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Leadership Styles: The 11 Most Common & How to Find Your Style [Quiz]

Imagine the leaders that inspire you. Each leader is unique, with different leadership styles that they use to meet goals, motivate, and inspire.

To help you understand the impact each type of leader has on a company, this post will explain what a leadership style is. We’ll cover the most common types of leadership and how they can impact the business and the team.

Then you’ll get some tools to help you figure out what styles are best for you. Start reading, or jump to the section you’re looking for:

Types of Leadership Styles
Deciding Between Different Leadership Styles
How to Choose the Right Leadership Style for You
Leadership Style Assessment

Why It’s Important to Know Your Leadership Style

Knowing your leadership style is critical because it can help you determine how you affect those who are under your direct influence. How do your direct reports see you? Do they feel you’re an effective leader?

It’s always important to ask for feedback to understand how you’re doing, but knowing your leadership style prior to asking for feedback can be a helpful starting point. That way, when you receive junior employees’ thoughts, you can automatically decide which leadership style would be best and adopt the style’s characteristics in your day-to-day management duties.

Knowing your leadership styles may help you improve with limited feedback. Each leadership style has its pitfalls, allowing you to proactively address areas of improvement. This is critical because some employees might hesitate to speak up, even in an anonymous survey.

Ready to find out your leadership styles? Check out the most common styles below.

1. Democratic Leadership

Also called: Participative or Facilitative Leadership

Democratic leadership is exactly what it sounds like — the leader makes decisions based on the input of each team member. Although the leader makes the final call, each employee has an equal say in a project’s direction.

Why this leadership style works for businesses:

It resembles how leaders often make decisions in company board meetings.

For example, a democratic leader might give the team a few decision-related options in a company board meeting. They could then open a discussion about each option. After a discussion, this leader might take the board’s thoughts and feedback into consideration, or they might open this decision up to a vote.

Why this leadership style is good for the team:

Democratic leadership is one of the most effective leadership styles. This is because it allows lower-level employees to exercise the authority they’ll need to use wisely in future positions.

Potential challenges for leaders with a Democratic style:

The process of reaching a consensus takes considerable time, resources, and communication. It can also impact decision-making because some team members may not have the right expertise to make critical decisions.

Featured resources:

How to be a good leader
Tips for remote leadership

2. Autocratic Leadership

Also called: Authoritarian, Coercive, or Commanding Leadership

Autocratic leadership is the inverse of democratic leadership. In this leadership style, the leader makes decisions without taking input from anyone who reports to them.

This style is most useful when a business needs to control specific situations, not as a standalone leadership style.

Why this leadership style works for businesses:

Autocratic leaders carry out strategies and directives with absolute focus. This drive and clarity can lead to better performance.

It’s efficient because employees aren’t consulted before a change in direction. Instead, they’re expected to adhere to the decision at a time and pace stipulated by the leader.

Why this leadership style is good for the team:

This type of leadership is most effective when a company is making difficult decisions. This leadership style gives employees a clear sense of direction. It can also make up for a lack of experience on a team.

Potential challenges for leaders with an Autocratic style:

Most organizations today can’t sustain such a hegemonic culture without losing employees. It can lower morale and creative problem-solving.

An example of this could be when a manager changes the hours of work shifts for employees without consulting anyone.

Other challenges with autocratic leaders include:

Intimidation
Micromanagement
Over-reliance on a single leader

3. Laissez-Faire Leadership

Also called: Delegative or Hands-off Leadership

If you remember your high-school French, you’ll accurately assume that laissez-faire leadership is the least intrusive form of leadership. The French term “laissez-faire” literally translates to “let them do.” Leaders who embrace it give nearly all authority to their employees.

Why this leadership style works for businesses:

Laissez-faire leaders make employees accountable for their work. This gives many employees an incentive to do their best work.

This type of leader often creates a more relaxed company culture. This makes it a good model for creative businesses like ad agencies or product design. It’s also a good fit for a business with a highly-skilled team.

Why this leadership style is good for the team:

In a young startup, for example, you might see a laissez-faire company founder who makes no major office policies around work hours or deadlines. They might put full trust into their employees while they focus on the overall workings of running the company.

Because of this high level of trust, employees working for laissez-faire leaders feel valued. They get the information they need and use their resources and experience to meet business goals.

Potential challenges for leaders with a Laissez-Faire style:

Although laissez-faire leadership can empower employees by trusting them to work however they’d like, there are downsides. This style of leadership can limit team development. It can also be an issue if employees are new or inexperienced.

This can lead to overlooking critical company growth opportunities. So, it’s important to keep this leadership style in check.

Featured resources:

Guide to management

4. Strategic Leadership

Strategic leaders sit between a company’s main operations and its growth opportunities. This form of leadership requires vision, competitive awareness, and adaptability.

They accept the burden of executive interests. At the same time, they make sure that current working conditions are stable for everyone else.

Why this leadership style works for businesses:

Strategic leaders tie plans for growth and strategy to the way they manage a team. They ask questions, develop and execute strategies, and consider future growth. This approach supports popular business goals like:

Accountability
Productivity
Collaboration
Transparency

Why this leadership style is good for the team:

This is a desirable leadership style in many companies because strategic thinking supports many types of employees at once.

It encourages visualization, planning, and making the most of existing resources. This approach can be motivating for employees.

Potential challenges for leaders with a strategic leadership style:

Leaders who work strategically can sometimes take on too much. They also risk thinking too far into the future while missing critical present-day issues.

Learning how to delegate is essential, as well as sharing the weight of decision-making. Compromise, communication skills, and consistent outreach are also important.

Featured resources:

Crafting a team vision
Strategic planning
Developing leadership skills

5. Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is always “transforming” and improving upon the company’s conventions. Employees might have a basic set of tasks and goals that they complete every week or month, but the leader is constantly pushing them outside of their comfort zone.

Why this leadership style works for businesses:

Transformational leaders can inspire their teams to think in new ways. This can help companies update business processes to improve productivity and profitability. It can also help with employee satisfaction, morale, and motivation.

Why this leadership style is good for the team:

When starting a job with this type of leader, all employees might get a list of goals to reach, as well as deadlines for reaching them.

The goals might seem simple at first. But this manager might pick up the pace of deadlines or give you more challenging goals as you grow with the company.

This is a highly encouraged form of leadership among growth-minded companies. It motivates employees to see what they’re capable of.

Potential challenges for leaders with a Transformational style:

Transformational leaders can risk losing sight of everyone’s individual learning curves. It’s important to make sure that direct reports get the right coaching to guide them through new responsibilities. Employee burnout can also be an issue, so it’s important to work with your team to update benchmarks.

Featured resources:

Transformational leadership

6. Transactional Leadership

Transactional leaders are fairly common today. These managers reward their employees for the work they do.

For example, a marketing team receives a scheduled bonus for helping generate a certain number of leads per quarter.

This leadership style also assumes that teams need structure and monitoring to meet business goals.

Why this leadership style works for businesses:

This style is popular in enterprise companies. It focuses on results, existing structures, and set systems of rewards or penalties. This leadership style also recognizes and rewards commitment.

Why this leadership style is good for the team:

Transactional leaders offer clarity and structure. Employees feel safe because they clearly understand their expectations. They also understand what they will get in return for meeting business goals.

Potential challenges for leaders with a transactional style:

This leadership style is less about relationships and more about using rewards to motivate. This makes it hard to keep a diverse team engaged. Using only this leadership style can lead to low creativity and fear of punishment.

7. Coaching Leadership

Also called: Conscious Leadership

Like a sports team’s coach, this leader focuses on identifying and nurturing the individual strengths of each member of the team. They also focus on strategies that will enable their team to work better together. This style offers strong similarities to strategic and democratic leadership. But it puts more emphasis on the growth and success of individual employees.

A manager with this leadership style might help employees improve on their strengths by:

Giving them new tasks to try
Offering guidance
Meeting to discuss constructive feedback

They might also encourage one or more team members to expand on their strengths by learning new skills from other teammates.

Why this leadership style works for businesses:

Coaching leaders actively support skill development and independent problem-solving. They meet ambitious business goals by creating a strong company culture. They add to the long-term vision of a business as valuable mentors, often even after leaving a company.

Why this leadership style is good for the team:

This style recognizes that each employee is unique. They build diverse and exciting teams where each employee offers something different.

This leader focuses on high performance, with employees that can communicate well and embrace unique skill sets to get work done.

Potential challenges for leaders with a coaching style:

It can take a lot of time to develop employees with a coaching style, and mentoring isn’t effective for every kind of employee. This leadership style takes time and patience, and it doesn’t work with every company culture.

Featured resources:

Servant leadership

8. Bureaucratic Leadership

Bureaucratic leaders follow the rules. This style of leadership might listen and consider the input of employees — unlike autocratic leadership. But the leader tends to reject an employee’s input if it conflicts with company policy or past practices.

Why this leadership style works for businesses:

You may run into a bureaucratic leader at a larger, older, or traditional company. They might reject ideas that seem new or non-traditional to maintain existing business models and processes.

Their resistance might be because the company is successful with current processes. It could also be because trying something new could waste time or resources if it doesn’t work.

Why this leadership style is good for the team:

This style of leadership can be challenging for some, but it also has many benefits. It lowers the risk of favoritism and replaces it with central duties, job security, and predictability.

This leadership style is clear and efficient, and can also lead to high levels of creativity for some employees.

Potential challenges for leaders with a bureaucratic leadership style:

Employees under this leadership style might not feel as controlled as they would under autocratic leadership. There is sometimes a lack of freedom in how much people are able to do in their roles.

This approach to leadership can quickly shut down innovation. It may not be a right fit for companies that are chasing ambitious goals and quick growth.

Featured resources:

Organizational culture

9. Visionary Leadership

Also called: Affiliative Leadership

Visionary leadership focuses on the future. This type of leader encourages collaboration, emotional intelligence, and teamwork.

Why this leadership style works for businesses:

Visionary leaders create a clear plan for inspired employees to follow and execute. They are also powerful and persuasive communicators. This gives them the ability to energize teams toward impactful business growth.

Why this leadership style is good for the team:

Teams can do more and enjoy their work more if they have a vision to work toward. This type of leader offers vision statements and other tools to inspire and motivate teams to engage at work.

Potential challenges for leaders with a visionary style:

Inspiration can be difficult to structure, so this type of leader might miss crucial details. They can also skip over day-to-day issues to focus on long-term ideas. Another common challenge is hyper-focus on a single goal, when other goals may be just as valuable to the business.

Featured resources:

Crafting a team vision
Management styles
Leadership training

10. Pacesetting Leadership

Pacesetting leaders set ambitious standards. They are often perfectionists, and this leader may also expect employees to exceed goals with limited guidance.

Why this leadership style works for businesses:

This type of leader motivates by working alongside their team and pushing performance. They expect to exceed expectations and often achieve ambitious goals with clear and focused effort.

For example, pacesetting sales leaders set and exceed ambitious quarterly sales cadences.

Why this leadership style is good for the team:

Skilled and experienced teams often thrive under this kind of leader. They use the abilities of motivated and competent team members and make meeting goals feel urgent and exciting.

It can also be gratifying for team members to see their leader working hard alongside them.

Potential challenges for leaders with a pacesetting style:

Pacesetting leaders can sometimes create a high-stress workplace environment. If goals are not realistic it can overwhelm and demotivate the team. This combination can impact engagement and lead to burnout.

Featured resources:

Leadership behaviors

11. Situational Leadership

Situational leaders change their management style to meet the needs of the situation or team. This leadership style is proactive and recognizes that change is the only constant.

Why this leadership style works for businesses:

This approach to leadership can motivate employees. It helps them to be more proactive — anticipating business issues before they happen.

It’s also useful in startups or other businesses that make frequent changes and need flexible talent and support.

Why this leadership style is good for the team:

This type of leader is a great communicator and uses constant team feedback to make decisions. They quickly evaluate and update processes to enable success. It also creates strong relationships and helps employees see and feel their value to the business.

Potential challenges for leaders with a situational style:

Leaders need a high level of expertise in all business processes and functions to make decisions. It can also be confusing and stressful for teams if a leader’s approach changes too often. It’s important to remember long-term goals as well as meet immediate needs, and not every leader can do this effectively.

Featured resources:

Trait theory leadership
Self-awareness in leadership

Deciding Between Different Leadership Styles

There’s no single “best” style of leadership. So, if you plan to lead, you’ll need to figure out what leadership styles are best for you and your environment.

How to Understand Your Instinctive Leadership Style

Leaders need good instincts, and many leaders focus on their own experiences and habits as they develop a leadership style. As you start your path toward leadership, you may want to start keeping notes. Write down how you would handle specific situations or problems.

This approach can help you be a confident and capable leader. But if you notice some interactions aren’t going the way you expect, you may want to reconsider your approach.

Your instincts and habits will always impact the way you lead. But if you find yourself in situations that you’re not sure how to respond to, you may want to look at other leadership styles.

For example, if you’re an extrovert with a shy member on your team, you may want to work on active listening. If you’re an introvert leading a team of outgoing people, you may need to learn new ways to nurture, support, and inspire your team.

Can you change your leadership style?

You can change or expand your leadership style. It may take some time and effort, but anyone can make changes that can improve their leadership.

The first step is seeing the need for change. Next, you need to prepare yourself for that change.

For example, your leadership style may be effective with your team, but you might have a harder time connecting with stakeholders.

In this situation, you wouldn’t want to throw out your current leadership style. Instead, you’ll want to give yourself time to identify what is and isn’t working. Think about how this change might affect your ability to grow in your organization and other parts of your life. Then, get curious, and begin the work of adjusting the way you lead.

How to Choose the Right Leadership Style for You

There are many different ways that you can find the right leadership style for you. Because of this, it can be tough to know where to begin. If you’re not sure what leadership styles will work for you, these steps can help.

1. Get to know yourself.

Different personalities need unique paths to self-discovery. For some, it’s a process of taking risks and trying new things. For others, quiet time, writing exercises, and listing strengths and weaknesses.

Another path to learning about yourself is through physical activity and spending time with other people. However you go about it, getting to know yourself is an important first step toward being a leader.

2. Outline your values and challenges.

As you get to know yourself, the process may help you better understand what’s important to you and where you struggle. Being a leader often means working at a fast pace and making decisions quickly. In these situations, it’s helpful to have your values mapped out.

As you write out your values, look at pivotal moments in your life to date. Then, look for trends, people you’re drawn to, and common themes.

You might have a long list, so you’ll want to group similar ideas. This outline can help you see how you react, your strengths and weaknesses, and a base for your core values.

3. Watch leaders you respect.

Observing leaders you respect can also help you with leadership styles. As you watch these leaders in meetings, client conversations, and presentations, you may want to take notes.

Another approach is to view their actions with a specific leadership style in mind. This makes it easier to figure out their leadership style and whether it would work for you.

4. Try different leadership styles.

Another way to decide if a leadership style is right for you is to try it out. You might want to create an outline of each leadership style that interests you. Then, review your notes before your next meeting and see how you might incorporate this style into your interactions.

5. Find a business coach or mentor.

You can also hone your leadership style by working with a business coach. There are a few places to start your business coach search.

First, look around your workplace and see if there is someone at your company who’d like to mentor you. If there’s not a right fit, your colleagues can be great resources for respected business mentors.

If that doesn’t bring you the coaching you need, check out this list of places to find a business coach.

6. Ask colleagues and leaders for feedback.

Another way that your team can help you find the best leadership styles is by asking them for feedback.

It’s smart to take some time with this strategy. Before you reach out, plan what you want to ask and why. Think about how your team member might respond and set clear guidelines and expectations.

When your colleagues are ready to share their insights with you, make a point to listen carefully. These sessions can be emotionally-charged, so you might want to take notes so that you can sit with the feedback before responding.

If you decide to share your action plan with your colleagues, be sure to commit and follow up. This process can build trust and engage your team, but it can also create issues if you don’t make good on your intentions.

7. Complete a leadership style assessment.

Leadership assessments are useful tools for leaders, both as individuals and to assess their teams.

A leadership quiz can make it easier to understand your strengths and skills. It can surface habits and qualities you might not be aware of and can give you a clear direction for growth.

If this is something you want to try, the leadership assessment below is a great place to start.

Leadership Style Assessment

Leaders can carry a mix of the above leadership styles depending on their industry and the obstacles they face. At the root of these styles, according to leadership experts Bill Torbert and David Rooke, are what are called “action logics.”

These action logics assess “how [leaders] interpret their surroundings and react when their power or safety is challenged.”

That’s the idea behind a popular management survey tool called the Leadership Development Profile. Created by professor Torbert and psychologist Susanne Cook-Greuter — and featured in the book, Personal and Organizational Transformations — the survey relies on a set of 36 open-ended sentence completion tasks to help researchers better understand how leaders develop and grow.

Below, we’ve outlined six action logics using open-ended sentences that help describe each one. See how much you agree with each sentence and, at the bottom, find out which leadership style you uphold based on the action logics you most align with.

1. Individualist

The individualist, according to Rooke and Tolbert, is self-aware, creative, and primarily focused on their own actions and development as opposed to overall organizational performance. This action logic is exceptionally driven by the desire to exceed personal goals and constantly improve their skills.

Here are some things an individualist might say:

Individualist 1: “A good leader should always trust their own intuition over established organizational processes.”

Individualist 2: “It’s important to be able to relate to others so I can easily communicate complex ideas to them.”

Individualist 3: “I’m more comfortable with progress than sustained success.”

2. Strategist

Strategists are acutely aware of the environments in which they operate. They have a deep understanding of the structures and processes that make their businesses tick, but they’re also able to consider these frameworks critically and evaluate what could be improved.

Here are some things a strategist might say:

Strategist 1: “A good leader should always be able to build a consensus in divided groups.”

Strategist 2: “It’s important to help develop the organization as a whole, as well as the growth and individual achievements of my direct reports.”

Strategist 3: “Conflict is inevitable, but I’m knowledgeable enough about my team’s personal and professional relationships to handle the friction.”

3. Alchemist

Rooke and Tolbert describe this charismatic action logic as the most highly evolved and effective at managing organizational change. What distinguishes alchemists from other action logics is their unique ability to see the big picture in everything, but also fully understand the need to take details seriously. Under an alchemist leader, no department or employee is overlooked.

Here are some things an alchemist might say:

Alchemist 1: “A good leader helps their employees reach their highest potential, and possesses the necessary empathy and moral awareness to get there.”

Alchemist 2: “It’s important to make a profound and positive impact on whatever I’m working on.”

Alchemist 3: “I have a unique ability to balance short-term needs and long-term goals.”

4. Opportunist

Opportunists are guided by a certain level of mistrust of others, relying on a facade of control to keep their employees in line. “Opportunists tend to regard their bad behavior as legitimate in the cut and thrust of an eye-for-an-eye world,” Rooke and Tolbert write.

Here are some things an opportunist might say:

Opportunist 1: “A good leader should always view others as potential competition to be bested, even if it’s at the expense of their professional development.”

Opportunist 2: “I reserve the right to reject the input of those who question or criticize my ideas.”

5. Diplomat

Unlike the opportunist, the diplomat isn’t concerned with competition or assuming control over situations. Instead, this action logic seeks to cause minimal impact on their organization by conforming to existing norms and completing their daily tasks with as little friction as possible.

Here are some things a diplomat might say:

Diplomat 1: “A good leader should always resist change since it risks causing instability among their direct reports.”

Diplomat 2: “It’s important to provide the ‘social glue’ in team situations, safely away from conflict.”

Diplomat 3: “I tend to thrive in more team-oriented or supporting leadership roles.”

6. Expert

The expert is a pro in their given field, constantly striving to perfect their knowledge of a subject and perform to meet their own high expectations. Rooke and Tolbert describe the expert as a talented individual contributor and a source of knowledge for the team. But this action logic does lack something central to many good leaders: emotional intelligence.

Here are some things a diplomat might say:

Expert 1: “A good leader should prioritize their own pursuit of knowledge over the needs of the organization and their direct reports.”

Expert 2: “When problem-solving with others in the company, my opinion tends to be the correct one.”

Which Leader Are You?

So, which action logics above felt like you? Think about each sentence for a moment.

Now, check out which of the seven leadership styles you embrace on the right based on the sentences you resonated with on the left.

The more action logics you agree with, the more likely you are to practice a mix of leadership styles.

For example, if you agreed with everything the strategist said, this would make you a 66% strategic leader and 33% democratic leader. If you agreed with just the third statement, but also everything the alchemist said, this would make you a 50% transformational, 25% strategic, and 25% democratic leader.

Keep in mind that these action logics are considered developmental stages, not fixed attributes — most leaders will progress through multiple types of leadership throughout their careers.

Learn Your Leadership Style to Become a Better Leader

Choosing leadership styles that work for you can make you a more effective leader. Whether you manage a big or small team, your style heavily impacts how your direct reports see you. It decides how effectively your team works together to achieve your company’s goals.

If you want to be a leader that makes a difference, you’ll need to keep growing and embrace change. Are you ready to get started?

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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