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11 leadership styles and how to find yours

by Elizabeth Harmon

During your career, there will be times when you are called upon to be a leader. This could be leading a company, a team, a project or mentoring a graduate or apprentice. There are lots of different ways to lead, so this article will share some of the different leadership styles that can be used, plus explains how you can decide which leadership style is right for you.

Coach Leadership

This type of leader can quickly recognise team members’ strengths, weaknesses and motivations. They will encourage them to set SMART goals and provide regular feedback on performance. They are skilled in setting clear expectations and create a positive and motivating environment to work in. It’s an effective type of leadership, but it is often underutilised as it is more time-intensive than some other leadership styles.

Servant leadership

A servant leader puts people first. They believe team members who feel personally and professionally fulfilled will be more efficient and regularly produce quality work. They tend to have a high level of respect from the people they lead due to their focus on employee satisfaction and collaboration.

Democratic leadership

Under this leadership style, each team member is encouraged to give their input. The leader then makes the final decision based on this input. This is an effective style of leadership and helps make lower-level employees feel like their voice can be heard. It also allows employees to grow as leaders themselves.

Autocratic leadership

This type of leadership is the opposite of democratic leadership. The leader says what the team will do, and employees are always expected to adhere to the leaders’ decisions. This is an old-school leadership style and will not engage or motivate a team.

Bureaucratic leadership

A bureaucratic leader will listen to employees’ opinions but will ultimately reject anything that does not follow company policy and procedure. They are not as controlling as the autocratic leader, but employees can still feel stifled due to the lack of freedom, which can damage innovation and therefore shouldn’t be used in companies seeking growth.

Laissez-Faire leadership

Laissez-Faire, which translates from French to “let them do”, is a very relaxed leadership style. Nearly all authority is given to employees. This trust can empower workers, but care should be taken as trust can be abused, people can remain in their comfort zones and business opportunities can be missed.

Pacesetter leadership

If fast results are what you’re looking for, you may want to consider a pacesetter leadership style. These leaders focus on performance, set high standards and hold team members accountable for hitting their goals. Whilst it can be extremely motivational and suitable in fast-paced environments, it may not work for everyone, especially for employees who need coaching and mentoring.

Charismatic leadership

A charismatic leader tends to have high energy levels, are willing to take risks and use irregular strategies to achieve goals. They can be exhilarating leaders to be around, but like the pacesetter leader, they are not ideal for people who need to be mentored or those who thrive on goal setting and feedback.

Transformational leadership

A transformational leader always seeks to push boundaries on the norm. They motivate employees to push past their comfort-zones to achieve things they didn’t think they were capable of. This can be an effective leadership style for growth-minded companies.

Transactional leadership

This type of leader rewards for a job well done. Everyone knows what to do and what is expected of them, but there is little incentive to go above and beyond. Businesses may, therefore, suffer in the long-term. It can be successful if goals being set are in line with company goals and additional, unscheduled incentives are used, to boost performance.

Paternalistic leadership

Paternalistic leaders take a parenting style role with their team, showing complete concern for their wellbeing in return for complete trust and loyalty. Employees are expected to become totally committed to what the leader (or “parent”) believes. This can help to create very solid working relationships, however, it’s important for the leader to encourage employees to also become independent and excel in their own way.

Which leadership style are you?

There’s no single leadership style that will suit everyone or that will mean you’ll be more successful. Just look at Jeff Bezos from Amazon, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Steve Jobs. They have all been extremely powerful and successful leaders, yet they have all had very different leadership styles.

What is important is that you find a leadership style that suits you. Don’t forget that as your environment, company, experience levels and the people that surround you change, so should your type of leadership style.

To help figure out which leadership style fits you right now, consider the following points:

  • Understand your personality – Consider your dominant personality traits and how they can relate to your leadership style. Don’t try to be something you are not, for example, if you’re not comfortable being overly assertive, don’t push yourself to be a transformational or autocratic leader. A paternalistic or laissez-faire style leader may be a better fit for you.
  • Consider your key values – Consider what values you want your reputation to be built on, such as respect, dependability and loyalty. Understand how these values will affect your leadership style. For example, if you want to be known to have courage, a leadership style where you take risks, such as a charismatic leader, may be the right fit for you.
  • Be aware of your weaknesses – Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, but it’s important to understand what your weaknesses are and how they affect your leadership style. If you’re not confident being spontaneous, you may not suit being a charismatic leader. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t become that leadership style over time. Work on your weaknesses. Your team will also see your efforts to improve your areas of weakness, which will show that you are authentic and may even inspire them to constantly keep improving too.
  • Obtain valuable feedback – If you’re not sure what your current leadership style is and how you can improve upon it, ask your team for their honest feedback. You will then be able to hone your style and adapt it if required.
  • Learn from other leaders – Stop to think about some of the leaders that have inspired you and learn from them. Ask yourself why you liked working with them, how they motivated you and what their key personality traits were. Answering these questions will help you to establish your own leadership style.

Leadership skills are something that should be carefully refined over time, learning from mistakes that have been made and understanding what you want and need to achieve as a leader to help you adapt for each team scenario.

If you would like to develop your leadership skills, take a look at Open Colleges Leadership and Collaboration Learning Library. You’ll find over 4,000 digital learning assets, on topics such as managing yourself, managing risk, communication essentials, delegation and much more.

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