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Updated Oct 23, 2023

What Kind of Leader Are You? 9 Leadership Types and Their Strengths

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Skye Schooley, Business Operations Insider and Senior Lead Analyst

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Whether you are leading a small group or a large organization, your leadership style can greatly impact the effectiveness of your efforts. Although there are several types of leadership, the most appropriate one to use depends on you and your team. Christie Lindor, founder and CEO of Tessi Consulting, described some common traits of an effective leader to us.

“Effective leaders demonstrate the political will to make tough decisions and are accountable enough to follow through on promises,” she said. “Transparent communication styles also make leaders effective.” 

In addition to making tough decisions and exhibiting clear communication, productive leaders should periodically examine their style and evaluate how their subordinates perceive it. Sometimes it is necessary to alternate leadership styles to accommodate a team’s changing needs. [Related article: 7 Common Leadership Mistakes You’re Probably Making]

The 9 most common types of leadership

Leadership styles can be unique to each individual. However, experts agree that most leaders fit into at least one of these nine different leadership styles. Lindor said when you analyze which leadership style you use, keep in mind that there are no right or wrong styles.

“It’s all about pairing leadership styles with the right organizational fit, market, timing and needs in a way that drives successful outcomes,” she said. 

  1. Autocratic leadership: This is one of the strictest types. Autocratic leaders tend to have complete control over the decision-making process. This leadership style can be effective when decision-making is urgent or workmanship is routine.
  2. Bureaucratic leadership: Although not as strict as autocratic leaders, bureaucratic leaders also tend to strictly enforce regulations and statuses in the hierarchy. This leadership style can be effective in healthcare and safety environments.
  3. Charismatic leadership: Charismatic leaders have an infectious presence that motivates their team to follow their lead. Their likability helps them and their teams achieve success in business. This leadership style can be effective in high-energy work environments that need a lot of positive morale. 
  4. Democratic leadership: Unlike autocratic or bureaucratic leaders, a democratic leader often welcomes subordinate participation in decision-making. This leadership style is often admired and can be effective in creative work environments that don’t require quick decisions.
  5. Laissez-faire leadership: Laissez-faire leaders have a hands-off approach and let their employees assume responsibility in the decision-making process, although they must still set employee expectations and monitor performance. This leadership style can be effective when working with highly experienced and confident employees.
  6. Servant leadership: Servant leaders share power and decision-making with their subordinates and often direct the organization based on the team’s interests. This leadership style can be effective for humanitarian organizations, nonprofits and teams that need to create diversity, inclusion and morale.
  7. Situational leadership: Situational leaders implement a range of leadership types and modify their style based on the needs of their employees and the environment. Because of its versatility, this type of leadership is effective in most organizations. 
  8. Transactional leadership: A transactional leader uses a reward/consequence system to motivate employees toward success and discourage them from failure. This leadership style can be effective for teams that are motivated by rewards.
  9. Transformational leadership: Like charismatic leaders, transformational leaders use their inspiring energy and personality to create an engaged workplace. This style is often more effective than charismatic leadership, as it also motivates teams to build confidence and accountability. It can be effective in organizations with intellectual team members who thrive in interactive environments.

“The leadership styles that I most admire are transformational, which is about articulating an inspiring vision and helping people reinvent themselves and their company; servant leadership, which is all about taking care of your clients, employees and the general community; and situational leadership, which is all about creating an agile way of leading and thinking depending on the needs of the organization or marketplace,” Lindor said.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway

Each style of leadership has its own disadvantages and advantages, although some styles are seen as more desirable. For example, most small businesses can benefit from transformational, democratic or situational leadership.

How to identify your leadership style

After understanding the different types of leadership styles, determine which one feels most authentic to you. 

To do this, ask yourself these questions: 

  • What do I value more – goals or relationships?
  • Do I believe in structure or freedom of choice?
  • Would I rather make a decision on my own or collectively?
  • Do I focus on short- or long-term goals?
  • Does motivation come from empowerment or direction?
  • What does a healthy team dynamic look like to me?

There is no right or wrong answer to these queries; many individuals find their leadership style through trial and error. Experiment with different approaches to see which one works best for you and your team. You can also seek a leadership mentor who can offer advice on how they developed their style. Solicit feedback from people you trust as well. Most importantly, be authentic. Try to pick a leadership style that feels natural to use and is aligned with your strengths. 

Why it is important to understand your leadership style

According to Lindor, self-awareness is the foundation of a good leader. When you understand what leadership style works best for you and your team, it’s easier to be an effective leader.

“It’s important to know what type of leader you are (or are not) in order to show up effectively in an organization,” Lindor said. “Knowing your leadership style also helps you decide which organizations might be a better cultural fit.”

Norah Nicholls, principal at Deloitte Tax LLP, said a good understanding of your leadership style can help you communicate with your team more effectively.

“It’s important that you maintain transparency about what you’re focused on as a leader, and to help create alignment around your vision and objectives,” she said. “It’s important to create a culture where people understand the strengths that they collectively bring to the team.”

Nicholls said that effective leaders are able to set a vision, align people with that perspective, and show them how they can achieve that intent together. However, you must play to the strengths of your leadership style to achieve that goal. “If you can better understand your leadership strengths and harness them, you will continue to grow and succeed.”

Key TakeawayKey takeaway

Effective leaders understand who they are and who they are not so they can manage effectively.

Daily leadership behaviors that motivate employees

Regardless of your leadership style, there are leadership behaviors you can exhibit to inspire employee motivation and success. A prime example is to be a positive role model for your team. 

“Showing your people that you are constantly focusing on improving your own skill set – leadership, industry knowledge, technical skills – is critical to good leadership,” said Nicholls. “Encourage them to explore new skills, to make sure they know you’re committed to their growth.”

Key TakeawayKey takeaway

Great managers lead by example every day. They are authentic, compassionate and inclusive.

When you set a good example for your employees and show interest in their success, they are more likely to follow your lead and respect your authority. Lindor said that you should also display daily acts of authenticity, compassion and inclusion to inspire employees. You can build trust in your employees if you exhibit genuine actions and are willing to work alongside your team when necessary.

“Employees like to work for leaders they believe have their best interest at heart, leaders that will stand up and support them, particularly during challenging times,” said Lindor. “Regardless of your leadership style, always remember to take care of your people, and they will, in turn, take care of you.”

Tierra Smith contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Skye Schooley, Business Operations Insider and Senior Lead Analyst
Skye Schooley is a business expert with a passion for all things human resources and digital marketing. She's spent 10 years working with clients on employee recruitment and customer acquisition, ensuring companies and small business owners are equipped with the information they need to find the right talent and market their services. In recent years, Schooley has largely focused on analyzing HR software products and other human resources solutions to lead businesses to the right tools for managing personnel responsibilities and maintaining strong company cultures. Schooley, who holds a degree in business communications, excels at breaking down complex topics into reader-friendly guides and enjoys interviewing business consultants for new insights. Her work has appeared in a variety of formats, including long-form videos, YouTube Shorts and newsletter segments.
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