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What Are the Different Types of Leadership Styles? Which Is Best?

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If you're looking for the secret to a successful business, one of the keys is leadership styles. Learn the different types of leadership styles, when to use them and how you can improve your skills.

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There are many different styles of leadership. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Great leadership makes for great business. Leaders are essential in setting and holding a vision for a company and showing managers and employees how to carry that vision into the world.

Some people are natural leaders. Others need to learn leadership skill. Most people are stronger in some areas of leadership than others. 

If you want to become a better leader, this article’s for you. It'll help you understand some of the different types of leadership styles and frameworks. You'll also learn when to use them, and learn how to improve your leadership styles and skills. 

Leadership Styles Defined

When we talk about leadership styles, we mean how leaders act when managing and motivating their team members, associates or employees. It also includes how leaders behave when directing, strategizing and implementing plans.

Importance of Leadership Styles

Your leadership style plays an important role in how successful you are in influencing the behavior of others in your organization. As a tool for employee motivation, your leadership style can help you improve team communication, collaboration, and performance. Those in turn make it easier to position your organization for business success, growth and innovation. 

As CEO of General Motors Mary Barra points out: 

“If we win the hearts and minds of employees, we’re going to have better business success.”

That's why it's so crucial to understand the different types of leadership styles, to identify your own, and to know which style of leadership is appropriate when. 

9 Key Types of  Leadership Styles and Frameworks

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Learning the different types of leadership styles can help you find the right one for your team. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Now, let's look at some of the different styles of leadership. 

1. Lewin’s Leadership Styles 

One common way of thinking about leadership styles is via the framework developed by Kurt Lewin in 1939. Lewin determined that there were three types of leadership styles: 

  • Authoritarian (autocratic). In this style, leaders direct work without much input from the team. An autocratic leader assumes full control and takes command. 
  • Participative (democratic). As the name suggests, the participative leadership style is where leaders guide the work of the group, but also help with it. Democratic leaders encourage the involvement and contributions of team members. Although, the leaders are in ultimate charge of making decisions.
  • Delegative (laissez-faire). Delegative leaders don't guide their team members, and leave decisions up to the group. 

2. Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid

Developed by R.R.Blake and J.S.Mouton, the Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid consists of two axes: concern for people, and concern for production. Depending on whether you score high or low in each area, you'll have one of the following styles of leadership:

  • Country club management (high concern for people, low concern for production)
  • Impoverished management (low concern for people, low concern for production)
  • Team management (high concern for people, high concern for production)
  • Authority compliance management (low concern for people, high concern for production)
  • Middle of the road management 

The Blake-Mouton grid has been criticized for focusing on only two aspects of team performance.

3. Path-Goal Theory

Developed by Robert J. House, path-goal theory says that leaders choose a style (path) of leadership depending on the objective (goal) they want to achieve. How leaders behave is influenced  by the traits of the team and the environment. Within path-goal theory, there are four main leadership styles:

  • Directive, where leaders know what needs to happen and direct team members in a way that helps them achieve that goal. This works well with employees and teams that still need experience. 
  • Supportive, where leaders have empathy for their colleagues, and care about their wellbeing. This can increase job satisfaction and boost morale.
  • Achievement-oriented, which is focused on goals and achieving excellence, while having trust in employees' skills. 
  • Participative, which is collaborative, involving team members in decisions. 

4. Leadership Style Matrix

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The leadership style matrix has two axes. (Image source: Envato Elements)

The leadership style matrix was created by Eric Flamholtz and Yvonne Randle. Like the Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid, this leadership style tool consists of a grid with four quadrants. There are two axes: programmability and capability for autonomy. These result in the following leadership styles:

  • Interactive (high programmability and capability for autonomy AND low programmability and capability for autonomy). Both of these are consultative and participative leadership styles. 
  • Directive (high programmability and low capability for autonomy), resulting in autocratic, or benevolent autocratic leadership.
  • Non-directive (low programmability and high capability for autonomy), resulting in consensus or laissez-faire leadership

5. Transformational Leadership

While there are many different leadership styles, transformational leadership is popular. Bernard M. Bass built on earlier work to come up with ways to measure transformational leadership, which Bass describes as:

"Transformational leaders help followers grow and develop into leaders by responding to individual followers' needs by empowering them and by aligning the objectives and goals of the individual followers, the leader, the group, and the larger organization."

Bass suggests that transformation leadership consists of 4 Is:

  1. Individualized consideration
  2. Intellectual stimulation
  3. Inspirational motivation,
  4. Idealized influence

Transformational leaders have a high degree of emotional intelligence and good people management skills. 

6. Transactional Leadership

Bass is also responsible for the theory of transactional leadership, where there are clearly defined roles and a chain of command. In this scenario, leaders set the direction and employees or team members follow it. 

7. Situational Leadership 

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Some leaders are situational leaders. (Image source: Envato Elements)

The situational leadership model was developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. Situational leaders are adaptable and flexible and encourage team members to be the same. Like other leadership styles, situational leadership works on a grid, creating different approaches depending on how supportive or directive you want to be:

  • Directing (high directive, low supportive)
  • Coaching (high directive, high supportive)
  • Supporting (low directive, high supportive)
  • Delegating (low  directive, low supportive)

8. Bureaucratic Leadership

Bureaucratic leadership is about having a chain of command. Unlike autocratic leadership, where the leader handles everything. Everyone within a bureaucratic leadership chain has clear roles and  responsibilities. Weber's theory of bureaucratic leadership involves six components:

  1. hierarchy
  2. division of labor
  3. formal selection
  4. career orientation
  5. rules and regulations
  6. impersonality

9. Servant Leadership

The term servant leadership was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf. Unlike some styles of leadership, servant leadership focuses on empowering those who work for them and serving their needs. This allows them to unlock the potential of every employee, and to help employees act in alignment with company objectives. 

Pros and Cons of Different Leadership Styles

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All types of leadership styles have pros and cons. (Image source: Envato Elements)

So, how do the different leadership styles stack up? Here are some of the pros and cons of the leadership styles discussed above.

Lewin’s Leadership Styles - Pros and Cons

Autocratic leadership can be useful for making quick decisions and can result in higher productivity. But autocratic leaders are often seen as dictatorial. This can create toxic work environments, as employees may feel they are in opposition to the leader. Autocratic leadership can also reduce creativity among the team. 

Participative leadership can result in increased engagement, motivation, and creativity, as team members feel that their roles in the team are important. But the participative leadership style can result in reduced productivity. If roles within the team aren't clearly delineated, poor communication and poor decisions can result.

According to Lewin, delegative leadership results in the least productivity. Unless you're dealing with highly knowledgeable and motivated experts, roles within the group are often unclear. Team members lack motivation. This style of leadership can often result in a blame culture within the team, where people don't take responsibility for their actions.

Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid - Pros and Cons

Here are the pros and cons of the Blake-Mouton leadership styles: 

  • Country club management can result in a great atmosphere for employees. Teams led in this way can be disorganized and lack productivity
  • Impoverished management. With this style of leadership, employees are often left to fend for themselves once tasks are handed out. The leader doesn't care much about achieving productivity goals either. This can result in a high level of disorganization within a team. 
  • Team management. The team management leadership style results in well-organized and highly motivated teams.
  • Authority compliance management. Like Lewin's autocratic leadership, this style usually results in high productivity, but low employee motivation.
  • Middle of the road management. With this leadership style, managers strive to balance employee and business needs. Yet, this approach may not be successful, resulting in reduced productivity without great employee satisfaction.

Path-Goal Theory - Pros and Cons

One of the big advantages of path-goal theory is that it's flexible, allowing for leaders to change their styles as situations demand. This theory also prioritizes employee satisfaction along with productivity. This only works if leaders are already efficient and able to adapt their style. 

Leadership Style Matrix - Pros and Cons

Applied correctly, the leadership style matrix can allow leaders to get the best from their team. So, it requires them to know their team members and goals so they can determine when to be directive, non-directive or interactive as the situation requires.

Transformational Leadership - Pros and Cons

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Some employees feel pressured or burnt out under a transformational leader. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Transformational leaders inspire and motivate their teams through their own integrity, self-awareness, empathy and authenticity, by recognizing all the skills that individuals bring to teams and by coaching them and empowering them to grow.

This type of leadership works if employees respect the leader. But this type of leadership can also lead to high pressure and even burnout for some employees. 

Transactional Leadership - Pros and Cons

Transactional leadership has the advantage of clarity: people tend to know what they're expected to do. This type of leadership is also good for crisis situations. But this type of leadership has been criticized for ignoring the emotional needs of employees and stifling creativity.

Situational Leadership - Pros and Cons

An advantage of situational leadership is the focus on developing and supporting team members. Another advantage is the flexibility the system has to cope with different situations. It can also result in high productivity. 

This leadership style been criticized for leaving most of the responsibility to the leader. Another con is its focus on short-term goals. Plus, it can create confusion because leadership style shifts according to the situation.

Bureaucratic Leadership - Pros and Cons

One of the plusses of bureaucratic leadership is clarity around roles, responsibilities, regulations and processes. But having to run everything through a chain of command can stifle creativity, innovation and personal growth.  

Servant Leadership - Pros and Cons

Servant leadership can create motivated and engaged employees, and can result in high productivity and creativity, too. Yet, it can result in slower decision-making and less authority for leaders. 

Find Your Leadership Style

Want to figure out what your own leadership style is? Try one of the following tools:

Which Leadership Style Should You Use When?

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Do you have a preferred leadership style? (Image source: Envato Elements)

With so many different types of leadership styles to choose from, how do you know which one to choose? Here are some tips:

  • As you've seen, some leadership styles are good for crisis situations. Others work for day to day management. Still others focus on developing and inspiring employees and future leaders. Choose your leadership style depending on the situation and your goal.
  • You can also think about who is involved in a situation and who will be affected. That might guide you towards the right leadership style in each case.
  • Think about implementation. Sometimes, it's a question of what you can do now. Telling people what to do can be a good short-term approach to solving an immediate need. Longer term you may want to develop leadership styles that require more emotional intelligence.

How to Improve Your Leadership Style

If you want to improve your capacity for leadership, use the tools shared above to identify your leadership style. You can also think about key leadership qualities such as communication, decisiveness, empowerment, empathy and more, and see which of those you need to work on. Also, practice makes perfect. Look for opportunities to take the lead and develop your leadership qualities.

Learn Even More About Leadership

Are you interested in learning even more about leadership? We've got several interesting tutorials that you'll want to review:

Get Leadership Presentation Templates From Envato Elements

One thing you'll have to do as a leader is make presentations to your team. To help, Envato Elements has a great offer you won't want to miss.

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Choose from thousands of designs assets on Envato Elements.

Download as many presentation templates as you want, all for one low price. 

Improve Your Leadership Style Today!

You've learned about the different types of leadership styles. You've discovered how you can use those effectively in various workplace situations. Plus, you know how to find and improve your own leadership style. Now, it's over to you to practice what you've learned and become a stellar leader!

Editorial Note: This content was originally published in January 2022. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.

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