Home » Nine Important Leadership Styles

Nine Important Leadership Styles

Leadership Approaches: Nine Important Styles of leadership

Leadership emerged as an important area of research in the 20th and 21st centuries. The reason was its role in organisational success. While a lot of research has been conducted in this area, it is important to note that not all leaders use the same style. Leadership styles vary from leader to leader and different styles work in different scenarios. It is why leadership is an interesting topic on the one hand, and on the other hand complex. The business industry is replete with examples that prove how different leadership styles can be used in different scenarios to achieve success and to achieve organisational objectives. From Howard Schultz to Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Alan Mullally, all these leaders have proved through their visionary leadership and distinct styles that leaders have the potential to change things around them. A lot of literature has accumulated over the years that shed light on various aspects of these leadership styles. Apart from leadership, leader-follower relationships have also interested researchers. However, this article focuses only on leadership styles and how they can lead to organisational success. While each leadership style has its own strengths there can be some weaknesses too and it depends upon the leader that how skilfully he employs a particular style to derive the right results. The leadership styles discussed in this article include

  • Transformational leadership
  • Transactional leadership
  • Servant leadership
  • autocratic leadership
  • Laissez-faire leadership
  • Democratic leadership
  • Bureaucratic leadership
  • Charismatic leadership
  • Situational leadership

Transformational leadership:

This is one of the most talked of leadership styles for its positive attributes and the way it focuses on inclusion and autonomy. However, at the core of the transformational leadership approach is the ability to inspire people to do things. Transformational leadership focuses on the inspiration for motivation and innovation. The transformational leaders inspire their followers to achieve results using innovative methods. However, transformational leaders believe in sharing authority and give their followers the necessary autonomy they need to achieve results. Autonomy and authority both are necessary so workers can achieve their potential and perform at their best. Empowering workers requires giving them the necessary autonomy needed to perform their tasks and the authority to make decisions. What transformational leaders do is to motivate their followers and mobilise them into action by inspiring them to perform. However, these things are not possible without a positive work environment and collaboration. So, it also depends on the level of rapport a leader can establish with his followers. Since transformational leaders believe in collaboration and participation, they are successful at minimising conflicts around them and at their workplace. Most often transformational leaders are successful only because of their positive influence on their followers.

Transformational leaders are interested in mobility and change and eliminating outdated things. Mostly they lead through examples and engage their followers through empathy and rapport. Known for their courage and confidence, these leaders tend to use a style that effectively brings unity and integrity throughout the organisation. They are willing to bear the pain and can make sacrifices required for bringing change. These are some of the most remarkable things about transformational leadership. These leaders work to bring a systemwide change and bring new ideas to replace old patterns. They are always eager to learn what must be changed to increase the productivity and capability of their teams. Some of the distinct traits found in transformational leaders are:

  • Their focus is on making their followers creative.
  • Rather than individual performance, their focus is on teams and want their followers to bring the best results through collaboration.
  • Have a relationship of mutual respect and trust with their followers.
  • Act more like a mentor or coach providing motivation and training to their followers.
  • Act responsibly and make their followers act responsibly towards the team.

However, transformational leadership is not for all scenarios and works better in environments requiring change and not in case of startups lacking definite structure.

Some pros and cons of this leadership style as follows:


– good at balancing  between short and long term needs

– good at establishing rapport and building trust

– have integrity as well as emotional intelligence

– communicate new ideas with excellence


– Does not prove effective in ad hoc situations

Suitable mainly for existing problematic structures that need fixing.

– Not suited to bureaucratic structures.

Transformational leadership works best in case of old organisations with outdated structures and system and ones that require some serious overhauling to take them in a new direction. Even small companies requiring a change to achieve their dreams can benefit from this leadership style. In such cases transformational leaders are best suited for motivating workers to set the organization into a new direction.

Transactional Leadership:

Transactional leadership like transformation leadership is less about authority sharing and innovation and more about the direction and following the established organisational norms.

These leaders are more committed to order and structure and rather than bearing them would like their followers to follow them strictly. Such people mostly lead military operations, manage large corporations, or are in charge of major international projects where rules and regulations have to be followed and things have to be moved in a an organised manner. Transactional leadership is often not suitable for places where creativity and innovation are above organization and structure. There is a major contrast between transactional and transformational leadership and where the transformational leaders would like to  motivate their followers and would influence them rather than direct them. The transactional leaders on the anther hand would work in a directed environment.

So, you can understand it as the difference between a military leader and an innovator. A transformational leader is more of an innovator who inspires his followers to follow new lines and a transactional leader wants them following the established rules and regulations.  The focus of the transactional leaders remains on results and conformation to the existing structure. The existing system of rewards and punishment are their only measure of success. While these leaders hold positions of authority inside their organisations, their primary responsibility is to maintain routine and managing individual and team performance. These leaders also set performance criteria for their followers based on existing rules and performance measurement systems. Commonly such leaders use performance reviews to measure the performance of their followers and suit to environments where the employees are familiar with their jobs. if the strategy is to maintain the status quo, the transactional leadership style is suitable. the transactional leadership differs widely from the charismatic, transformational and other styles of leadership. Its focus is mainly on managing individual performance and making employees perform in a structured environment.

Some important characteristics of transactional leadership style are as follows:

  • Focus is higher on short term goals.
  • Transactional leaders favour structured policies and procedures.
  • Highly likely to follow existing rules and doing and getting things done correctly according to them.
  • Appreciate efficiency
  • analytical and methodical
  • mostly inflexible (do not believe in change).

However, despite its shortcomings, transactional leadership can be particularly suited to specific environments and especially inside organisations where the structure is important. This style also works in organisations where all the areas need to be consistent and where it is important to follow the rules. Some pros and cons of transactional leadership are as follows:


– rewards those who follow instructions willingly.

– reduces ambiguity in organisational structures and systems that need repetitive tasks

– short term goals can be achieved quickly.

– Rewards and penalties are laid out clearly for the employees.


– does not leave much scope for demonstrating creativity

– No reward for personal initiative

– workers get rewarded only on a practical level like money or perks.

Servant leadership:

The servant leadership style as the term indicates focuses on serving the employee and cares for their needs first. The emphasis in the case of servant leadership is on establishing a better environment and culture where the focus is on care. The organisations where this form of leadership is the norm are considered to be more socially responsible. Robert K Greenleaf coined the term in 1970. Like the authoritarian leaders, the servant leader does not try to exercise power and authority. Some of the important characteristic features of servant leadership are as follows:

– Employees come first – The servant leaders care for their employees strongly and tend to treat their needs as a priority. They also act with responsibility towards their followers.

– Committed to employee development: The servant leaders tend to remain committed to the personal and professional development and growth of their staff and followers. They try to help their employees build their skill base and improve performance and productivity.

– Focus on making a positive contribution to the society through the organization: Servant leaders are also socially responsible leaders who try to ensure that their organisations contribute to the community and nation, however without losing focus of the bottom line.

In this way, servant leadership takes a more participatory and empowering approach as compared to most other leadership styles. However, like any style it is also not a perfect solution in itself and has its own pros and cons.


– over the longer term servant leadership can bring major improvements to an organization and its culture.

– Caring for the employees often encourages them to care for their customers and other stakeholders.

– It creates an environment of trust and reliability and builds the credibility of the business as a brand.

– It helps build a positive corporate culture that can also help reduce or circumvent the effects of a negative culture.

– Keeping employees happy and satisfied leads to higher motivation and stronger performance on part of the employees.

Cons :

– It can take time to bring positive results. Achievement of major goals in the short term is not possible.

– There are critics of this leadership style who believe it is highly overrated and biased towards the male leaders.

Despite its cons, the importance and popularity of the servant leadership style has continued to surge over time. Especially, in the recent years with growing focus on CSR and a socially responsible image, corporate managers tend to find this leadership style highly suitable.

Autocratic leadership:

Autocratic leaderships the name implies leaves little space for others and is based more on individual authority and control. This style of leadership is characterised by very high level of control and that is why it is also known as authoritarian leadership. The leaders following this style invite very little input from their group members. Autocratic leaders make their decisions and choices based on their own judgements. They do not invite or accept any counsel from their followers. It involves absolute or authoritarian control over a group.

Here are the primary characteristics of autocratic leadership:

– Leaders make all the important decisions.

– Group members cannot provide any input.

– All the work methods and processes are dictated by the group leaders.

– leaders do not trust the followers with important decisions or tasks.

However, not all is bad about autocratic leadership and this style can be highly suitable in particular situations and environments. While on the one hand, this leadership style has its critics there are its admirers as well. Peshawaria has tried to redefine autocratic leadership as :

  • Daring to be different
  • Challenging the status quo
  • Taking bold risks
  • Being firm in a path despite setbacks or resistance
  • Implementing audacious ideas
  • Having a long-lasting plan
  • However, autocratic leaders cannot be imagined to be successful if they do not have a long-lasting plan or the ability to take bold risks.
  • Like every other leadership style, autocratic leadership also has its own pros and cons which are as follows
  • Pros: In particular situations, the autocratic leadership style can be highly beneficial. For example, situations where the decisions have to be made very quickly and without any consultation with others, autocratic leadership would be the best. Similarly, in situations where things have to be done quick and results achieved fast with higher efficiency, stronger leadership is essential. In many situations, if the leadership is not as strong as required, then the projects may fail because of poor organization and an inability to get things done within the deadlines. In such situations performance suffers. Such situations require strong and autocratic leaders with the ability to take charge and establish solid deadlines as well as organise things efficiently. Such leaders can assign tasks and set firm deadlines within which the targets are to be achieved. Moreover, group members too may prefer an autocratic style when there is a stressful situation like a military conflict, the followers may prefer a more autocratic style. In such situations, the employees or followers need to just focus on their task and not worry for any kind of complex decisions. It can be beneficial to the entire group in several ways like the members may grow highly skilled at performing specific tasks.
  • Cons:
  • An Autocratic leadership style is not always good or a proper fit for an organization or situation. Many times it can be problematic and lead to failures. Abuse of authority can lead to the leader being viewed as authoritarian and bossy which can demotivate the followers and lead to a decline in morale. People in the group may not like it that they are not allowed make any kind of contributions or present their ideas. Creativity may often go lacking when the leaders use autocratic style. This can hurt the group’s performance.
  • This style does have its own pitfalls and still the need for autocratic leadership has been felt from time time. If leaders can use some elements of this style carefully, they can be effective. If the leader of the group is the most knowledgable person, it might be right to use an autocratic style.

  Laissez-Faire leadership style:

This is a leadership style where leaders use very little control over the employees or followers and allow them to make important decisions on their own. This is also called hands-off style because leaders are hands-off and all the important decisions are made by the group members themselves. Researchers have found it to be the least effective style because it leads to low productivity among the group members.

Some of the most important characteristics of Laissez-Faire leadership style as follows:

– Leaders provide very little guidance.

– Followers are at absolute freedom to make important decisions.

– leaders only provide the tools and resources that the followers need.

– leaders expect the group members to solve problems on their own.

Like other leadership styles, Laissez Fair also has its own pros and cons.


If the group members are highly skilled and motivated with enough expertise to make important decisions on their own, it can be good to use this style. While the term implies a hands-off approach, many  times leaders remain available for the group members when they need.


if the group members do not have all the necessary skill or  expertise, it would not be right or ideal to use this leadership style. Not all employees are self-motivated and would not work willingly if there is no system of control or rewards and punishments. Giving high level of autonomy to an employee without any reason can make him perform poorly. Many times employees do not have the ability to set their own deadlines or manage their own projects or even make correct decisions and solve problems. If there is not enough feedback or guidance available from the leaders, the employees may miss deadlines and projects may fail.

Democratic style:

Democratic leadership as the name implies is a type of approach where the level of participation by the group members is higher. Therefore, this style is also known as participative leadership where group members get to have higher participation in the decision-making process. This leadership style has been found to be most effective by the researchers. It is because in most cases, this leadership style has led to higher productivity and higher worker morale. When the employees are allowed to make contributions to the decision-making process, their morale remains high.

Some of the main characteristics of democratic leadership are as follows:

– Even if the leader has final control over the key decisions, he encourages the followers to put his ideas and suggestions before all.

– The group members are highly engaged in the process

– This leadership style both encourages and rewards creativity.

Democratic leadership too like the other styles has its own advantages and disadvantages:

Pros: Since democratic leaders allow the group members to put forth their ideas and suggestions, problem-solving is often easier and effective. The level of involvement and commitment of members to a project is higher. This makes the group members more likely to be committed to the achievement  of results. Research has also shown that this leadership style has led to higher productivity among followers.


Democratic leadership has often been defined as the most effective leadership style and still, it has its own pitfalls. It does not prove highly effective in situations where time is of essence or where roles are not clearly defined. Democratic leadership can lead to communication failure in such situations and can mean project failures. In several cases, group members may lack the necessary expertise to contribute to the group decision making process.

However, if the group embers are highly skilled and motivated then democratic leadership can be a very suitable style. Moreover, if there is plenty of time to allow people to plan and make their contribution to decision making then it can be  a highly effective style of leadership.

Bureaucratic leadership:

This style of leadership suits an environment where you have to follow a close set of rules. Bureaucratic leaders follow a close set of standards. They do things in an exact or specific way to ensure safety or accuracy.  Such a leadership style is most often followed in settings where the work environment is dangerous or specific set of procedures must be followed for safety. In the real world, such leadership styles are often followed in construction work or chemistry-related jobs or often when people are working with hazardous material or where a very large amount of money is involved.

Some of the advantages of bureaucratic leadership style are as follows:

Where precision is important, it is beneficial to follow a bureaucratic leadership style. It works efficiently in dangerous work environments. Moreover, in environments where you have very little space for taking risks or some major resource is under risk then it is good to follow a bureaucratic style. Bureaucratic leaders tend to provide detailed instructions to their followers which can be highly beneficial in settings where workers must follow specific rules precisely.

Charismatic Leadership:

One important thing about charismatic leadership is the leader himself is personally involved in the leadership work. It is about the personal charisma of the leader and how well he engages his followers. According to Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., professor of leadership and organizational psychology at Claremont McKenna College, the charismatic leaders are highly skilled communicators and apart from being verbally eloquent, they tend to communicate on a deep emotional level. Often such leaders are identified in the times of crisis when they demonstrate exceptional devotion and expertise in their fields. Such leaders possess a clear vision and the ability to engage large audiences whether in business or in politics. However, to perceive such leadership tangibly may be more difficult than in the case of the other leadership styles. There is a similarity between charismatic and transformational leadership and that is in both cases it all depends upon the leaders’ ability to influence the followers. 

Some important character traits of the charismatic leaders:

– leaders tend to be sensitive to the environment as well as the needs of their followers.

– Visionary with the ability to articulate his vision.

– Has an inclination towards personal risk-taking.

– Uses unconventional behaviour skilfully.

Pros and Cons of charismatic leadership:


– The leaders inspire the people to work together in a common direction.

– They commit their organisations to a central mission.

– People learn from their mistakes to successfully achieve their mission.

– Companies led by charismatic leaders tend to have more cohesive environments because the leaders provide the workers with a  clear purpose.


– If the leaders grow arrogant it can undo all the good they may have done previously.

– Organisations may grow too dependent on the leader leading to loss when they retire.

– Sometimes such leaders tend to become unresponsive to their followers.

  Such leaders sometimes start thinking they are above everything else and tend to commit ethical violations.

Situational leadership:

Situational leadership as its name implies is an approach where the leader chooses to adopt a style that suits the circumstances and the goals. Most important thing about this style is flexibility and that the leader instead of using a specific skill can choose to adapt to the needs of the organisation and the environment. Situational leadership is suitable for organisations that are interested in:

– developing people and workgroups

– Increasing the level of rapport organisation-wide and bring out the best from its people.

– Use a common leadership style across the entire organization.

Situational leadership requires the leaders to be flexible and able to move from one leadership style to another.  There are two models of situational leadership. One was given by Daniel Goleman and the other by Blanchard & Hershey.

Goleman’s theory of situational leadership:

According to Goleman there are six styles within situational leadership.

– coaching leaders: The focus is on individual development and growth of skills. works best for people knowing their limitations and open to change.

– Pacesetting leaders: Set high expectations and lead by example.  Works best for highly motivated leaders. Not used too often since it can lead to follower burn out.

– Democratic leaders:  Followers have a say in almost all important decisions. Used under optimal conditions brings flexibility and responsibility within the group. An important shortcoming of this style is that it can be time-consuming.

– Authoritative leaders: good at analysing problems and identifying challenges. Organisations adrift without purpose and direction must use this style.

– Affiliative leaders: Put the employees first. Can boost employee morale and team confidence. However, there are also risks involved like poor performance in the times of team building.

– Coercive leaders: tell their followers what to do . have a clear gameplan and vision of the end result. A good style when total overhaul may be needed or in the times of a disaster.

The Blanchard & Hershey model consists of four styles:

– telling leaders: Provide specific guidance and close supervision.

– selling leaders: those who explain and persuade and sell their ideas for gaining cooperation.

– participating leaders: Those who share and facilitate.

– delegating leaders: Those who let others do it.

Important characteristics of situational leaderships:

– Insight: should understand the needs of followers.

– Flexibility: Must be able to move from one style to another with convenience.

– trust: Must have the ability to gain trust and confidence of his followers.

– Problem-solving: should have the problem-solving ability

– coach: should be able to evaluate followers’ maturity and confidence and be able to apply right strategies for personal development.

Pros and Cons of situational leadership:

Pros: The biggest pro of this style is that  it is easy to use and simple. The right leaders can use the style comfortably and leaders can freely change management styles when they see fit.


One major con of this leadership style is that attention can get diverted from long term strategies and politics.