership
This term was coined by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great: Why Some Company’s Make the Leap and Other Don’t. As Collins says in his book, “We were surprised, shocked really, to discover the types of leadership required for turning a good company into a great one.” What he seems to have found is what The Economist calls, “The Cult of the Faceless Boss.”
18. Primal Leadership Style
It would seem that just when you have it all sorted out, someone invents a new set of labels. In this case, it’s Danel Goleman. A psychologist who can write in more scholar English, he was one of the major people who popularized Emotional Intelligence and then followed it up with a book called Primal Leadership. Worth taking a look at since it’s based on the application of emotional intelligence to leadership.
This video below 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, The Dowager Empress Ci Xi and Elisabeth I.
“Our knowledge can only be finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite.” — Karl Popper, Austrian philosopher
Lewin, K., Lippit, R. and White, R.K. (1939). Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created social climates. Journal of Social Psychology, 10, 271-301
Vroom, Victor and Jago, Arthur (2007). The Role of the Situation in Leadership. American Psychologist, 62:(1), 17-24.