Regardless of whether you are a novice or waiting on your big promotion, you will inevitably have to take on a leadership role somewhere up your career ladder. Regardless of whether you are leading an entire department, or a team, a project or a meeting, it would do you good to choose a leadership style you identify with and stick to it.
Most people develop their own leadership style based on factors such as their organizational culture, company needs, hierarchy, or their own personality and experience. But there are certain leadership styles that are used commonly across organizations. No matter the leadership you adopt, it would probably come under one of these.
What Are The Most Effective Leadership Styles?
We have covered 15 most effective leadership styles through which people tend to lead organizations or other people. While not every style would fit in with your situation or environment, but you can read them through to see which one fits your organizational.
1. Transactional Leadership
If you don’t know “what is transactional leadership”, think of a typical give and take transaction. I give you something and you give me something in return. This forms the cornerstone of this leadership style. Transactional leaders give out instructions to their subordinates and then mete out rewards or penalties, depending on the results achieved.
This is one of the most effective leadership styles, since a typical transactional leader is laser-focused on the end-results and performance. The transactional leadership theory dictates that the transactional leader establishes extrinsic and intrinsic rewards to propel people towards their goals.
They usually offer predetermined incentives, such as promise of a vacation, promotion, or monetary rewards, or set disciplinary action for failure. Think of a leader that offers generous praise to recognize a job done well, or mandates that a team member is given charge of the most hated task because they missed a deadline. Needless to say, this directive approach is also called a “telling” style of leadership.
You may be a Transactional leader if you constantly come up with new and ingenious ways to recognize solid work and keep people motivated – your team can’t wait to see what you are about to announce after the super fun Halloween party at work last month. On the other hand, you do threaten to have your team burn the midnight oil if they don’t meet deadlines.
2. Transformational Leadership
People often bicker over transformational vs. transactional leadership. Well they are quite different. Let’s assume that you are hired to lead a marketing department. The CEO briefs you on the company objectives and asks you to set new goals and organize teams to reach those objectives.
Instead of diving nose deep into the daily work grit, you spend time getting to know your subordinates and your employees, as well as glean a deep understanding of the organizational strengths/weaknesses and current trends. After the first quarter, you set unambiguous targets for all teams and inspire employees within each team to set goals for themselves that align with those determined for their team, and the department as a whole.
Everything you need to know about the transformational leadership style is in the name. Under such effective leadership styles, the leader aspires to transform the groups or businesses that they lead, by instilling a love of innovation in their subordinates, even if it means getting them out of their comfort zone.
These leaders are focused on making improvements in their workplaces and discovering ways of getting things done. In turn, they welcome every suggestion about how things can be streamlined and empower their subordinates to own their work. These types of leaders are all about giving people autonomy, inspiring them to think outside-the-box and constantly innovate. Traits of a Transformational leaders include being fearless, outgoing, empathetic, authentic, and self-aware.
You are a true transformational leader if you are always inspiring your team members to break the glass ceiling and step out of their comfort zones. you view every process and every methodology with a discerning eye, brainstorming ways to make it better somehow. Nothing makes you happier than when you or a coworker does something that was always labeled impossible in your organization.
William Edwards Deming, an engineer and a statistician, is a leader who identified the best way certain systems could operate and taught those under him how to accomplish these goals.
3. Autocratic Leadership
Let me start with a scenario. Before starting a major surgery, the chief surgeon makes sure to recount the processes and rules of the O.R. with his teammates. He wants to ensure that everyone is one the same page, is clear on the expectations, and follows each procedure painstakingly so that the surgery goes without a hitch!
This type of leadership is best described as “my way or the highway”. As the name suggests, autocratic leaders believe that they have the autonomous power to make decisions on behalf of their teammates, without consulting them. They give out very clear and precise directions (orders) on what needs to be done, how it should be accomplished, and who is responsible for what. Traits of an authoritarian leaders include their tendency to be confident, decisive, and domineering.
While this type of leadership thwarts the free flow of ideas and results in low employee morale, it is only suited to environments where the tasks are mundane and not very challenging, or where a rigid hierarchy is the rule of the jungle.
When we talk about the most effective leadership styles, you may be an autocratic leader if you believe that brainstorming sessions and group discussions do nothing more than waste time when you can take better decisions on your own. You don’t allow your employees to question your judgments and expect them to take every command at face value.
However, if you do follow an autocratic style of leadership, you should remain conscious of your actions so that you don’t come off as too aggressive or overpowering or end up crossing lines.
4. Laissez-Faire Leadership
“When welcoming new employees, Amanda explains that her designers can set their own goals and maintain a flexible work schedule, granted that they meet the goals that they set together as a team. She tells them that they are free to learn about and participate in projects outside of their team if they contribute to their personal success.”
If you slept through your high school French class, the term “Laissez-Faire” probably doesn’t ring a bell! It literally translates to “leave it be”. This alone pretty much sums up this hands-off leadership approach. Laissez-faire leaders trust their workers and only offer help or direction when asked.
They offer the necessary resources and tools, but then step back and let their subordinates accomplish tasks, solve problems, tackle difficulties, and make important decisions, without breathing down their necks. Without the fear of a leader who obsessively micromanages their every move, employees tend to thrive.
However, Laissez Faire leadership works best for organizations where the employees are responsible, motivated, out-of-the-box-thinkers, and experienced. If most of your employees are prone to missing deadlines however, work quality can take a dip under such effective leadership styles.
If you only show involvement during the beginning and end of a project or when important tasks crop up, or if you hold back on commenting in any of the status update meetings, you possess all the qualities of a good leader.
For instance, some of the most famous historical projects led by laissez-faire leaders include the building of the Hoover dam and the Panama canal. With both projects, the presidents involved had to delegate many responsibilities in order to succeed. Especially with the Panama canal, even though its geographical location posed many hurdles, the project came through successfully since the authority was delegated to all the right professionals.
5. Servant Leadership
Servant leaders operate with a simple motto: Serve first, lead second. The main identifying trait of a servant leader is that they prioritize the needs of others above their own. In other words, in this style of leadership, the leader is second to the employees. Rather than focusing on inspiring others to follow them, they spend their time finding ways to help others succeed. Instead of maintaining an iron grip on their own power or status, these types of leaders focus on developing those that follow them.
In fact, they possess all the qualities of a good leader! As Simon Sinek explains in this book, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, “good leaders are the ones who are willing to give up something of their own for us. Their time, their energy, their money, maybe even the food off their plate. When it matters, great leaders choose to eat last.”
You identify as a servant leader if you constantly ask people how you can be of help to them. OR if you can go to painstaking lengths to remove roadblocks from the paths of your subordinates and help them in getting things done. You never think twice about helping someone even if it means putting your own work on hold.
Such effective leadership styles work best in any humanitarian business, where the people are as important as the mission. Especially if your team is suffering from low self-esteem, perhaps it is time to adopt this best leadership style.
6. Democratic Leadership
You might be wondering what is democratic leadership? Democratic Leadership style is also referred to as “participative leadership”. Such leaders practice all the characteristics of democracy in all their projects. Even though these leaders are higher up on the hierarchical chart, they actively involve all their sub-ordinates in the decision-making process.
They facilitate group discussions, encourage team members to put forward their contributions, value ideas and feedback from others, and lead by example. Common traits of a participative leader include empathy, enthusiasm, commitment and drive. Instead of barking down orders, they take a collaborative approach to getting things done.
Democratic style of leadership fosters workplace satisfaction and drives higher employee engagement since members feel that their contributions are valued, and their voice is heard. You are a true democratic leader if you take meetings as an opportunity to have all the team members weigh in and participate. You hardly ever take a decision without asking for advice from at least one person.
George Washington was one of the best leaders who was famous for his democratic focus. High-tech and medical industries are best suited for a democratic leadership style because they often need a high amount of collaboration to function.
7. Bureaucratic Leadership
Bureaucratic leadership goes “by the book”. This leadership style focuses on fixed duties and roles within a hierarchy, where each employee has a fixed list of responsibilities. This leaves little room for creativity and collaboration. You can say that bureaucratic leaders have hierarchical authority, and their power comes more from their title or position, rather than what characteristics or traits they possess.
Bureaucratic leaders have clearly defined rules and processes and a fixed set of responsibilities for how they will make decisions and manage others. This style of leadership works in highly regulated departments, like government, healthcare, or finance.
I think its safe to label you a bureaucratic leader if you constantly look into how your predecessors handled scenarios and problems, just to ascertain you are still following the roadmap that has been laid out for you, by those before you. Everytime something new pops up or you are charged with a new task, you need to request confirmation that you are doing fine.
8. Charismatic Leadership
Of all the most effective leadership styles, this one is my personal favorite. Charismatic leaders are born with a personality that people just cannot get enough of. These charismatic leaders not only have a lot of charisma, they also energize, motivate, and inspire their teammates. They are persuasive when they want to achieve something.
Rather than dictate their teammates or encourage behaviors through force or threats, they prefer gentle coaxing and eloquent communication to unite their teammates around a cause. They have an innate ability to make others rally around their cause and get them excited something it as well. In fact, the Center for Association Leadership is of the opinion this best style of leadership can boost team morale and success. Oprah Winfrey is a charismatic leader.
You possess all the traits of a charismatic leader if you are known for giving great “rally the troops” kind of presentations and are always the chosen one for giving speeches or toasts at any event. Your employees simply love you and can never say no to you. If you have an ability to transform the aspirations, beliefs, and values of your organization through your ability to charm and the strength of their personality, you are a true charismatic leader. In a nutshell, you possess all the qualities of a good leader.
9. Coaching Leadership
A true coaching leader is quick to identify the weaknesses and strengths of each team member and knows how to individually motivate them to help them improve. They set aside time to review the performance of each individual, ask them potent questions that promote reflection, and prompt them to adopt more effective behaviors.
This is one of the best leadership styles for organizations, since it focuses on helping employees set smart goals and then providing them with constant feedback to promote continuous improvement and growth. Coaching leaders make sure their employees feel appreciated but never complacent. Their subordinates know that the only way to please their leader is to continually raise their game.
The coaching leadership style is one of the most effective leadership styles for employees as well the employers. Organizations can only move forward when employees are encouraged and motivated to develop their skills and grow further. This type of leadership is highly sought after in environments where performance depends entirely on improvement. Unfortunately, it involves a lot of time and commitment, which is why it is highly overlooked.
Some amazing people who have led through coaching include dog behaviorist Cesar Milan and the tennis coach Nick Bollettieri.
10. Directing Leadership
After a strategy has been unanimously agreed upon and a vision established, directing leaders step forward to guide the team in their day-to-day tasks, take key decisions with certainty and confidence, and ensure that all the teammates follow the predetermined roadmap. They are charged with taking the most crucial organizational-wide decisions, such as “what needs to be changed?” “should we consolidate or push for growth”, “who should be on what team”?
In a nutshell, a directing leader clearly provides specific instructions, diligently monitors task completion, and defines the roles and tasks of the “followers”. The directing leadership style is best applied to situations where the followers are relatively inexperienced and need to be instructed on how to accomplish tasks. One of the best traits of a Directing Leader is that they call upon their intuition, wisdom, experience, and insight to know what decisions to take and when.
11. Motivating Leadership
In situations when the team morale is at an all-time low and the target seems far-fetched, motivating leaders have a knack for perking people up and kicking skepticism out of the team. Motivational leadership is all about celebrating small achievements, giving incentives, and setting audacious goals.
Motivational leaders constantly remind their subordinates of their goals and milestones and keep talking about how amazing they will feel after they have fulfilled their objectives. Motivational leaders are energetic and inspiring people of action. They are best suited for environments that balance their judgement and enthusiasm.
12. Pace-Setter Leadership
A pace setter leader is one who not only sets the bar high but also expects work to be done right and fast. Pace-setter leaders are laser-focused on performance. This style of leadership only works when you are introducing an exciting new product into the market.
This effective leadership styles is best adopted by professionals who are driven to succeed and know what they are doing. However, the only downside to this style of leadership is that some employees can become over stressed with all this work.
13. Visionary Leadership
This form of leadership involves leaders who recognize that the processes, steps, and methods of leadership are all obtained through and with people. Visionary leaders inspire change and drive progress by earning trust for new ideas.
The best trait of a visionary leader is that they establish a strong organizational bond and foster confidence and camaraderie with their subordinates and other colleagues alike. The visionary leadership style is best suited for fast-growing and small organizations that are undergoing corporate restructuring or a massive transformation.
Most great and successful leaders have some sort of vision for where they are going. However, there are those who are highly visionary in their leadership. Examples of leaders who had inspirational and highly driven visions include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Outstanding leaders know how to transform their visions into realities.
14. Bridge-Building Leadership
Of all the effective leadership styles, this one is often overlooked, yet it can work wonders in large setups. The bridge-building leadership revolves around identifying potential areas of conflict. They know all about how to compromise, negotiate, arbitrate, listen and resonate with a large cross-section of people.
Bridge-building leaders have a knack for steering teams towards a common goal without diverting them from their individual goals. They are all about looking at the bigger picture. This is why they often disengage themselves from tasks and issues that threaten to affect their big picture.
15. Situational Leadership
Of all the various effective leadership styles, situational leaders are quite versatile. They base their leadership style on the situation or environment they are in and utilize the one most appropriate to their circumstances. This comes down to adopting a transactional style when incentivizing their marketing team, while using a democratic style in a boardroom meeting the very same day.
This is one of the most effective styles of leadership that is best for environments where organizational procedures are to be dispensed with, revamped, or updated. However, the only downside to situational leadership style is that switching your leadership so often can leave your employees in a confusion. Not to mention, not all leaders are equally adept at switching styles and it can be rather time-consuming and difficult to re-calibrate yourself.
So which of these effective leadership styles are you? Do let us know in the comments section below.