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16 Leadership styles: The complete list of leadership styles

Leadership styles are the various ways in which leaders in a social setting, such as a business or a political organization, interact with their followers and make decisions. Typically, a leader utilizes a combination of different leadership styles depending on the situation and the goals of the organization.

Imagine you’re an employee who has just joined an organization. Your boss’s leadership style will likely be a combination of two or more of the following leadership styles:

1) Autocratic

If your boss makes all the decisions on their own with no feedback from you or other employees, this is called the autocratic leadership style. Autocratic leaders don’t care about their employees at all and are only interested in performance outcomes.

Useful when: Employees don’t have the information to make decisions or decisions need to be made quickly.

Not useful when: Employer can benefit from the input of experienced and informed employees.

authoritative leadership style

2) Bureaucratic 

If your organization is an old and traditional one, it’s likely that your boss’s leadership style will be bureaucratic. Bureaucratic leaders prefer to ‘go by the book’ and expect their employees to strictly follow the rules and regulations of the organization.

Useful when: Organization’s rules are effective and have stood the test of time.

Not useful when: Organization needs more innovation and creativity in decision-making.

3) Charismatic 

If your boss has a charming personality, gives eloquent speeches, and is able to convince others of their ideas, their leadership style is charismatic. Charismatic leaders can be very motivating because they can convince their followers to believe in their goals.

Useful when: The goals of an organization are challenging and require significant collaboration.

Not useful when: The charismatic leader becomes too focused on specific goals, ignoring other aspects of the organization that demand attention.

4) Coach

If your boss invests a lot of time in you, guides you, helps you develop your strengths, and motivates you to work on your weaknesses, this is known as the coach leadership style. Coach style leaders take great care of every employee and are attentive to their unique needs.

Useful when: The organization can benefit if each individual can reach their maximum potential and productivity level.

Not useful when: The time invested in coaching by the leaders could be utilized for other more productive and urgent tasks.

5) Democratic

If your boss asks you and your colleagues for input and feedback to aid their decision-making, this is the democratic leadership style. When employees have a say in organizational decision-making, they feel important and more connected to their organization.

Useful when: Employees are well informed about their job and are experienced, hence capable of providing valuable feedback.

Not useful when: Decisions need to be taken urgently or the leader has all the resources and information for making the decision.

6) Laissez-faire

If your boss is chill and gives you and your colleagues all the freedom you could ask for, it’s called the Laissez-faire leadership style. Laissez-faire is a French term that literally translates to “let do”. Your boss is letting you do whatever you want, however you want.

Useful when: The nature of work is such that unbridled creativity and flexibility on the part of the employees can boost productivity.

Not useful when: Freedom to do what the employees want makes a mess of everything, making the organization and the work unmanageable.

7) Negative

If your boss believes that by punishing you your productivity level will rise, this is known as the negative leadership style. Negative leaders try to dominate their followers and force them to perform.

Useful when: Employees lack intrinsic motivation to do the work. Avoiding a negative consequence can sometimes be a strong motivator.

Not useful when: Employees are intrinsically motivated, like their work, and don’t like to be pushed around.

8) Pacesetter

Pacesetter leadership style is when your boss sets high standards for you and your colleagues. Pacesetter leaders are focused on performance and driving fast results for the organization.

Useful when: Organization seeks fast growth. Startups, for example.

Not useful when: Employee needs are ignored in the process of focusing entirely on quick results.

9) Paternalistic 

When your boss is like a father figure to you and your colleagues, it is paternalistic leadership style in action. Paternalistic leaders take care of their followers just as a parent would, protecting and nurturing them. They earn their followers’ loyalty in return.

Useful when: Employers seek to establish long-lasting relationships with their employees.

Not useful when: The employees are self-sufficient and independent.

10) Positive

When your boss motivates you with rewards such as financial rewards, education, or new experiences, this makes them a positive leader. A positive leader is the opposite of a negative leader.

Useful when: Employee productivity can be boosted with the use of rewards.

Not useful when: There is no equitable system in place for incentives wherein each employee is rewarded fairly.

11) Servant

When your boss acts like your servant and places your need before everything else. Servant leadership style works because it satisfies people. Satisfied people are more likely to perform well. Leaders who put their followers first are loved and respected.

Useful when: Nature of work is unsatisfactory and employees turn to people for satisfaction and fulfillment.

Not useful when: Employers need to take a firm stand in making decisions which, at times, might mean ignoring the individual needs of employees.

12) Strategic 

When your boss plays a key role in growing the organization and moving it forward, this is called strategic leadership style. Strategic leaders actively look for growth opportunities whilst keeping the organization’s current activities stable.

Useful when: The employer participates in the strategic management of the organization with little contact with the employees.

Not useful when: The employer's time is better spent supervising the daily, weekly, and monthly progress of an organization.

13) Supportive

If your boss not only supervises you but also gives you all the support you need, this is known as the supportive leadership style. Supportive leaders help employees solve problems and develop skills so that the latter can solve problems on their own.

Useful when: Employees are inexperienced and employers can take time off from their responsibilities to help.

Not useful when: Employees are skilled and experienced or employers have other, more important responsibilities to attend to.

14) Transactional

When your boss focuses on nothing but your performance, gives you incentives for success, and punishes you for failure, this is called the transactional leadership style. This leadership style is a combination of positive and negative leadership styles.

Useful when: The organization has high performance standards and employees need a motivation boost.

Not useful when: Long-term relationship between employers and employees is crucial to the success of the organization.

15) Transformational

When your boss is focused on motivating you to set and achieve organizational goals, this is called the transformational leadership style. Transformational leaders seek to transform the organization, not only its day-to-day functioning but also the thought process and core values of its members.

Useful when: Organization members need guidance, inspiration, and motivation.

Not useful when: Individual needs of the employees and their skill development demand more attention.

16) Visionary

If your boss is innovative and encourages new ideas, this is called the visionary leadership style. Visionary leaders are not loath to disrupt the status quo if it means the organization is going to grow by leaps and bounds.

Useful when: Organization needs a vision for the future and means to fulfill that vision. 

Not useful when: Organization is set in its ways of doing things and is doing fairly well.

Personality and leadership style

It is important that the personality of a leader matches what the organization is trying to achieve. The most desirable personality trait of leaders is their ability to change their leadership styles according to the needs of the organization. An organization is, after all, a dynamic entity and a leadership style that worked in the past may not necessarily work in the future.

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