Follow My Lead: The 12 Most Common Leadership Styles

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“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

Warren Bennis

Just as every leader has a particular vision for their organization, every leadership style is unique to the leader’s background, the situation they are working in, and the goals they aim to accomplish. However, there are certain traits that are constant across leadership styles, to the point where some would argue there are only about twelve different leadership styles.

A leader needs to understand the difference between these different strategies, because while they all have some merits that warrant their use, no single leadership style is suitable for every situation. As such, it is important to evaluate your organization and your team, than select a leadership style that best suits your needs. While we will elaborate on each of these leadership styles later, each in their own blog post, let’s provide a quick explanation for all of them now.

Autocratic Leadership

Leadership where the leader has complete authority, can make decisions without consulting employees or advisors, and generally supports a work environment with little flexibility. Effective when high-volume production needs are required on a daily basis, or when detailed orders or instructions are the only way to effectively supervise the work involved.

Democratic Leadership

Leadership where subordinates contribute to the decision-making process. While the leader has the final say with regard decisions, they can delegate authority to others. Effective when you have a highly skilled team or are dealing with a problem that requires a lot of input.

Laissez-faire Leadership

Leadership where subordinates are free to act on their own with little-to-no interference from those in charge. Effective when dealing with highly skilled workers, particularly outside experts who don’t require much supervision.

Strategic Leadership

Leadership style dedicated to strategic planning, in which a leader develops and facilitates plans in order to most effectively complete their goals and utilize their team’s abilities. Effective when a leader is working closely with their team and the process requires a highly individualized approach.

Facilitative Leadership

Leadership that implements a plan generated to make the completion of a task easier. Effective when there is a stable and efficient process in place that doesn’t require personalization or deviation.

Transactional Leadership

Leadership that is dedicated to maintaining the status quo, offering immediate and tangible rewards for following the leader’s orders. Effective when an efficient organizational structure is in place and the goal is to maintain a standard of quality.  

Transformational Leadership

Leadership that is dedicated to initiating change within an organization, encouraging and challenging others to achieve more. Effective when there is room for improvement on a structural level and one is actively looking for new ideas and growth strategies.

Charismatic Leadership

Leadership in which a charismatic leader appeals directly to their followers, meeting their needs while also transforming their beliefs and values.  Effective when a leader has a clear vision for their organization and is charming enough to inspire devotion or dedication to that vision.

Visionary Leadership

Leadership that has a vision for their organization’s future and inspires others to see how they can contribute their unique skills to this vision. Effective when an organization needs a new direction and wants employees to understand the role they serve in their vision.

Coaching Leadership

Leadership that involves teaching and supervising followers, providing motivation and encouraging improvement. Effective when followers are capable, but require guidance and encouragement to achieve their full potential.

Team Leadership

Leadership dynamic in which all members of a team can perform leadership roles depending on the situation. Effective when dealing with a small group and a strict organizational structure isn’t needed.

Cross-Cultural Leadership

Leadership style designed to meet the needs of an increasingly globalized culture, emphasizing how to quickly adjust to different work environments and work with business partners and employees from different cultures. Effective when part of a global organization or a highly diversified workplace.

Obviously, there is some degree of overlap between these twelve leadership styles, and it is possible that your personal leadership style might be an amalgam of more than one of them. No matter how you tend to serve as a leader, at least one of these styles likely describes your approach.

Next time you work with your team, consider the leadership style that you use. Then ask yourself: “Is this form of leadership the best way to accomplish my goals?” If not, consider which of these twelve strategies would be the best vehicle for your vision.