Everyone knows that strong leadership is central to business success. To motivate teams and harness talent, leaders must effectively communicate with, delegate to, and mentor employees, while inspiring them to pursue the company’s business purpose and mission.
This requires the flexibility to switch among different types of leadership styles – which doesn’t always come instinctively or easily.
People tend to employ leadership styles that are rooted in their innate preferences, personalities, and backgrounds. This isn’t a bad thing; knowing which leadership style naturally works best for you is part of being a good leader. But rigidly sticking to one style can stifle company and employee growth. To enhance leadership effectiveness, it’s crucial to develop a malleable style that integrates various leadership techniques, adapting to new situations as they arise.
There are seven common leadership styles in management, each of which has its place in a leader’s toolkit:
- Autocratic Leadership
- Pacesetting Leadership
- Transformational Leadership
- Coaching Leadership
- Democratic Leadership
- Affiliative Leadership
- Delegative Leadership
Here’s a look at these leadership styles, why they can waver in efficacy, and how to develop a leadership style that allows you to remain flexible to various personalities and circumstances.
1. Autocratic Leadership
Autocratic leaders, also referred to as authoritarian leaders, establish a clear vision of an end goal and how to achieve it. They set specific guidelines and clear expectations for what, when, and how tasks should be done. These leaders traditionally expect others to accept their instructions at face value and act on them immediately.
Autocratic leaders are not necessarily “know-it-alls” who see themselves as above their peers. In fact, they’re often deeply focused on achieving efficient results through established actions that they believe are in the business’ best interest. In some cases, an autocratic leader might make decisions with a small group of trusted peers.
Autocratic leadership is most effective when consistent, predictable results are critical, especially in highly regulated industries like healthcare and construction. Autocratic leadership is very effective when there’s little time for discussion or when employees need a lot of clear guidance.
Pros of autocratic leadership:
- Decision processes are usually less time-consuming and more efficient than a democratic approach.
- When used effectively, autocratic leadership creates clear guidelines for consistent results.
Cons of autocratic leadership:
- If employees don’t have sufficient confidence or trust in the leader, they might not feel comfortable carrying out..
- Can be abused, for example, if an employer or manager alters work shifts or hours without consulting employees.
- Can sacrifices creativity by minimizing group input.
2. Pacesetting Leadership
Pacesetting leaders push team members to run hard and fast to the finish line. They roll up their sleeves and dive into the action, leading by example and setting high expectations. Pacesetting leaders are typically highly energetic. The goal is usually to efficiently drive results, whether working against deadlines or developing a new product or service. However, pacesetting breeds a high-pressure environment that doesn’t work for all employees.
Pacesetting leadership is most effective when working with highly motivated employees who also like to move and see results quickly. . It’s a great style of leadership for when a crucial deadline must be met, especially in a production or manufacturing environment.
Pros of pacesetting leadership:
- Effective way to quickly hit goals, accomplish objectives, and achieve results.
- High, dynamic energy can be engaging for employees who thrive in a fast-paced workplace.
Cons of pacesetting leadership:
- Can lead to employee burnout if everyoneis constantly running at full speed.
- Not the best for employees who thrive on mentorship and individual feedback.
- Mistakes come easier in fast-paced and high-stress environments.
3. Transformational Leadership
Transformational leaders, also known as visionary leaders, are strongly committed to organizational purpose and big-picture goals. They tend to set objectives by mapping out where the company is going and what will happen when they get there. This inspired, future-focused vision is used to set expectations that engage and energize employees.
Transformational leaders might also encourage – and empower – team members to step out of their comfort zones in the name of professional development and organizational achievement. Employees may be asked to share input on how to achieve common goals.
Transformational leadership is most effective in fast-growing organizations or organizations that have been drifting and need direction. Transformational leadership is also effective during corporate restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, and other high-risk business transformations.
Pros of transformational leadership:
- Places high value on a future vision of the company.
- Not coercive; motivation and inspiration are used to gain support.
- Can help catalyze company growth.
- May boost employee morale and retention if workers feel genuinely connected to company goals.
Cons of transformational leadership:
- A big picture focus can make it easy to miss nitty-gritty operational details.
- Present-day issues may be sacrificed for long-term goals.
- If leaders don’t pay proper attention to employee needs, they may lose sight of individual learning curves and workplace preferences.
4. Coaching Leadership
Coaching leaders view their teams as reservoirs of talent to be developed. Like sports coaches, these leaders give employees the direction they need to tap into their abilities and achieve their full potential – individually and as a team.
Through regular feedback, coaching leaders recognize and nurture an individual’s strengths while offering motivational direction to improve weaknesses. Leaders may also provide challenging projects to promote growth.
The coaching leadership style is similar to transformational leadership, but the focus shifts to the long-term potential of employees and how their personal goals fit into the company’s overarching vision.
Coaching leadership is most effective when leaders have the time to devote to individual employees. This style works best with employees who know their limitations and are open to change and challenges.
Pros of coaching leadership:
- Regular encouragement can boost individual and team morale.
- Individualized attention can help support skill development.
- Can naturally promote a positive atmosphere.
Cons of coaching leadership:
- Time intensive due to the one-on-one effort required to effectively coach employees.
- If used exclusively, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture.
5. Democratic Leadership
Democratic leaders, also known as participative leaders, tend to seek gain employees' input before making a decision. The leader might present a problem and get suggestions from the entire team before establishing an official course of action. The goal is to have a dialogue and discussion that encourages group participation and gains everyone’s “buy-in” to whatever the ultimate outcome. Still, democratic leaders get the final say.
Democratic leadership is most effective when you have the time to thoroughly assess processes and figure out ways to achieve long-term ideas and goals. Democratic leadership can be highly effective in companies – and for tasks – that benefit from creativity and inspiration.
Pros of democratic leadership:
- Gives all employees a voice, which can boost engagement, morale, and retention.
- Can help build trust and confidence in leadership.
- Fosters creativity.
Cons of democratic leadership:
- Tends to prolong the decision-making process. Sharing information and conducting thorough conversations with employees takes time.
- Depending on the team, group dynamics can impede productive debate. .
6. Affiliative Leadership
Affiliative leaders, also known as facilitative leaders, aim to put employees first. They pay close attention to and support the emotional and professional needs of employees. Ultimately, this style focuses on encouraging harmony and forming peaceful, collaborative relationships within teams. Most decisions are left to employees, but the leader is still part of the decision-making process. Affiliative leaders often use praise and helpfulness to build individual and team-wide confidence.
Affiliative leadership is most effective when morale is very low or there are conflicts among team members. Affiliative leadership can also be helpful during times of high stress, for example during unusually busy or short-staffed seasons. Affiliative leaders must have strong communication skills and be able to address conflict in a level-headed manner.
Pros of affiliative leadership:
- Since employee well-being is a top priority, morale, retention, and workplace happiness are likely to thrive.
- Conflict may be resolved more quickly.
Cons of affiliative leadership:
- If not kept in check, a deep focus on individuals' needs can overshadow the needs of the overall team.
- If underperforming team members aren't effectively managed , it can reduce productivity.
- Exclusively positive feedback can stifle employees' learning and growth. .
7. Delegative Leadership
Delegative leaders, also known as laissez-faire leaders, provide minimum guidance. This allows employees to solve problems on their own through their own methods. However, a good delegative leader should still define clear limits and expectations before permitting employees to take the reins. While employees make decisions, delegative leaders should still be available to discuss the decisions as needed. Delegative leaders should monitor team performance and provide regular feedback.
Delegative leadership is most effective when employees are highly qualified self-starters with strong track records. . It’s also useful in situations when trusted employees engage in individual projects or when creative tasks or problems require out-of-the-box thinking.
Pros of delegative leadership:
- Empowers employees.
- Experienced employees can fully utilize their competence and experience.
- Gives leaders time to focus on the big picture.
Cons of delegative leadership:
- Can lead to a dip in productivity if roles, tasks, or expectations aren’t clear.
- Without a mediator present, disagreements among team members can hurt morale.
- Often ineffective for team members with less training or experience.
How to Develop Your Own Leadership Style
Leadership style is usually rooted in personal preferences, which can be difficult to change. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. Understanding your own natural leadership style(s) – and when other styles can be more effective – can help you expand your skillset and become a better leader.
Tips for Developing Your Leadership Style:
- Know yourself. Start by learning your dominant leadership style. Do you prefer to give orders or delegate authority? Or do your preferences lie somewhere in-between? Ask trusted colleagues to describe your leadership strengths and/or take a leadership assessment.
- Know your employees. Your leadership style is directly related to how you communicate with your team. It’s important to adapt to employees' personalities and to specific project-related circumstances. For example, you may be able to take a delegative leadership approach with team members who thrive doing autonomous work, whereas an autocratic approach may benefit new employees or individuals who prefer having clear directions to follow.
- Know the leadership styles. Familiarize yourself with the continuum of common leadership styles, and focus on which may work best for different situations relevant to you and your business. What new skills might you need to develop? For example, if you tend to be a pacesetter, it might be smart to work on some affiliative leadership skills to help prevent employee burnout. Identify new skillsets and work to incorporate them in your leadership approach.
The ideal leadership style depends not only on the leader's personality , but also their individual team members and the situation at hand. Developing a signature leadership style, while being able to adapt your method for certain circumstances, can help enhance your overall effectiveness, benefitting employees and the business as a whole.
A version of this article was originally published on October 16, 2019.