10 Common Leadership Styles (Plus How To Use Them)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Most professionals will have some kind of leadership role in some capacity during their careers. As a leader, it's important for you to understand how you treat others and how you can align with your organisation's culture and achieve its goals. Employing successful leadership characteristics in the workplace makes you a more viable candidate for managerial opportunities. In this article, we discuss common leadership styles in the workplace, including the characteristics of each, when to use the style and an example of employing the style.

10 common leadership styles

Being an effective leader may require using a different leadership style depending on the situation and the co-workers involved. It's important for you to understand the different styles and their benefits and when to use them. Common styles of leadership include:

1. Autocratic style

The autocratic, or authoritarian, style of leadership refers to a leader who often makes decisions alone or with only a small group of trusted employees. They focus on the importance of results and efficiency, and they expect their team members to do exactly what they ask them to do. It may be beneficial for organisations with strict guidelines or that require a great deal of compliance. It may also be good to use when employees require a lot of supervision. However, this style may result in employees feeling confined or uncreative.

Characteristics of an autocratic leader include:

  • Belief in supervised work environments

  • Clear and consistent communication

  • Dependability

  • Following the rules

  • Self-confidence

  • Self-motivation

  • Values highly structured environments

Example: A surgeon meets with their team before an operation. They review the rules and processes of the operating room with each team member. They verify each team member understands the procedure and their unique responsibilities during the operation.

Related: Teamwork Skills: Definitions and Examples

2. Bureaucratic style

The bureaucratic style of leadership involves team members following procedures and rules exactly as written. It focuses on fixed duties established within a hierarchy where each member of the team has unique responsibilities. It allows for little collaboration or creativity. Using a bureaucratic style may be beneficial for very regulated departments or industries, such as finance, government or healthcare.

Characteristics of a bureaucratic leader include:

  • Committed to the organisation

  • Detail-oriented

  • Excellent work ethic

  • Self-discipline

  • Strong-willed

  • Task-focused

  • Values structure and rules

Example: A manager at a government agency provides employees with a specific framework to use. Each employee completes steps in the process in a specific order. This creates consistency among all employees, and each employee understands their responsibilities.

3. Coaching style

The coaching style of leadership provides the most overall benefits for both employers and employees, but it's often underutilised because it can require more time and resources. However, this is a positive style that recognises the strengths, weaknesses and motivations of each team member, providing the leader with the opportunity to help each employee identify areas of improvement and set personal goals. A coaching style is beneficial for establishing expectations, creating a positive environment and promoting growth.

Characteristics of a coaching leader include:

  • Asks guided questions

  • Balances sharing knowledge and helping others learn

  • Doesn't give commands

  • Provides guidance

  • Self-awareness

  • Supportive

  • Values learning to help grow

Example: A sales manager meets with each member of their team to discuss their performance the previous quarter. The manager asks each person how they feel about their performance and what they hope to achieve in the next quarter. The manager provides feedback and helps the salesperson set short- and long-term goals.

Related: How To Write SMART Goals for Your Career (With Examples)

4. Democratic style

A democratic, or participative, style involves using feedback from the team to make decisions. This helps foster higher levels of employee engagement and workplace satisfaction because it demonstrates valuing the employees' voices and contributions. This style encourages discussion and participation, making it a good option for organisations that require creativity and innovation, such as those within the technology industry.

Characteristics of a democratic leader include:

  • Excellent mediation skills

  • Flexibility

  • Promotes a collaborative environment

  • Provides all information to teams

  • Rational

  • Values group discusses

Example: A boutique owner wants to redo the floor plan of their shop. They host a meeting with all employees, asking for their input based on what would work best for them and what customers may prefer. The owner answers any questions the employees have and presents a potential floor plan design based on the discussion.

5. Laissez-faire style

A laissez-faire, or hands-off, style involves delegating tasks to team members and providing little to no supervision, allowing the leader to focus on other tasks rather than managing their team members. It may create a relaxed work environment with a strong culture of accountability. However, this style requires highly experienced, well-trained professionals. It may affect productivity if employees do not receive clear instructions.

Characteristics of a laissez-fair leader include:

  • Ability to delegate

  • Belief in freedom of choice

  • Fosters team's leadership abilities

  • Offers constructive criticism

  • Promotes an autonomous work environment

  • Provides resources and tools

  • Takes control when necessary

Example: A manager of a remote graphic design company allows each employee to establish their own work schedules. The manager empowers team members to volunteer for projects they want to complete. However, the manager requires each employee to complete a certain number of assignments per day.

Related: Management Skills: Definitions and Examples

6. Pacesetter style

The pacesetter style focuses on performance and may help drive optimal results. It involves setting high standards for employees and holding each employee accountable for their results. This style can be beneficial for fast-paced environments to motivate employees, but it may not be a good option for environments with teams that want feedback or mentorship.

Characteristics of a pacesetter leader include:

  • Establishes high standards

  • Goal-focused

  • Highly competent

  • Slow to praise

  • Values performance over soft skills

  • Will assist in reaching goals if needed

Example: A sales manager realises their team may not reach their quarterly goal. To provide their team with more time, the manager replaces daily update meetings with emails, providing each employee with more time to work. The manager also joins the team in cold-calling clients to reach the goal.

7. Servant style

Servant style uses a people-first mindset to ensure each employee feels personally and professionally fulfilled. It emphasises the importance of employee satisfaction and collaboration, building morale and engaging team members with their work. This may be beneficial to use in any organisation to ensure your co-workers feel respected, but it's very common within nonprofit organisations.

Characteristics of a servant leader include:

  • Committed to growing team professionally

  • Encourages collaboration

  • Excellent communication skills

  • Motivates team

  • Personally cares about the team

  • Promotes employee engagement

Example: A product manager has one-on-one meetings each month with their team members. The manager asks for feedback about the product and if the employee has any concerns. This allows the manager to gain important insight about the product and learn more about their co-workers and their goals.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

8. Transactional style

The transactional style focuses on performance but uses established incentives to motivate employees. This style involves the leader instructing, mentoring or training employees to help them achieve their goals. While this style does not drive creativity, it may be a good option for organisations or teams responsible for achieving specific goals, such as sales and revenue.

Characteristics of a transactional leader include:

  • Doesn't question authority

  • Micromanages

  • Practical and pragmatic

  • Reactionary

  • Values achieving goals

  • Values corporate structure

Example: A retail manager wants to improve the number of customers who sign up for the shop's loyalty program. The manager challenges each employee to sign up at least ten new members per shift. For every ten sign-ups, the employee receives a point, and the employee with the most points at the end of the week wins a monetary reward.

9. Transformational style

The transformational style involves communicating clearly, motivating employees and setting goals. However, these leaders focus on setting organisational goals rather than individual employee goals. This style focuses on the improvement of the organisation as a whole, potentially improving company morale and employee retention. This may be a good option for organisations or teams with professionals capable of achieving several delegated tasks with little to no constant supervision.

Characteristics of a transformational leader include:

  • Considers situations on a broad scale

  • Creativity

  • Good understanding of organisational needs

  • Inspires others to achieve goals

  • Mutual respect for the time

  • Provides encouragement

  • Values intellectually challenging the team

Example: A new manager begins overseeing the marketing department of an organisation, which includes several smaller specialised departments. They use their first few months to become familiar with the organisation and its objectives and the strengths and responsibilities of each department. Before the next quarter, the manager provides each specialised department with overall goals and asks individuals to set personal goals to support these larger goals.

10. Visionary style

The visionary style can help create change within an organisation by creating bonds and confidence among professionals. Team members begin to trust each other, allowing them to be more receptive to and inspired by the ideas of others. This style may be beneficial for small, fast-growing organisations and larger organisations wanting to transform or restructure their corporate organisation.

Characteristics of a visionary leader include:

  • Bold

  • Innovative

  • Inspirational

  • Magnetic

  • Optimistic

  • Persistence

  • Risk-taking

Example: A new teacher begins a group for their colleagues who want to help students struggling at school because of outside issues. They establish the goal to help students improve their focus and succeed in school. The teachers discuss strategies to support the students in meaningful but efficient ways.

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