It is tempting to group leaders into just two categories: good and bad, however there are actually many types of leadership styles that aren’t inherently good or bad—they’re just different. They all have their benefits and drawbacks, as well as their appropriate uses in certain scenarios.
Complete this sentence: “A leader is…”
What’s your answer? Someone who’s in a formal position of power? Whoever’s ranked above you on the org chart? The person with the corner office and the higher salary?
Those might be the traditional perceptions, but it’s important to recognize that anybody can be a leader, that means you, too.
The definition of a leader is the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.
Read on as I briefly breakdown 7 common leadership styles!
Autocratic Leadership Style
You can think of this as a “my way or the highway” approach.
Autocratic leaders view themselves as having absolute power and make decisions on behalf of their subordinates. They dictate not only what needs to be done, but also how those tasks should be accomplished.
Democratic Leadership Style
You might also hear this leadership style referred to as “participative leadership.” Leaders in this category run groups and projects like…well, a democracy.
Even if these leaders are technically higher on the org chart, they emphasize working together and actively involve their teams in the decision-making process. Democratic leaders value ideas and input from others, and encourage discussion about those contributions.
They aren’t handing down orders, and instead take a much more collaborative approach to getting things done.
Laissez-Faire Leadership Style
This is a French term that translates to “leave it be,” which pretty accurately summarizes this hands-off leadership approach. It’s the exact opposite of micromanagement.
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—without having to worry about the leader obsessively supervising their every move.
Transactional Leadership Style
Transactional leaders dish out instructions to their team members and then use different rewards and penalities to either recognize or punish what they do in response.
Think of a leader offering praise to applaud a job well done or mandating that a group member handles a despised department-wide task because they missed a deadline. Needless to say, this approach is highly directive, and is often referred to as a "telling" leadership style.
Bureaucratic Leadership Style
Bureaucratic leadership goes “by the book,” so to speak. With this leadership style, there’s a prescribed set of boxes to check in order to be a true leader.
For example, bureaucratic leaders have hierarchical authority—meaning their power comes from a formal position or title, rather than unique traits or characteristics that they possess.
They also have a set list of responsibilities, as well as clearly-defined rules and systems for how they’ll manage others and make decisions. They just need to follow that roadmap that’s laid out for them.
The key difference between the Bureaucratic and Autocratic leadership styles is the Autocratic style is where the leader makes all the decisions and exerts a high level of control over the subordinates. Whereas the bureaucratic style is based on following normative rules in management and decision making, and adhering to lines of authority.
Transformational Leadership Style
Transformational leaders seek to change (transform) the businesses or groups in which they lead by inspiring their employees to innovate.
These leaders are all about making improvements and finding better ways to get things done. As a result, they inspire and empower other people to own their work and chime in with their suggestions or observations about how things could be streamlined or upgraded.
Under transformational leaders, people have tons of autonomy, as well as plenty of breathing room to innovate and think outside the box.
Affiliative Leadership Style
A phrase often used to describe this type of leadership is "People come first."
Of all the leadership styles, the affiliative leadership approach is one where the leader gets up close and personal with people. A leader practicing this style pays attention to and supports the emotional needs of the team members. The leader strives to open up a pipeline that connects him or her to the team.
If you’re struggling to even figure out how you can be more effective or what leadership style is best for you, start by thinking about a leader or mentor you admired. What were their qualities? What did they do? What did they say? How did it impact you?
Here’s the thing: There’s no such thing as a “perfect” leadership style, because leadership isn’t one size fits all. All of these approaches come with their benefits and drawbacks, and some of them will be more effective in certain scenarios. Like anything, leadership is a learning process, and it takes a little bit of trial and error to get it right.