In today's global economy, companies across all industries are experimenting with various ways of leading, managing and doing business. Whether it is to get an edge on the competitor or try to become an industry leader, businesses are tailoring their leadership practices to foster innovation, productivity and, perhaps most importantly, employee satisfaction.
A laid-back office environment or a fast-paced workplace? Every organisation has a different leadership style. From the department manager who rules with an iron fist, to the boss who concentrates solely on performance and results, each business is unique.
Therefore, it is essential that you are assessing your leadership model. To help you understand the different types, we have gathered a list of the more common approaches and what they look like in practice, so that you can consider which style might work best within your organisation.
Different Types of Leadership
There is not necessarily a right or wrong way to lead; every style has its own merits, and its own limitations. Therefore, when choosing which approach to take, you should consider adopting a defined style, and adapting it to better meet the needs and capabilities of your industry, your team, and your own personality.
Here are some good starting points:
1. Democratic Leadership
Ultimately, a democratic leader will have the final say (and therefore be held responsible whether a project is successful or a failure). However, this person will typically involve subordinates in brainstorming sessions, decision-making processes, project agiles and other matters imperative to the team, department or business.
However, any professional who employs this strategy must also be confident that their team can handle the responsibility. Are they competent enough? Do they have the courage to participate? Will they be honest when they have erred? It is these characteristics that can make or break a democratic leadership environment.
Example: When a company holds a meeting, a democratic leader will take suggestions on how to ensure a project is completed on time and within the budget. After hearing these options, the leadership and its subordinates will discuss, debate and then act on the proposed solutions. Alternatively, take a look at our list of democratic leadership examples in action.
2. Autocratic Leadership
The consensus among management experts is that autocratic leadership – wielding all power and authority over others – is the least effective way to lead your employees. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, such as Jeff Bezos, Ray Kroc and Larry Ellison, but for most enterprises, it will unlikely birth morale or productivity.
As with the examples mentioned, professional autocrats - whether in an executive capacity or a management role - will make decisions on their own, communicate their demands to employees and demand the immediate institution of these requirements. There is no flexibility, no room for debate - and certainly no room for disagreement.
Example: A manager has just acquired a new client to develop enterprise software. They have thought about the end-product and have devised schemes to ensure their vision will be realised. At the weekly meeting, they lay out what they want without any participation from others, then, in an internal memo, announce changes to the structure of the software. In a companywide email, they then request immediate fixes to the digital apparatus.
3. Laissez-Faire Leadership
On the opposite end of the leadership spectrum is laissez-faire (a literal translation to 'let them do'), which allows employees to complete tasks, tackle problems and work at their own pace without any oversight. Essentially, it is a transfer of the company's authority to the staff.
Laissez-faire leadership works in a fledgeling startup, but it generally isn't as successful in a larger firm; this is because not everyone can be autonomous and effective at the same time. One person might overlook a growth opportunity in an area of the business, while another might find their development extremely limited. Although many employees think managers are ineffective, they exist for a reason; everyone needs boundaries and guidance.
Example: A Silicon Valley startup has been given a new direction from investors. The co-owners, instead of devising a plan to institute these directives and working with staff to see these ideas come to fruition, are announcing the requirements and then allowing employees to grapple with it on their own.
4. Bureaucratic Leadership
Perhaps the best way to describe bureaucratic leadership is to use the term "by the book"; although there is scope for input and collaboration with subordinates, if it contradicts company policies or mantras, any ideas or suggestions will be resisted. If the business is generating revenues in a particular way, or the enterprise needs to tighten its belt, then trying anything new might be considered a waste of time and resources.
Seasoned workers may notice that this is a typical leadership style at older and large companies, but it is foreign to the innovation-driven approach of millennial and Generation Z work environments.
Example: During an informal get together on the office floor, a manager might attempt to pick the minds of their employees on how to best access the Japanese market. When employees provide their insight, the leader will shoot them down, citing violations of company rules and head office's mission statement. Alternatively, take a look at these examples of bureaucratic leadership in action.
5. Pacesetting Leadership
A particularly popular leadership style within Silicon Valley, pacesetters ensure results are delivered – and fast. Leaders who adopt this strategy will impose high standards on everyone, hold their staff members accountable and keep the workplace motivated and energised. Pacesetting is often personified by a famous Steve Jobs quote, which reasons that leaders should be a "yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected".
It borrows aspects of several leadership models, but the most crucial factor in this approach is undoubtedly quality and quantity.
Example: Instead of holding the traditional one-hour meeting, a pacesetter will only summon their staff when necessary to facilitate an environment of efficiency. Not only are these meetings on an as-needed basis for updates and announcements, but they are also compartmentalised to just 15 minutes or a half-hour.
6. Transformational Leadership
Transformational leadership is often defined as "being the change you want to see"; a goal not just for your personal life, but also within the corporate world, too. Transformational leaders are generally people who have climbed the ladder at a stagnating firm or entrepreneurs who illustrate through their newfound autonomy that the previous way of doing things was not the right way.
The primary goal for transformational change is to perform a 21st-century business makeover, comprising of several transformations:
- Setting more challenging expectations for staff.
- Leading by example; staying late or collaborating with subordinates.
- Modifying original goals that may have worked 20 years ago but are out of date today.
- Gaining the trust of employees by taking full responsibility for a leap of faith.
- Empowering subordinates by extending new responsibilities and incremental independence.
Example: Every day, a manager is asking for feedback regarding the company's presence in a particular industry or market. Rather than accepting a slew of indifferent proposals, this leader will push their team members outside their comfort zone by tapping into their unique and creative minds and expertise. Alternatively, take a look at our list of transformational leaders in action.
For those who enjoy sports, leaders could consider themselves as coaches and, as a coach, it is your job to identify an employees strengths, nurture their expertise and hide their weaknesses. By doing this, you create a better cohesive unit and facilitate a sublime working arrangement between team players – just like Bill Belichick or Sir Alex Ferguson.
One of the main benefits of this strategy is that you establish a more long-term trajectory that your successors will attempt to emulate. Instead of multiple people working on the same area of a project, you enable employees to concentrate on specific aspects of the initiative and communicate with each other.
Example: In one-on-one consultations, a manger will encourage employees to improve upon their strengths by working on different tasks, or provide guidance on how to fully utilise their human capital. The manager might also prompt team members to learn from their colleagues.
8. Team Leadership
Team leadership has the right intentions: two heads are better than one. It entails tapping into the inner workings of a person's heart and mind and trusting an individual's abilities; everyone is equal and has a say in this relationship.
Research has found that this type of leadership works, but only if the team sticks around. For instance, it's a common pattern that teams that have worked together for a long time tend to perform well and get the job done within an allotted time and an appropriate budget. Why? Because they know each other's skills, habits and ingenuity. On the other hand, if there is a high turnover rate, then the team-first mentality will not be as successful because peers do not understand each other yet.
Example: Before launching a project, a leader will assemble their team and request suggestions on who should do what. With some consideration, the leader will ultimately acquiesce because they know that their team is stellar and reliable - they trust their team's abilities.
In the modern workplace, leadership isn't just about devising strategies or making big decisions; it's about how you engage with your employees and enable them to grow and develop.
Therefore, it's vital that you identify a style that enables you to achieve your goals while retaining your best employees. Depending on your industry, the eight different types of leadership listed above are certainly a great place to start.
In the meantime, to learn more about these methodologies, take a look at our breakdown of the best leadership podcasts currently on the market.
What other leadership styles have you identified? What are their pros and cons? Join in the conversation and let us know.