Leadership styles have been studied for decades. However, leadership boils down to two overall styles: task-oriented and people-oriented leadership. The former is more focused on getting things done, and the latter is more concerned with how people feel while they work. Whether managing in-person or remote teams, exploring leadership styles can help leaders foster more motivated, effective teams.
The interplay between task- and people-oriented leadership has created dozens of more specific styles. Here are five of the most effective ones.
The 5 Most Effective Leadership Styles
Discover the leadership style that best helps you and your team thrive together.
The ultimate task-oriented leadership style, autocratic or “command and control” leaders operate with the mentality that they're in charge first and foremost.
They provide clear expectations and direction to employees, telling them what to do and when and how to do it. Autocratic leaders often make decisions on their own without input from the rest of the group.
- urgent situations where results must be accomplished quickly
- situations where the leader has far more knowledge than the team
- new employee training
- creative work
- knowledge-based jobs
Example: Steve Jobs, former co-founder, CEO, and chairman of Apple, was an autocratic leader. However, his leadership style also encouraged creativity within particular parameters.
An entrepreneur can easily fall into an autocratic leadership style unintentionally. After all, if you start a business because you want to do things “your way," it can be hard to pause and listen to others. In addition to alienating workers, the autocratic approach can make it hard for the team to feel confident and motivated to function without your instructions.
The ultimate people-oriented leadership style is delegative or laissez-faire (“let it be”) leadership.
With this style, the leader doesn’t provide much direction. Instead, the team's ideas influence decisions. For most entrepreneurs, this method of leadership can be hard to even imagine: small business owners tend to be take-charge people who have strong opinions and expect fast results. However, as interest in more supportive styles of leadership grows, many successful companies have explored a delegative approach.
- highly motivated, highly skilled, or expert employees
- situations that require quick results
- new or untrained employees
- employees who thrive with step-by-step guidance
Example: The "holacracy” system entrepreneur and CEO Tony Hsieh utilized at Zappos focused on spreading power throughout the company via self-organizing teams and employee autonomy.
Delegative approaches can work for small groups within organizations who don’t need to achieve results quickly. For example, an R&D team might work well with delegative leadership.
It’s also possible to be delegative just with your key managers, then have them lead their own teams as they see fit.
3. Democratic or Participative
A blend of the task-oriented and people-oriented leadership styles is known as democratic or participative leadership.
The leader provides guidance and direction, but also encourages feedback from employees and takes their opinions into account before making a final decision.
- encouraging loyalty
- boosting employee morale
- improving work, product quality, and creativity
- urgent situations where a fast response is needed
Example: Bill Gates is frequently cited as an example of a democratic leader. Gates gave his team, particularly managers, a lot of autonomy and listened to their insights. As a result, Microsoft has continued to operate successfully even though he is no longer involved day-to-day.
Democratic leadership incorporates a lot of positive qualities, such as a leader who is actively involved in the business but also empowers employees and encourages team spirit. However, remember you’re still the leader, so you shouldn't totally ignore your intuition.
Transformational leaders inspire their teams to work toward change, utilizing their best skills and helping them achieve success. This type of style works well in companies that need creative ideas and innovation. It can boost team morale and increase performance.
- situations where innovation, growth, and change are important
- situations requiring a quick turnaround
Example: Jeff Bezos’ leadership style at Amazon involves continually pushing employees to think about new products or possibilities, helping create the company’s continued success in ecommerce.
The transactional leadership style is often considered the 'carrot and stick' approach to leadership. With this style, leaders employ a system of rewards and penalties for work-related tasks. Team members are expected to complete tasks on time. This type of leadership style can be beneficial for divisions like sales, where commissions are a great way to motivate team members to do their best.
- situations where the focus is accomplishing specific tasks
- creativity or innovation-focused initiatives
Example: This model is sometimes used in large corporations, such as Hewlett-Packard (HP), which makes use of management by expectation.
What is the most effective leadership style?
The most effective leadership style depends on the leader and the situation. For example, leaders in creative fields might benefit from a delegative or democratic style. The best leaders are able to assess and balance their team’s needs and the company’s objectives and find a way to adapt their leadership methods to get the best results. The most effective leadership styles will depend on which one you are most comfortable with and which one your team best responds to. In most modern workplaces, a democratic, delegative, or transformational style tends to be best.
Sometimes a leadership style needs to change to meet the moment. From the leadership styles above, identify one that feels natural to you or ask colleagues for input. Once you’ve done that, you can incorporate a little bit of the other styles into the way you work when needed. If there’s one leadership quality required for today’s changing business world, it’s flexibility.
A version of this article was originally published on July 06, 2015.
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