Can you picture the best boss you have ever had? How about the worst? When we think about leadership, we often put leaders into two buckets: good and bad.
Most of us can quickly identify who these individuals are in our career stories, but the truth is, leadership isn’t simply good or bad. Many different leadership styles are based on skills, philosophies, and personality traits. And certain leadership styles are more effective in specific environments and scenarios.
In this guide, we’re breaking down common leadership styles so you can identify which one is best for you (hint: there’s no “right” answer, but there may be a style that suits your team the most).
How to define leadership
Defining leadership isn’t just about a fancy title or management role. At some point in your career (if you haven’t reached it already), you might find yourself leading a project, team, department, or even an entire organization.
The word “leadership” can mean different things depending on who you ask, but in its purest form, leadership is all about influencing or leading others toward a shared goal. A leader can successfully guide an individual or a group of individuals. Think of leadership as a broad skill with a subset of more specific skills beneath it, such as empathy, active listening, dependability, and timely communication.
Effective leaders are must-haves within every organization. With that in mind, various leadership styles ultimately come down to two factors: your unique personality and what your team best responds to.
Which leadership style is best for you?
Are you wondering which leadership style is the best for you? Here’s the good news: There is no single, best approach to leadership. And even if there were only one correct answer, it would be challenging to fit a specific mold that doesn’t compliment your unique personality or your team’s relationship.
You likely lean naturally toward a particular leadership style, but keep in mind that you can also practice alternative approaches and use them in situations that might feel appropriate. Understanding the different types of leadership styles provides you with an opportunity to understand your strengths and weaknesses and, ultimately, how to become a better leader.
Different types of leadership styles with examples
So, what different approaches are there? Let’s look at five common leadership styles and how they might appear in the workplace.
Autocratic leadership style
Autocratic leadership is exactly what it sounds like — it prioritizes direction and guidance from the leader with little input from other team members. Also known as authoritarian leadership, this leadership style is exemplified when a leader takes control over decisions, implements policies and procedures without input, and decides what the future vision is.
Autocratic leadership has been linked to the following benefits:
- Quick decision-making: Since authoritarian leaders often make decisions with little to no input, decisions are made quickly, which is a huge benefit in times of urgency.
- A strong sense of structure: For teams that need a strong sense of direction, authoritarian leaders can often get them back on track in no time with a clear and concise goal and plan for getting there.
However, an autocratic leadership style poses challenges, including:
- Little room for collaboration: When the decision-making power lies solely with the leader, a team may not feel like they have space to collaborate openly and bring new ideas to the table.
- Stereotyped as lacking empathy: Despite your best efforts to show your team you care, the autocratic leadership style is often viewed as cold and lacking empathy. These types of leaders can be intimidating at times.
You might be an autocratic leader if you get things done quickly and efficiently, taking it upon yourself to make decisions and assuming responsibility for project outcomes. Your team can focus on their tasks without shouldering the responsibility of larger decisions, which can be particularly effective during high-stress projects. Just make sure you're not missing out on valuable input from your team members by making unilateral decisions.
Laissez-faire leadership style
A quick Google search reveals “laissez-faire” is French for “let it be,” and that’s precisely the root of this leadership style. Laissez-faire leaders trust and rely on their teams to get the job done. They take a step back and don’t micromanage or give too much guidance. Instead, they empower their teams with the resources and tools they need to do their work and then get out of their way.
Benefits of Laissez-faire leadership include:
- Relaxed and trusting culture: People don’t feel micromanaged by a leader who leaves employees to do their jobs the way they want. This can create a more relaxed and trusting company culture.
- Creativity thrives: When employees work under laissez-faire leaders, they are more likely to be creative because they have the authority to try new things and think outside of the box.
Some drawbacks of laissez-faire leadership include:
- Lack of clarity: It can be challenging for team members to understand and identify who makes decisions when leaders use this leadership style. Chaos can ensue if a team isn’t organized or clear on roles and responsibilities.
- Leaders might seem disengaged: Laissez-faire leaders may be viewed as disengaged, uninvolved, or withdrawn due to their willingness to step away and not micromanage. This can potentially cause tension between leaders and their team members if a level of support is missing.
You might be a laissez-faire leader if you’re a laid-back, hands-off leader, letting your team make its own decisions while providing support and resources when necessary. Because of their autonomy and your trust in them, your team tends to have high employee satisfaction. This leadership style is well-suited for teams of highly-skilled, motivated workers.
Be careful that your team doesn't mistake your casual leadership style with apathy, or they may not stay engaged, manage their time well, or lack sufficient direction or knowledge to do the job right.
Participative leadership style
The participative leadership style is all about — you guessed it — participation. Sometimes referred to as democratic leadership, these leaders encourage everyone to join in on decision-making, whether on a team or organization-wide. The key is to gather collective input with the leader still holding the final decision-making power.
Participative leadership has been linked to the following benefits:
- A shared sense of value: Engaging and including team members in the decision-making process can make them feel valued and heard. Involving employees in the process of identifying change can increase staff buy-in that helps teams succeed when changes are implemented.
- Innovation is encouraged: Leaders engage entire teams in decision-making processes, which leaves room for individuals to innovate and bring their ideas to the table. Supported innovation is a perk for employees and organizations.
A participative leadership style poses challenges including:
- Reaching consensus can be challenging: When opening up decision-making efforts to a larger group, reaching an agreement that satisfies all stakeholders can be difficult. The process can become inefficient, costly, and arduous.
- Social pressure might creep in: No matter how hard you try to encourage individual decision-making, social pressure may sneak into your team or organization. Influential team members could intentionally or unintentionally sway people to vote in a way they may disagree with, causing tension down the road.
You might be a participative leader if you seek to involve all team members or key stakeholders in your decision-making process. You believe in providing an equal chance to weigh in through group discussions and other forms of gathering collective input. Be careful not to slow down progress in a detrimental way and become more inefficient than helpful as a leader.
Transactional leadership style
The transactional leadership style is built on a system of rewards and penalties involved with a work-related transaction. Think of it this way: transactional leaders provide clear directions to team members and expect them to complete tasks and meet deadlines accordingly. Leaders then use rewards or penalties to recognize or discipline team members based on their contributions and execution.
Benefits of transactional leadership include:
- The method is easy to understand: There’s little room for interpretation in a reinforcement system. When employees are rewarded, they know it's for a job well done, while disciplinary actions follow a job that needs improvement or that doesn’t meet standards and expectations.
- Equal treatment amongst team members: A transactional leadership style removes personal feelings and playing favorites from the equation. All employees are held to the same expectations and receive the same response to their work.
Drawbacks of transactional leadership include:
- Leaders might seem impersonal: A rewards and punishment system can make leaders seem blunt and neutral. This can cause some team members to feel disliked or even unvalued.
- Limited flexibility: Employees may feel like they can’t deviate from the norms you set or fear they will be punished if they stray too far from the pack.
You might be a transactional leader if your team knows exactly what’s expected of them. After all, they’ve agreed to follow your directions by taking the job, and you’re crystal clear about each team member’s roles and responsibilities. You are not a micromanager. When you delegate, the other person is fully responsible for completing the task successfully. You have clear systems for rewards and discipline, and your team is confident that they’re evaluated based solely on their abilities and contributions, not office politics.
Transformational leadership style
Transformational leadership is a leadership style in which leaders inspire their teams and employees to work toward a needed change and guide them to become better versions of themselves. This type of leadership can focus on the individuals the leader is guiding to help them grow in their careers or on a broader organizational shift.
Transformational leadership has been linked to the following benefits:
- Increased innovation and creativity: The collaborative environment that transformational leaders encourage breeds increased innovation and creativity across teams.
- Higher team morale: Transformational leaders make their team members feel heard and valued, boosting morale and even team performance.
A transformational leadership style poses challenges including:
- Added pressure on the leader: Transformational leaders may take on an added sense of pressure to develop their team members. But while investing time into helping everyone is admirable, burnout can quickly arise.
- Too much focus on growth can distract from other goals: In addition to helping employees grow, business objectives and team goals need to be met. Too much emphasis on personal growth or organizational change can distract from these necessary goals if transformational leaders aren’t careful.
If you motivate your team by creating a shared vision or aspirational goal, you might be a transformational leader. You see projects as opportunities to both accomplish short-term project goals, and on a larger scale, to make positive changes in how the organization gets work done. You have high emotional intelligence and value integrity and expect the best of your team while also holding yourself to a high standard of accountability.
Find your style and become the best leader you can be
Remember, there is no such thing as the “right” leadership style. What works best for you may not be the same as what works best for others, and that’s perfectly okay. The important thing is to always keep your unique personality and your team’s best interests in mind.
No matter your leadership style, Wrike can help you communicate with and lead your team more effectively. Sign up for a free trial today.