10 Unique leadership styles (and how to find your own)

What are the similarities between Meta Platforms’ Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Lowe’s Chief Executive Marvin Ellison? They are all outstanding leaders. One of them made waves in the technology industry, and the other was good at dealing with the challenges of the retail industry. Both of them are forward-looking, far-sighted about their work, and full of charm, attracting a large audience.

There is no one-size-fits-all leadership style. Every leader has his own personality and experience, which will have an impact on their unique style. This style will continue to evolve, so the way you act as a leader today may be different from the leader you want to be.

In this article, we’ll discuss and explain 10 typical leadership styles and theories to allow you understand better your existing leadership style, how to apply it, and empower your team to assert its impact.

1. Authoritarian (dictatorial) leadership

Authoritarian (also called authoritarian) leaders control their peers and give clear orders. Centralized decision-making means that one person makes key decisions. Authoritarian leaders have a clear vision for the grand blueprint, but only involve other members of the team in individual tasks or when needed.

Authoritarian leaders are very personal when they praise or criticize others, but they clearly separate themselves from the group. Although you may think that authoritarian leaders are unpleasant, this is usually not the case. They are rarely openly hostile. On the contrary, they are usually very friendly and sometimes even objective.

  • Authoritarian leaders may be associated with the following practices:
    • I will prioritize the use of my own experience and ideas, rather than the team’s.
    • When there are arguments inside the firm, my point of view is typically accurate.
    • If there are too many different points of view, we would not be opportune to finish the task.
    • I will ignore those who disagree with the projects I am responsible for.
  • The advantages of authoritarian leadership:
    • Authoritarian leaders have the ability to complete projects under tight deadlines.
    • When decisive action is necessary, this approach is quite beneficial.
    • Authoritarian leadership is effective when the leader is the group’s most efficiency and expertise.
  • Authoritarian leadership’s drawbacks include:
    • This personality type is incapable of inspiring innovation.
    • Leaders may be viewed negatively, as bossy or controlling.
    • It is difficult to try another leadership style, and usually stick to it.

2. Participatory or democratic leadership

Leaders who are participative or democratic embrace everyone’s input and encourage cooperation. Although they may have the final decision-making power, these leaders will assign the responsibility of decision-making to everyone.

Participatory leaders are members of the team. They devote time and energy to the growth of their colleagues because they know that this will in turn help them achieve their ultimate goals. This might be your actual leadership style if you thrive in a collaborative group setting.

  • Participatory leaders may be related to the following practices:
    • If I give priority to the experience and ideas of the group, it will benefit my role.
    • When there is a disagreement within the company, we should listen to everyone’s opinions and then work out a solution.
    • The higher the numbers of individuals that collaborate on a project, the better the outcome
    • I welcome those who hold the opposite view, because this will make the final product better.
  • Advantages of participatory leadership:
    • This is the most effective leadership style, according to Lewin’s study.
    • Higher-quality contributions result from participatory leadership.
    • Increase group participation by encouraging greater inventiveness.
    • Everyone understands the larger blueprint and is motivated to achieve the ultimate goal.
  • Disadvantages of participatory leadership:
    • Teams that perform participatory leadership are not as efficient as teams that are led by authoritarianism.
    • All team members must provide support for collaboration to operate successfully. 

3. Appointment (laissez-faire) leadership

Lewin’s third style is delegated or laissez-faire leadership. The delegated leadership does not provide much guidance to the group. This management approach gives team members unlimited autonomy over decision-making.

Appointed leaders detach themselves from the team as well as refuse to engage in or disrupt the project’s present track. They rarely express opinions. Team members may even forget what the leader looks like when completing the project.

  • Laissez-faire leaders may be associated with the following practices:
    • The team can decide what is best for them, but I expect the final product to be excellent.
    • When there is a disagreement within the company, other people can make a decision even without my opinion.
    • I will pass on resources to my team. In this way, I hope that group members can initiate themselves and be able to determine how to proceed.
    • Those who hold opposite opinions can try their own methods.
  • Advantages of delegated leadership:
    • Delegated leaders will be productive if all group members are certified specialists.
    • Under this leadership style, those who value autonomy will have a high level of work satisfaction.
    • If the team’s goals are consistent with the leader, the goals can be achieved. Target tracking software can be used to monitor progress.
  • Disadvantages of delegated leadership:
    • According to Lewin’s research, teams that perform delegated leadership are the least effective.
    • If the leader is a delegated style, the roles and responsibilities will be blurred.
    • This style will cause team members to point fingers at each other without assuming any responsibility.

Let’s look at the emotional leadership theory together now that you’ve grasped Lewin’s three leadership types, and then try a different approach. This method can help you use emotional intelligence to understand the group and apply appropriate leadership styles.

4. Visionary leadership

Visionary leadership can be compared with Lewin’s authoritarian leadership. Visionary leaders may inspire and encourage people by having a clear, long-term vision. When the company undergoes major changes or needs a clear direction, it is best to use this type of leadership. In this case, people will seek to follow someone they trust in the unknown.

This style is less likely to succeed when other team members are experts and have different ideas or opinions from the leader. These team members don’t really wish to follow a leader with whom they do not identify.

  • Advantages of visionary leaders:
    • Members of the organization are motivated and aware of their responsibilities.
    • Temporary problems will not discourage leaders, because they focus on the ultimate goal.
    • Visionary leaders are good at establishing contingency plans in order to respond to challenges brought by external factors (such as politics or global events).
  • Disadvantages of visionary leaders:
    • The team lacks short-term focus.
    • If the vision and the personality of the leader are too intertwined, the vision may be lost.
    • Visionary leaders may reject the ideas of other group members.

5. Coaching leadership

Coaching leaders can identify the strengths and weaknesses of other team members and guide them to make improvements. They can also relate these abilities to the company’s objectives.

When leaders are creative, willing to cooperate, and can provide concrete feedback, coaching leadership is successful. It’s also crucial that the coach understands when to step aside and delegate authority to the person.

If you have encountered a bad coach, you will understand that coaching is not for everyone. If done poorly, coaching leadership may be seen as micromanagement.

  • Advantages of coaching leadership:
    • Coaching leaders can create a dynamic atmosphere, and team members will enjoy it.
    • Expectations are clear, so the skills of team members can be improved.
    • This leadership style can provide a company with a competitive advantage because it can produce skilled people who are productive and willing to mentor others.
  • Disadvantages of coaching leadership:
    • Coaching leadership takes patience and time,
    • It only works if people are prepared to open up and embrace this form of leadership.
    • Coaching leaders rely heavily on relationships. If the team does not establish such relationships, it will be difficult to proceed.

6. Affinity Leadership

Affinity leaders are relationship-centric. The intention of an amicable leader is to create harmony. This dynamic leader is dedicated to fostering and strengthening workplace relationships, resulting in a more collaborative and happy work atmosphere.

Affinity leaders can be useful when building a new team or encountering a crisis, because trust is required in both situations. When leaders focus too much on being friends and not enough on productivity and corporate goals, this style of leadership can be damaging.

  • Advantages of Affinity Leadership:
    • The morale of the team is improved through positive and constructive reviews .
    • Interpersonal conflicts will soon stop.
    • Team members feel valued and less stressed.
    • Affinity leaders can build tightly integrated empowering teams so that team members can help each other.
  • Disadvantages of Affinity Leadership:
    • Some team members may not perform as expected when unattended. The lack of clear roles and responsibilities can also lead to social slack . 
    • Affinity leaders are unwilling to make any negative remarks that do not help others to grow.
    • The goals of the organization are often forgotten.
    • Team members become emotionally dependent on the leader. If the leader wants to change the team or leave, the other members of the team will be lost.

7. Democratic leadership

Democratic leadership is the same concept as Lewin’s participatory leadership. This style encourages all team members to participate and share ideas. Therefore, even if the leader has the final say, the team will feel empowered.

Democratic leadership can be successful in a highly skilled team. In such a team, members can make fruitful contributions. This is not effective for junior teams with insufficient experience or knowledge on this topic. This style should not be used in situations that require immediate action.

  • Advantages of democratic leadership:
    • Collaboration can spawn creativity and innovation.
    • Employee participation and trust will be high.
    • Common goals can bring a high degree of accountability and productivity.
  • Disadvantages of democratic leadership:
    • Collaboration takes a certain amount of time.
    • If leaders make decisions on their own without team involvement, they may lose the trust of team members.
    • If team members have insufficient skills, democratic leadership will not be effective.

8. Exemplary leadership

Exemplary leaders can set an example of high productivity, performance and quality. Team members should follow in their footsteps. If the team members cannot keep up, the exemplary leader will step in and complete the task properly.

Leaders must clearly state requirements and motivate team members to complete tasks on time for exemplary leadership to succeed. This style will fail if team members lose trust in the leader, feel pressure, overwork or lack motivation.

  • Advantages of exemplary leadership:
    • Exemplary leaders can achieve business goals in a timely manner.
    • Exemplary leaders can fully motivate the team.
    • The progress report can quickly identify problems. 
  • Disadvantages of exemplary leadership:
    • Exemplary leadership may lead to low morale, increased pressure, and lack of motivation among team members.
    • If the leader keeps an eye on people and corrects every action of a team member, it will make people lose trust.
    • Focusing too much on results and deadlines can lead to a decrease in creativity.

9. Command leadership

Imperative leadership is similar to command or compulsory leadership. In this style, leaders have clear goals and objectives, they will communicate with the team and expect others to follow. They establish procedures and policies to establish structure.

When other team members lack skills or expertise, imperative leadership can often be used. In this case, members need structure to know how to accomplish their tasks. When there is no time for debate, this method can also be used in an emergency. This leadership style should be paired with others if it is to be employed.

  • The advantages of command leadership:
    • Clear expectations can improve job performance.
    • Useful in times of crisis, because decisions can be made quickly.
    • Imperative leadership is very helpful to groups of workers with insufficient skills or inexperience.
    • Command leaders can quickly determine whether team members are behind schedule.
  • Disadvantages of command leadership:
    • If the leader is less experienced than the team, this style of leadership will fail.
    • No collaboration at all can stifle creativity.
    • Team morale may decrease, and employee participation enthusiasm may also decrease.
    • The high degree of dependence on the leader creates a bottleneck situation.
    • An imperative leader can easily become an authoritarian leader.

Emotional leadership theory can be easily applied to your daily work. First, determine the type of team you are participating in. Then consider which leadership style best supports your task. At this point, try to adjust your emotional leadership style to respond to the situation. After moderate practice, this theory can change your leadership methods.

10. Transformational leadership

In addition to Lewin’s leadership theory and emotional leadership theory, there are two more noteworthy leadership styles: transformational and transactional. 

American psychologist Bernard M. Bass, who studies organizational behavior and leadership, recorded these two styles. Although you may not know their names yet, you may have seen them in the workplace.

Bernard M. Bass’s most popular theory is transformational leadership, also known as the “Four I”. This theory is based on the concept of James MacGregor Burns in 1978, he explained, “Leaders and followers help each other to improve morale and motivation.”

In this leadership style, transformational leaders effectively gain the trust and respect of others who want to follow them. Intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration, inspiring drive, and idealistic influence are the four I of transformational leadership. The four I’s are used to measure the degree of change of the leader.

  • Advantages of transformational leadership:
    • To empower their teams, transformational leaders employ encouragement and coaching
    • Team members are treated as independent individuals, so they can effectively use all their unique skills.
    • The team is closely integrated in a common cause and promotes internal growth of the company.
    • Individuals can be free.
  • Disadvantages of transformational leadership:
    • Smaller tasks are easily forgotten, which means that visions can be difficult to become reality.
    • The continuous participation of leaders can lead to stress and burnout.
    • The leader’s goals must be aligned with the company’s goals, otherwise there will be risks.
    • All team members must respect the leader and agree to his actions.

What is your leadership style?

As you can see, there are many different leadership theories and ways of thinking.

There is no right or wrong leadership style, but there is always a style that may naturally attract you. Which style do you like best? What is your default method? Knowing the pros and cons, you can become a leader and make your team flourish. If you encounter difficulties in consciously leading with current methods, please consider trying a new method of leadership. In fact, consider the fact that each situation and indeed, each person on your team, might need to be led with a different style. Take the best traits from each and try to discard the negative traits to become a more well-rounded leader.

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