5 Leadership Styles and How to Find Yours

Have you ever stopped to wonder, amidst the hustle and flow of day-to-day operations, what kind of leader you want to be? You may have given little thought to different leadership styles, or which style of leadership you tend to gravitate towards. However, different leadership styles can have far-reaching implications for your daily operations, your team, and your company.

Different leadership styles lend themselves to different personality types and operational models. As such, different business leaders will naturally gravitate towards certain leadership styles in management.

Here, we look at five of the different types of leadership styles and the inherent pros and cons of each before looking at how to find your own leadership style in line with the needs and goals of your company and your team.

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1. Autocratic leadership

Autocrats know what they want, they know how to get it, and when it comes to doing business it’s their way or the highway. Autocratic leaders are fully autonomous, making operational decisions that are facilitated by the team.

Autocratic leadership is characterised by:

  • Strong emphasis on hierarchy
  • Centralised decision-making
  • Top-down communications
  • Limited autonomy for team members and middle management
  • Limited opportunities for employee feedback

Pros and cons of autocratic leadership

While autocratic leadership minimises friction in the decision-making process, it is rarely conducive to a happy and motivated workforce. When employees do not feel as though their voices are valued it can give rise to dissent, dissatisfaction and disillusionment that may lead to talent flight.

As such, autocratic leadership styles are not generally suited to day-to-day operations. Rather, they should be employed in times of crisis when fast, decisive action is needed.

2. Democratic leadership

Democratic leadership, also known as facilitative or participative leadership, is the opposite of autocratic leadership. It emphasises group decision-making, with leaders deferring authority to their teams and acting on a democratically determined consensus.

Democratic leaders tend to invest heavily in recruiting, training and empowering their employees and providing a supportive environment in which they can thrive. This allows them to defer decision-making to the team in good conscience.

Pros and cons of democratic leadership

There are many benefits of democratic leadership, especially in terms of workplace culture. The highly decentralised nature of democratic leadership means that in order to be effective it must be:

  • Highly collaborative

  • Very inclusive, providing every employee with a voice

  • Supportive

  • Emotionally intelligent and empathetic

  • Built on a foundation of reciprocal trust and mutual respect

This leadership style promotes active engagement and helps to prevent disillusionment, detachment and “quiet quitting”. Because it necessitates investment in empowering and upskilling employees, it can contribute to a culture of job satisfaction, fulfilment and employee retention.

That said, reaching a democratic consensus may require time, effort and resources that may encumber agile decision-making.

3. Delegative leadership

Delegative or hands-off leadership requires business leaders to take their hands off the proverbial wheel and empower employees to facilitate business operations with minimal oversight.

Like democratic leadership, this leadership style requires substantial investment in training, upskilling and empowering employees to the point of autonomy. While leaders may interject when the situation requires it, this approach requires a great deal of trust in teams to manage daily operations.

Pros and cons of delegative leadership

This laissez-faire type of leadership can have many of the same benefits as democratic leadership, creating a culture where employees feel valued, empowered and autonomous. It can also allow leaders to focus on the strategic side of running the business as they are less embroiled in daily operations.

However, delegative leadership requires a highly skilled (and often multi-skilled) team to be effective. This can take time and ongoing investment to develop and can be seriously undermined by employee turnover. New and inexperienced employees may require additional guidance and coaching before they can become as autonomous as this style needs them to be.

4. Transactional leadership

When business leaders think of the proverbial carrot and stick, they are inevitably thinking about transactional leadership.

This leadership style is built upon established rules, standards and goals with rewards and benefits for those who are instrumental in achieving those goals and sanctions for those who break the rules.

This is a results-based leadership style that emphasises reinforcement of the status quo, with clear operational procedures and goals providing a framework for employees’ day-to-day activities.

Pros and cons of transactional leadership

Transactional leadership is often seen within enterprise-level companies where brands are built around clear operational procedures that are proven to yield clear and specific results. While it may not allow for great employee autonomy, it can still provide team members with a sense of safety and satisfaction. Because employees know what is expected of them and understand the rewards for high achievement, this leadership style can also be a motivator.

However, when rewards are the sole source of motivation, this can lead to stagnation of skills, stifled creativity and some dissatisfaction among employees.

5. Situational leadership

Finally, situational leadership requires leaders to adapt their leadership style to their changing circumstances.

This requires leaders to be highly intuitive, quickly assessing the needs of the company, situation or team and adopting different leadership styles to complement them. Situational leaders need to be great communicators while also being highly receptive to feedback from their teams.

Pros and cons of situational leadership

Situational leadership can be highly effective in new business startups where daily operations can be volatile and a flexible approach is necessitated. It can encourage creative thinking among teams and prevent skills from stagnating, therefore helping employees to feel motivated and engaged.

Situational leaders tend also to have outstanding interpersonal skills combined with a strong vision, meaning that talented and energetic employees gravitate towards them. However, managing teams in this way can be extremely difficult and even exhausting, requiring leaders to draw on not only their personal expertise but up-to-the-minute data, pivoting frequently. This can also be confusing and stressful for employees.

What is the best leadership style for you?

Having looked at the benefits and caveats of five different leadership styles, how do you know which is the best for you? Some leaders naturally gravitate towards one, while others often incorporate elements of several.

To determine the best style for you, it’s essential to consider:

  • Your own personality, experience and disposition
  • The values of your brand and the workplace culture you wish to create
  • Who inspires you? What can you glean from their leadership styles?
  • What do your team need?
  • What does your company need in order to achieve its goals?

Feel free to experiment with different types of leadership styles or create your own unique hybrid style with elements that work best for you.

While there is room for experimentation and adaptation, honing your leadership style will make you, your team and your company better equipped to handle the challenges that come your way.

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