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The 7 Most Common Types of Leadership Styles in Business

business leadership

business leadership

There is no one right leadership style for all situations.  As a leader, it may be appropriate to apply a different style at different times of the organization’s development.  The seven most common types of leadership are as follows:

Autocratic Leadership

Autocratic leadership is a “command-and-control” approach similar to what we see in the military.  The leader is all-powerful and all-knowing.  He or she decides what is to be done, and others must follow regardless of their own views or concerns.  No argument or consultation is entered into, and anyone who dares voice an opinion could find themselves unemployed.

It is a style that has become unfashionable in business circles, and it will meet resistance, in particular, with knowledge workers and millennial employees.  It may be suitable in situations that demand immediate action, and the workforce is not yet skilled in responding.

Democratic Leadership

A democratic or consultative leadership style is when the leader engages with employees, giving them information, and asking their opinion.  It’s unlikely to be democratic in the sense that the majority opinion always wins, but people’s opinions influence the leader’s decisions.

This style of leadership requires time and excellent communication skills.  But it will be rewarded by more robust decision-making that employees can “buy-into.”  It is also a good way to develop future leaders from within and to build team spirit.

Laissez-Faire Leadership

The French term laissez-faire means to “leave alone,” and this style of leadership does precisely that.  Employees are left to their own devices and trusted to make the right decisions.  The style works well in environments where employees are highly skilled, experienced, and motivated.

It can be essential in “cutting edge” work where there are no established procedures, and it would be impossible for the leader to be involved in every decision needed.  It relies on excellent communication and feedback and a clear vision of the desired outcomes.  It is important to note that this style is not synonymous with the abdication of responsibility on behalf of leadership.  The leadership still takes responsibility for outcomes and must choose the team and tools that will bring about the best result.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is change-focussed.  The leader relies heavily on “selling” a future vision that excites people into following him or her.  Transformational leaders tend to be “blue-sky” thinkers who are not necessarily practical.  This style of leadership works best in environments with skilled and experienced workers capable of translating the leader’s vision into actions.

It is sometimes referred to as authoritative or charismatic leadership, but if leadership becomes focused on the leader as an individual, it leaves the organization exposed should anything happen to the leader.  Transformation projects that are too closely tied to an individual’s personal passion stand the risk of losing momentum and validity once the individual is no longer there.

Coaching Leadership

Coaching-style leaders give priority to employee development – they see it as the prime objective of leadership.  Just like great sports coaches, they may illicit performance from employees that they themselves might not be capable of by providing the right environment for talent shine.

There is a risk that coaching leaders can slow down the organization, though, as everything is an opportunity to teach/learn.  Coaching leaders are ideal in industries characterized by “bright young things” where employees’ technical aptitude might outweigh their maturity in other areas.

Affiliate or People-Oriented Leadership

Affiliate leadership puts people first.  Leaders focus on building harmony and connecting at an emotional, one-on-one level.  Family-owned and run businesses evolve naturally along these lines, and decisions are often made for reasons outside of the direct business environment.  But many successful entrepreneurs have built companies on this basis and weathered stormy times because of the loyalty this leadership style wins.

Challenges in this approach come as the organization grows, and it becomes difficult to scale the required level of attention.  Employees who are motivated by merit-based recognition are unlikely to last long under affiliate leadership because it can promote a culture of mediocrity.    

Pace setting Leadership

A pace setting leader sets the pace.  By forging ahead and excelling in what they tackle, they encourage others to follow their lead.  They are “do as I do” leaders as opposed to “do as I say.”  The leader’s passion and enthusiasm can create a high-energy environment that swiftly propels the organization forward.  There is a risk, though, that this style becomes coercive over time.

Those employees without the same drive and energy can tire over time but feel pressured to keep up.  Without time to recoup their energy, the workplace becomes a drain on their creativity, leading to illness and absenteeism, and ultimately staff turnover.

It’s essential to consider your strengths, personality, and values in deciding what leadership style to embrace.  Tweak the suggestions above until you feel you can engage authentically to get the most out of yourself and the people working for you.

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