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What Are Leadership Styles and Skills?

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A common trait among successful leaders is the ability to inspire others. What kind of leadership skills you use is all  a matter of leadership style.

Leadership styles were first defined in 1939 by a group of researchers led by psychologist Kurt Lewin. After extensive studies, the Lewin-led researchers identified three different leadership styles: autocratic, democratic and laissez-faire. 

According to Lewin, the leaders that use an autocratic style make decisions without consulting others, while the democratic style gets other people involved in the decision-making process.
Lewin identified the laissez-faire style as one in which the leaders leave the decision-making up to the group, providing little, if any, input.

Since Lewin's research, a number of other leadership styles have been identified. In research published in the Harvard Business Review in 2000, author and psychologist Daniel Goleman uncovered six different leadership styles, which he argues spring from different components of emotional intelligence:

  • Commanding: Leaders demand immediate compliance.
  • Visionary: Leaders mobilize people toward a vision.
  • Affiliative: Leaders create emotional bonds and harmony.
  • Democratic: Leaders build consensus through participation.
  • Pacesetting: Leaders expect excellence and self-direction.
  • Coaching: Leaders develop people for the future.

According to Mind Tools, a number of other styles exist beyond those definitions, including bureaucratic leadership, whose leaders focus on following every rule; charismatic leadership, in which leaders inspire enthusiasm in their teams and are energetic in motivating others to move forward; task-oriented leadership, whose leaders focus only on getting the job done; people-oriented leadership, in which leaders are tuned into organizing, supporting and developing people on their teams; and transformational leadership, whose leaders inspire by expecting the best from everyone and themselves.

he Leadership Toolbox, meanwhile, argues that all leaders and styles can be split into two groups: task-oriented and people-oriented.

Task-oriented leadersare excellent at managing the nuts and bolts in their area of expertise, according to the Leadership Toolbox, while people-oriented leaders are charming and visionary.

With each person motivated differently, most experts agree the best leaders don't just use one style, but rather pick and choose different styles based on the situation and person with whom they are dealing.

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