.At some point in your career, you may take on a leadership role in some capacity. Whether you’re leading a meeting, a project, a team or an entire department, you might consider identifying with or adopting a defined leadership style.
Most professionals develop their own style of leadership based on factors like experience and personality, as well as the unique needs of their company and its organizational culture. While every leader is different, there are 10 leadership styles commonly used in the workplace.
In this article, we will cover the 10 most common leadership styles and provide examples and common characteristics of each to help you determine which leadership style you most identify with.
The importance of developing a leadership style
In an Indeed survey, 55% of employers cited asking about leadership skills in an interview as the most accurate evaluation of a candidate’s ability to succeed in a role.¹ As you develop leadership skills, you’ll likely use different processes and methods to achieve your employer’s objectives and meet the needs of the employees who report to you. To be effective as a manager, you might use several different leadership styles at any given time.
By taking the time to familiarize yourself with each of these types of leadership, you might recognize certain areas to improve upon or expand your own leadership style. You can also identify other ways to lead that might better serve your current goals and understand how to work with managers who follow a different style than your own.
Common leadership styles:
1. Coach (motivational)
2. Visionary (progress-focused and inspirational)
3. Servant (humble and protective)
4. Autocratic (authoritarian and result-focused)
5. Laissez-faire or hands-off (autocratic and delegatory)
6. Democratic (supportive and innovative)
7. Pacesetter (helpful and motivational)
8. Transformational (challenging and communicative)
9. Transactional (performance-focused)
10. Bureaucratic (hierarchical and duty-focused)
Types of leadership styles
Here are 10 of the most common leadership styles:
1. Coaching style
2. Visionary style
3. Servant style
4. Autocratic style
5. Laissez-faire or “hands-off” style
6. Democratic style
7. Pacesetter style
8. Transformational style
9. Transactional style
10. Bureaucratic style
In the next section, we'll look at each leadership style in detail in including benefits, challenges and examples of each.
1. Coaching leadership style
A coaching leader is someone who can quickly recognize their team members’ strengths, weaknesses and motivations to help each individual improve. This type of leader often assists team members in setting smart goals and then provides regular feedback with challenging projects to promote growth. They’re skilled in setting clear expectations and creating a positive, motivating environment.
The coach leadership style is one of the most advantageous for employers as well as the employees they manage. Unfortunately, it’s often also one of the most underutilized styles—largely because it can be more time-intensive than other types of leadership.
You may be a coaching leader if you:
- Are supportive
- Offer guidance instead of giving commands
- Value learning as a way of growing
- Ask guided questions
- Balance relaying knowledge and helping others find it themselves
Benefits: Coaching leadership is positive in nature. It promotes the development of new skills, free-thinking, empowerment, revisits company objectives and fosters a confident company culture. Leaders who coach are often seen as valuable mentors
Challenges: While this style has many advantages, it is more time consuming as it requires one-on-one time with employees. This may be difficult to obtain in a fast-paced environment with time-sensitive priorities.
Example: A sales manager gathers their team of account executives for a meeting to discuss learnings from the previous quarter. They start the meeting by completing an assessment together of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats regarding the team’s performance. The manager then recognizes specific team members for exceptional performance and goes over the goals achieved by the team. Finally, the manager closes the meeting by announcing a contest to start the next quarter, motivating the salespeople to reach their goals.
2. Visionary leadership style
Visionary leaders have a powerful ability to drive progress and usher in periods of change by inspiring employees and earning trust for new ideas. A visionary leader is also able to establish a strong organizational bond. They strive to foster confidence among direct reports and colleagues alike.
This type of leadership is especially helpful for small, fast-growing organizations, or larger organizations experiencing transformations or corporate restructuring.
You may be a visionary leader is you are:
- Persistent and bold
Benefits: Visionary leadership can help companies grow, unite teams and the overall company and improve outdated technologies or practices.
Challenges: Visionary leaders may miss important details or other opportunities because they’re so focused on the big picture. They also may sacrifice the resolution of present-day issues because they are so future-oriented, which could leave their team feeling unheard.
Example: A teacher starts a group at work for colleagues who want to help resolve anxieties and issues students have outside of school. The goal is to help students better focus on and succeed at school. He has developed testing methods so they can find meaningful ways to help students in a quick, efficient way.
Read more: 14 Traits of Visionary Leaders
3. Servant leadership style
Servant leaders live by a people-first mindset and believe that when team members feel personally and professionally fulfilled, they’re more effective and more likely to produce great work regularly. Because of their emphasis on employee satisfaction and collaboration, they tend to achieve higher levels of respect.
A servant leader is an excellent leadership style for organizations of any industry and size but is especially prevalent within nonprofits. These types of leaders are exceptionally skilled in building employee morale and helping people re-engage with their work.
You may be a servant leader if you:
- Motivate your team
- Have excellent communication skills
- Personally care about your team
- Encourage collaboration and engagement
Commit to growing your team professionally
Benefits: Servant leaders have the capacity to boost employee loyalty and productivity, improve employee development and decision-making, cultivate trust and create future leaders.
Challenges: Servant leaders can become burnt-out as they may put the needs of their team above their own, they may have a hard time being authoritative when they need to be and the organization's goals may be at risk if the servant leader is only focused on the needs of their immediate team.
Example: A product manager hosts monthly one-on-one coffee meetings with everyone that has concerns, questions or thoughts about improving or using the product. This time is meant for her to address the needs of and help those who are using the product in any capacity.
4. Autocratic leadership style
Also called the authoritarian style of leadership, this type of leader is someone who is focused almost entirely on results and efficiency. They often make decisions alone or with a small, trusted group and expect employees to do exactly what they’re asked. It can be helpful to think of these types of leaders as military commanders.
This leadership style can be useful in organizations with strict guidelines or compliance-heavy industries. It can also be beneficial when used with employees who need a great deal of supervision—such as those with little to no experience. However, this leadership style can stifle creativity and make employees feel confined.
You may be an autocratic leader if you:
- Have self-confidence
- Are self-motivated
- Communicate clearly and consistently
- Follow the rules
- Are dependable
- Value highly structured environments
Believe in supervised work environments
Benefits: Autocratic leaders can promote productivity through delegation, provide clear and direct communication, reduce employee stress by making decisions quickly on their own.
Challenges: This style of leadership can cause stress to the leader by bearing all the weight of decision making. The lack of flexibility and rigidness, as well as the lack of interest in hearing the ideas from others, can cause resentment on the team.
Example: Before an operation, the surgeon carefully recounts the rules and processes of the operation room with every team member who will be helping during the surgery. She wants to ensure everyone is clear on the expectations and follows each procedure carefully and exactly so the surgery goes as smoothly as possible.
Read more: What is Autocratic Leadership?
5. Laissez-faire or hands-off leadership style
This leadership style is the opposite of the autocratic leadership type, focusing mostly on delegating many tasks to team members and providing little to no supervision. Because a laissez-faire leader does not spend their time intensely managing employees, they often have more time to dedicate to other projects.
Managers may adopt this leadership style when all team members are highly experienced, well-trained and require little oversight. However, it can also cause a dip in productivity if employees are confused about their leader’s expectations, or if some team members need consistent motivation and boundaries to work well.
You may be a laissez-faire leader if you:
- Effectively delegate
- Believe in freedom of choice
- Provide sufficient resources and tools
- Will take control if needed
- Offer constructive criticism
- Foster leadership qualities in your team
Promote an autonomous work environment
Benefits: This style encourages accountability, creativity and a relaxed work environment. Because of this, it can also increase employee retention.
Challenges: This style does not work well for new employees, as they need guidance and hands-on support in their early days. This method can also lead to a lack of structure, leadership confusion and employees feeling a lack of support.
Example: When welcoming new employees, Keisha explains that her engineers can set and maintain their own work schedules as long as they are tracking towards and hitting goals that they set together as a team. They are also free to learn about and participate in projects outside of their team they might be interested in.
6. Democratic or participative leadership style
The democratic leadership style (also called the participative style) is a combination of the autocratic and laissez-faire types of leaders. A democratic leader is someone who asks for input and considers feedback from their team before making a decision. Because team members feel their voice is heard and their contributions matter, a democratic leadership style is often credited with fostering higher levels of employee engagement and workplace satisfaction.
Because this type of leadership drives discussion and participation, it’s an excellent style for organizations focused on creativity and innovation—such as the technology industry.
You may be a democratic/participative leader if you:
- Value group discussions
- Provide all information to team when making decisions
- Promote a work environment where everyone shares their ideas
- Are rational
- Are flexible
Are good at mediation
Benefits: Under this leadership style employees can feel empowered, valued and unified. It has the power to boost retention and morale. It also requires less managerial oversight, as employees are typically part of decision-making processes and know what they need to do.
Challenges: This leadership style has the potential to be inefficient and costly as it takes a long time to organize big group discussions, obtain ideas and feedback, discuss possible outcomes and communicate a decision. It also can add social pressure to members of the team who don’t like sharing ideas in group settings.
Example: As a store manager, Jack has hired many brilliant and focused team members he trusts. When deciding on storefronts and floor design, Jack acts only as the final moderator for his team to move forward with their ideas. He is there to answer questions and present possible improvements for his team to consider.
Read more: What is Participative Leadership?
7. Pacesetter leadership style
The pacesetting leadership style is one of the most effective for driving fast results. These leaders are primarily focused on performance. They often set high standards and hold their team members accountable for hitting their goals.
While the pacesetting leadership style is motivational and helpful in fast-paced environments where team members need to be energized, it’s not always the best option for team members who need mentorship and feedback.
You may be a pacesetter leader if you:
- Set a high bar
- Focus on goals
- Are slow to praise
- Will jump in to hit goals if needed
- Are highly competent
Value performance over soft skills
Benefits: Pacesetting leadership pushes employees to hit goals and accomplish business objectives. It promotes high-energy and dynamic work environments.
Challenges: Pacesetting leadership can also lead to stressed-out employees as they are always pushing towards a goal or deadline. The fast-paced work environment fostered under this style can also create miscommunications or a lack of clear instructions.
Example: The leader of a weekly meeting recognized that an hour out of everyone’s schedule once a week did not justify the purpose of the meeting. To increase efficiency, she changed the meeting to a 15-minute standup with only those she had updates for.
8. Transformational leadership style
The transformational leadership style is similar to the coach-style in that it focuses on clear communication, goal-setting and employee motivation. However, instead of placing the majority of the energy into each employee’s individual goals, the transformational leader is driven by a commitment to organizational objectives.
Because these types of leaders spend much of their time on the big picture, this style of leading is best for teams that can handle many delegated tasks without constant supervision.
You may be a transformational leader if you:
- Have mutual respect with your team
- Provide encouragement
- Inspires others to achieve their goals
- Think of the big picture
- Places value on intellectually challenging your team
- Are creative
Have a good understanding of organizational needs
Benefits: Transformational leadership values personal connection with their team, which can boost company morale and retention. It also values the ethics of the company and team instead of being overly focused on achieving goals.
Challenges: Since transformational leaders look at individuals, it can cause team or company wins to go unnoticed. These leaders can also overlook details as they are big picture thinkers.
Example: Reyna is hired to lead a marketing department. The CEO asks her to set new goals and organize teams to reach those objectives. She spends the first months in her new role getting to know the company and the marketing employees. She gains a strong understanding of current trends and organizational strengths. After three months, she has set clear targets for each of the teams that report to her and asked individuals to set goals for themselves that align with those.
Related: What Does Leadership Mean?
9. Transactional leadership style
A transactional leader is someone who is laser-focused on performance, similar to a pacesetter. Under this leadership style, the manager establishes predetermined incentives—usually in the form of monetary reward for success and disciplinary action for failure. Unlike the pacesetter leadership style, though, transactional leaders are also focused on mentorship, instruction and training to achieve goals and enjoy the rewards.
While this type of leader is great for organizations or teams tasked with hitting specific goals, such as sales and revenue, it’s not the best leadership style for driving creativity.
You may be a transactional leader if you:
- Value corporate structure
- Don’t question authority
- Are practical and pragmatic
- Value goal-hitting
Benefits: Transactional leaders facilitate the achievement of goals, through short-term goals and a clearly defined structure.
Challenges: Being overly focused on short-term goals and not having long-term goals can cause a company to struggle with adversity. This style stifles creativity and is unmotivating to employees who are not incentivized by monetary rewards.
Example: A bank branch manager meets with each member of the team bi-weekly to discuss ways they can meet and exceed monthly company goals to get their bonus. Each of the top 10 performers in the district receives a monetary reward.
Read more: What is Transactional Leadership?
10. Bureaucratic leadership style
Bureaucratic leaders are similar to autocratic leaders in that they expect their team members to follow the rules and procedures precisely as written.
The bureaucratic leadership style focuses on fixed duties within a hierarchy where each employee has a set list of responsibilities, and there is little need for collaboration and creativity. This leadership style is most effective in highly regulated industries or departments, such as finance, healthcare or government.
You may be a bureaucratic leader if you:
- Are detail-oriented and task-focused
- Value rules and structure
- Have a great work ethic
- Are strong-willed
- Have a commitment to your organization
Benefits: This leadership style can be efficient in organizations that need to follow strict rules and regulations. Each person in the team/company has a clearly defined role which leads to efficiency. These leaders separate work from relationships to avoid clouding the team's ability to hit goals.
Challenges: This style does not promote creativity which can feel restricting to some employees. This leadership style is also slow to change and does not thrive in an environment that needs to be dynamic.
Example: Managers at a Department of Motor Vehicles office instruct their employees to work within a specific, defined framework. They must take many steps to complete a task with strict order and rules.
How to choose and develop your leadership style
As someone who is interested in the leadership path or looking for more structure in their leadership approach, it can be helpful to choose a leadership style that feels authentic to you. Some questions you may ask yourself when trying to determine which style is right for you include:
- What do I value more—goals or relationships?
- Do I believe in structure or freedom of choice?
- Would I rather make a decision on my own, or collectively?
- Do I focus on short or long-term goals?
- Does motivation come from empowerment or direction?
What does a healthy team dynamic look like to me?
These are just a few examples of questions to ask yourself while reading through leadership styles to help you decide which style you relate most with. To develop your leadership style consider these strategies:
- Experiment. Try out varied approaches in different circumstances and pay attention to the outcome. Be flexible in changing out your approach.
- Seek a mentor. Speaking with a leader with more experience than yourself can offer great insight into how they developed their style and what worked for them.
- Ask for feedback. Although sometimes hard to hear, constructive feedback helps you grow into a successful leader. Seek feedback from individuals you trust will give you an honest answer.
Be authentic. If you are trying to perfect a leadership style that is in opposition to your personality or morals, it will come across as inauthentic. Try to choose a leadership style that’s in alignment with your strengths and work to further improve it.
While a certain leadership style may be impactful in a specific job—for example, autocratic leaders tend to do well in a military setting—the best leadership is using a blend of these styles. Knowing what style to enforce in workplace situations comes with time, practice and emotional intelligence. Remember, most leaders borrow from a variety of styles to achieve various goals at different times in their careers.
While you may have excelled in a role using one type of leadership, another position may require a different set of habits to ensure your team is operating most effectively. By understanding each of these leadership types, and the outcomes they’re designed to achieve, you can select the right leadership style for your current situation.
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¹ Indeed employer-based study by US Decipher/Focus Vision (Base: all respondents, N=1,000)