To lead is to be attuned to the contexts in which people perform their work, to the communities served and engaged, and to one’s own skills and competencies. Leadership styles can evolve and adapt in response to external and internal realities, needs, and aspirations.
There are no absolutes when it comes to leadership styles. One approach to managing people is not necessarily better than another. Rather, every approach has unique features, or may be better suited to certain situations. Today’s responsive leaders shift between styles as they seek to advance organizations and unlock their teams’ potential.
Leaders also grow from observing other leaders in action, identifying attributes that resonate most with them and considering how they might absorb those qualities into their own leadership practice.
Whether you are an established leader or are new to managing, it’s wise to consider what kind of leader you are or could become—and what different styles of leadership you might add to your toolkit to suit a particular operating context, strategic initiative, tactical opportunity, or mentorship scenario.
A recent article in The Muse serves as a useful resource for seasoned and aspiring leaders alike. The article frames the benefits and drawbacks of eight common leadership styles, as well as the contexts in which they are most applicable.
1. Transactional Leadership
The transactional leader establishes a system of rewards and penalties in a work setting with clearly defined expectations
People understand their roles and what is expected of them.
Creativity and innovation may be de-prioritized in favor of the standardization of systems and workflows.
2. Transformational Leadership
The transformational leader is open to change and inspires employees to innovate.
Employees may feel empowered to bring new ideas to the table.
While an openness to transformation can inspire employees, it can also lead to a lack of focus and structure.
3. Servant Leadership
Rather than inspiring others to follow their lead, practitioners of this leadership style channel energy into elevating and developing people.
This approach tends to build trust and boost morale.
Leaders can find a balance between implementing their priorities and removing roadblocks to clear a path for others to do their work and take initiative.
4. Democratic Leadership
This approach uses participatory, collaborative methods to emphasize working together and “actively involve team members in the decision-making process.”
Creativity and innovation are encouraged.
Decision-making can be time-consuming, leading to missed opportunities if processes aren’t streamlined enough.
5. Autocratic Leadership
Sometimes also described as Directive Leadership, this approach finds leaders not just setting the agenda for what needs to be done but also prescribing how it will be done.
Decisions are made quickly, and projects can be executed at a brisk pace.
Employees who value creativity may feel constrained and become disengaged.
6. Bureaucratic Leadership
In this mode of leadership, one utilizes a “set list of responsibilities, as well as clearly defined rules and systems” to manage others and make decisions.
The emphasis on systems and roles tends to create stability.
In some instances, this approach might inhibit agility and flexibility.
7. Laissez-Faire Leadership
“Laissez-faire leaders provide the necessary tools and resources. But then they step back and let their team members make decisions, solve problems, and get their work accomplished.”
When deployed in the right circumstances, this style of leadership can unleash team members’ drive and creativity.
In some circumstances, “chaos and confusion can quickly ensue.”
8. Charismatic Leadership
Through their persuasive communication skills, these leaders unite a team around a shared objective.
Leaders can achieve buy-in for an overarching vision or an ambitious initiative.
“Due to their intense focus, it’s easy for these leaders to develop ‘tunnel vision’ and lose sight of other important issues that crop up.”
According to The Muse, “you absolutely can change your personal leadership style and you can do it at any time.”
Leadership is not simply a matter of title, role, or hierarchy. Anyone can be a leader. It’s never too early or too late to reflect on leadership attributes that you have seen work effectively in the past.
Observe and consider the qualities you admire in leaders around you and consider how your own strengths might be deployed in these leadership approaches. Explore a few ways that you could incorporate those qualities into your own approach to leading, managing, and mentoring, and begin to build your own leadership portfolio.