Career Advice

7 of the Most Common Leadership Styles & How to Develop Yours

team meeting

We’ve all encountered different types of leader, from the micro-manager who wants you to do everything their way, to the ‘best mate’ boss who wants you to know that their door is always open to you.

As you climb the career ladder yourself, you need to start thinking about the type of leader you want to be – and the style that naturally fits your soft skills.

For example, if you are a strong communicator, you might want to involve your team more in the decision-making process. If you are more technically minded, you might want to take charge of the strategising, and give more specific directions to your team.

It’s important to understand that there is not just one leadership style that is ‘best’ in all circumstances, and in fact you are not limited to just one style in your own career. But by knowing the different approaches that are available to you, you can make a better decision about which methods to use on any given occasion.

What are the best leadership styles?

In this post, we’ll look at seven of the most common leadership styles. Each has its own merits and drawbacks, so we’ll list some of the main pros and cons for each management style.

The best management method depends on the situation. In a crisis, a more direct approach to leadership can help to steady the ship. In more prosperous times, you can accelerate growth by welcoming ideas and input from subordinates.

At the end of this article, we’ll also look at ways to develop your own leadership style. You don’t need to be going for promotion to start thinking about this – the earlier in your career you start to consider your management style, the longer you have to hone your existing skills and fill in any gaps, such as effective communication or strategic thinking.

Seven of the most common leadership styles include:

  1. The dictator
  2. The strategist
  3. The director
  4. The delegator
  5. The transformer
  6. The transactor
  7. The democrat

1. The Dictator

When people think of ‘the boss’ they often imagine a dictatorial role, also known as autocratic or authoritarian leadership. This is the manager who wants everything done their way – even if a different approach still yields successful results.

Pros

  • Good in a crisis as the manager can take charge and get results even from an inexperienced team.
  • Very clear about who is responsible for achieving results, which can relieve burden on subordinates.

Cons

  • Subordinates can feel frustrated by the lack of autonomy, especially if they disagree with the manager’s approach.
  • Can miss opportunities for innovation by continually using the same methods instead of finding new ways to capitalise on a growth market.

Does it Work?

A dictatorial leadership style can work, but it is usually best suited to a crisis or when there is a significant gap in terms of experience and expertise between the manager and their subordinates.

When the gap is much smaller and there is no immediate threat to face, employees can feel undervalued by being bossed around, and the authoritarian approach is less likely to retain the best talent over the long term.

2. The Strategist

Strategic leadership is a little different. It’s not just about person management, it’s also about steering the company in the right direction to capitalise on growth opportunities – and bridging the gap between the two roles.

Pros

  • Puts specific focus on achieving the company’s business objectives independently from managing its workforce.
  • Allows innovation by looking beyond the immediate talent pool and can identify skills gaps that need to be filled.

Cons

  • Employees might feel they receive less attention from managers who spend some of their time looking at ‘the bigger picture’.
  • Macroscopic focus can miss isolated incidences of poor performance and opportunities for individual professional development.

Does it Work?

This can be a very effective approach, especially in a company that is targeting growth beyond its existing boundaries. It requires an experienced and innovative leader who can identify those opportunities, while still managing the human workforce well.

If you have those skills, it’s definitely worth considering a strategic leadership role during your career. You might find your abilities in high demand, and the rewards – both financial and otherwise – can be substantial.

3. The Director

You don’t have to be a company director in the boardroom sense, in order to adopt a directorial leadership style. However, much of the skill set is the same – an ability to see the whole picture at once, to inspire excellence in those under you, and to make good use of skilled individuals’ autonomy.

Pros

  • Able to give clear instructions to subordinates before backing off and allowing them to do their jobs more freely.
  • Good balance between direct management and independent working, which can be an efficient way to use available resources.

Cons

  • Requires subordinates to take on more responsibility for their own actions and work with less direct benefit from their manager’s expertise.
  • Can be difficult to replace this kind of manager with someone who exhibits the same balance between direct leadership and delegation of duties.

Does it Work?

Directing team members, rather than micromanaging them, can be effective and efficient, which is a good combination in terms of productivity and profit. To do it well, leaders need to have good knowledge of their personnel’s individual abilities, which can be challenging.

When a leader of this type leaves – either due to promotion, redeployment to a different department, or leaving the company entirely – the gap can be hard to fill. You need someone who can quickly gain that deep knowledge of the people in their team, and direct them in their duties to a similar extent.

4. The Delegator

Unlike the direction style mentioned above, delegation assigns tasks to team members and then leaves them to find their own way to complete that task, with much less guidance from management. It’s effective in talented teams, and further up the hierarchy where individuals are more likely to have significant past experience to draw from.

Pros

  • Makes excellent use of individual experience and expertise, with little to no interference from leadership.
  • Delegates duties and responsibilities which can help to break complex tasks down into manageable portions.

Cons

  • Subordinates receive even less direct attention from their manager, which means the company is much more reliant on expertise at lower levels.
  • Can make it harder to replace subordinates when they leave or get promoted, as you need an employee with very similar abilities.

Does it Work?

Delegation is a cornerstone of good management. In this context, delegating means putting more responsibility on the next rung down in your company hierarchy – who may in turn delegate duties to their team, and so on.

It’s important to make sure you don’t leave yourself putting the most responsibility on your least experienced employees by delegating duties all the way down the line. With that being said, careful delegation can deploy resources well, with less confusion about who is responsible for what.

5. The Transformer

Transformational leadership is similar in spirit to strategic leadership, but instead of focusing on the company’s macroscopic goals, you take an interest in employees’ individual career aims. In essence, it combines traditional management with a specific focus on continuing professional development.

Pros

  • Employees feel highly valued, engaged and are nurtured towards better performance by developing their expertise.
  • Improving workforce skills from within can complement external recruitment campaigns for the best of both worlds.

Cons

  • Employees might disagree about the type of training and CPD they need – personal goals and company goals don’t always align.
  • If an employee leaves to go work elsewhere, you lose the investment you have made into their training and development.

Does it Work?

In a word, yes. This approach might not be perfect for all companies, but for many it’s a way to ensure employees have the necessary skills and improve in any areas where they are found to be lacking.

For managers, it can be a very rewarding way to work. You get to know that you are nurturing your team members, not only making your own job easier by upskilling your subordinates, but also steering their continuing professional development in a direction that is good for them, you and your organisation.

6. The Transactor

Transactional leadership is formal, not emotional, and driven by results. It’s often used in departments whose performance is easy to quantify, such as sales teams. Employees might work on a commission basis, or receive a bonus for exceeding targets.

Pros

  • Everybody knows what is expected and what the rewards will be, which can make management of large results-orientated teams easier.
  • Workers are encouraged to meet and exceed targets, with individual incentives for those who perform best.

Cons

  • Can be difficult to adopt a transactional approach in creative departments and other parts of the business without easily quantifiable outcomes.
  • Employees may become demoralised if they feel targets are unrealistic, or if they fail to reach their goals while their colleagues exceed theirs.

Does it Work?

Transactional leadership can be stressful for employees, whose income depends on meeting the goals set for them by management, but it incentivises strong performance and is well suited to a competitive mindset. Leaders in this type of role need to be ready to support underachievers with the coaching they need to perform on-target.

7. The Democrat

Finally, some organisations adopt a much flatter team structure, where decisions are made democratically. A typical workday might start with a team meeting where duties are delegated through mutual agreement and any undesirable tasks are shared equally.

Pros

  • Can be good for conflict-averse managers who prefer their subordinates to feel as though they are on an equal footing.
  • Employee engagement is naturally boosted as personnel get to choose at least some of their daily duties.

Cons

  • Difficult to manage large and complex projects in this way – works best with small teams of roughly equal experience and expertise.
  • Managers may need to ‘pull rank’ when conflicts arise, which can shatter the illusion of a genuinely democratic system.

Does it Work?

A democratic approach really needs to be part of the overall company’s ethos. It can be difficult to manage one team democratically when the rest of the organisation has a very clear hierarchy. However, this style can work well in creative roles, where the more voices contribute, the better.

If you want to work in a democratic leadership role, you’ll need strong communication skills, and a willingness to listen to the ideas and desires of your team. But you’ll also need to be able to enforce your own opinion when necessary as the ultimate arbiter of your team – the buck stops with you.

Which is the Most Common Leadership Style?

Authoritarian leadership is thankfully a thing of the past in many workplaces – although not all, and it still has its place in challenging times. But some degree of delegation is common, usually with the manager still steering individuals in a particular direction too.

As mentioned above, a democratic approach is more common in the creative industries, where individual ideas have more merit, and is often found in relatively young organisations where personnel have similar levels of experience, and a vertical hierarchy has not yet been established.

How to Develop Your Own Leadership Style

There’s nothing to stop you from becoming any of the types of leaders listed above, but it’s useful to play to your existing skills while developing your experience and expertise in other areas.

If your idea of project management starts with a spreadsheet, you might be naturally suited more to micromanagement styles. You can still listen to feedback from subordinates, but you probably want to take ultimate responsibility for delegating their duties.

If you prefer to start with a team meeting and decide how to proceed as a group, you’re more suited to democratic management styles. Your personality type might be more feeling than thinking, and more extravert than introvert. Just be ready to resolve any conflicts that arise – even if you have to fall back on your position in the management hierarchy to do it.