12 Leadership Styles for Successful Leaders (complete list) with Pros & Cons

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12 Leadership Styles for Successful Leaders (complete list) with Pros & Cons

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It’s 1995 and astronaut Chris Hadfield is arriving at the Mir space station. His mission is to dock with the Russian space station and transfer food, water, and scientific supplies to the cosmonauts. Only he cannot get the hatch open because the Russian engineers sealed the doors a little too well. So he takes out his Swiss Army Knife and breaks into Mir. “Never leave the planet without one”, he later wrote in his book.

the swiss army knife

The standard Swiss Army Knife has twelve functions that allow adventurers to carry out their mission and return home victorious.

And what are leaders but adventurers setting out to change the world which often means taking the road less travelled and tackling unforeseen challenges?

Just as the famous multifunctional pocket knife helps its owner to solve a wide range of problems, developing various leadership styles supports leaders in achieving their goals.

A company cannot operate without employees. One of the leader’s main goals, no matter their leadership style is to attract and retain talent. The changes that have affected the global workforce over the past two years are making this process increasingly difficult.

Definition of leadership style

A leadership style is the behaviour pattern that a leader adopts to provide direction, set goals, implement plans and motivate people.

1. The Bureaucratic Leadership Style – “Follow the procedure”

Leaders that adopt the bureaucratic leadership style are all about rules. They set strict procedures which they follow precisely, and expect their team to do the same.

If your business relies on innovation or creative problem-solving, this isn’t the best leadership style to lead your team. But for more routine-oriented jobs, this leadership style could be a good fit.

A bureaucratic leadership style works best in organizations such as military, public and governmental entities where regulations and standards are of great importance and each person has a clear and specialized role and scope of work.

The bureaucratic style of leadership is strictly centered on a structure and depends largely on a framework to support its function.

Pros of the Bureaucratic Leadership Style:

  • The regulations and laws set by the leader create consistency in the workplace with the belief that the status quo (what worked yesterday will also work today) will produce the required result.
  • Bureaucratic leaders are satisfied with getting the same results.
  • Workers complete the same task repeatedly which allows them to become experts.

Cons of the Bureaucratic Leadership Style:

  • It can limit the productivity or creativity of employees.
  • The workforce is efficient but the company is not. When the expert workers leave the company, the bureaucratic setup makes it more difficult for the company to adapt to shortages of human resources.
  • With a rigid structure of the company, the bureaucratic leader is slow in adapting to a changing business environment. This means that the leader fails in taking opportunities and the company could be easily outcompeted.

2. The Transactional Leadership style – “You are rewarded when you achieve the goals I have set for you”

Transactional leadership is a managerial style that promotes compliance and attaining goals through supervision, organization, and a system of rewards and punishments.

It’s a results-oriented approach to management where the leader motivates employees externally (usually money), rewards them for behaving in an expected manner, or reprimands them for any deviation.

Pros of the Transactional Leadership Style:

  • Transactional leadership is ideal to carry out projects that need to be done in a systematic and structured manner.
  • Transactional leaders reward employees that have achieved a predetermined goal.

Cons of Transactional Leadership Style:

  • Transactional leaders do not seek to transform the company, making them highly resistant to change.
  • The company run by transactional leaders is not innovative and its employees are not encouraged to think independently or take risky actions.
  • Transactional leaders don’t think outside the box which makes it difficult for them to find creative solutions to unforeseen problems.
  • This type of leadership appeals to the self-interest of the employee, not teamwork. The employees compete for the same rewards, an activity that fosters unhealthy competition.
  • This may lead to high employee turnover because financial rewards and toxic competition are not always the best course of action in which to retain loyal team members.

3. The Authoritarian Leadership Style – Do what I tell you”

Authoritarian leadership is a leadership style characterized by individual control over all decisions and little input from group members.

Pros of the Authoritarian Leadership Style:

  • Taking an authoritarian approach to solving problems can be a good solution in situations where making quick decisions is required or when the leader is the most knowledgeable person in the group.
  • If a team member’s skill for the task is very low or novice, it is suitable for the leader to give directions and make the right decisions.
  • When there is little room for error and the team is pressed for time.

Cons of the Authoritarian Leadership Style:

  • Employees feel disrespected or dissatisfied when their opinions or ideas are rarely considered.
  • If the leader relies on this style of leadership too heavily, they are often seen as bossy or dictator-like.
  • It undermines people and stifles creativity if adopted over a long period of time.

4. The Authoritative Leadership Style – “Come with me and let’s accomplish our mission together”

Renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman defined the authoritative leadership style in his 2002 book, “Primal Leadership”.

According to him, authoritative leaders tend to approach leadership like a mentor guiding a mentee. Instead of telling their team to follow instructions and do as they say, much like the authoritarian leader, authoritative leaders invite employees to join them and accomplish the mission together.

Pros of the Authoritative Leadership Style:

  • Authoritative leaders have a firm understanding of the challenges to overcome and the goals to reach.
  • They have a clear vision for achieving success.
  • Authoritative leaders provide employees with inspiration.
  • Motivation, empowerment, and a sense of accomplishment underline the employee culture in a company led by an authoritative leader.
  • The leader welcomes feedback and maintains enthusiasm.
  • At its heart, authoritative leadership depends on a thoroughly developed sense of emotional intelligence.

Cons of the Authoritative Leadership Style:

  • Not appropriate for companies when a leader is working with a team of experts or peers who are more experienced than he is.
  • If a manager trying to be authoritative becomes overbearing, he can undermine the egalitarian spirit of an effective team.

5. The Visionary Leadership Style – “Embrace my vision”

A visionary leader is someone who uncovers the hidden trends in the market or industry in which they operate.

They have a clear vision of what the future of the company looks like and the needs of its customers.

Visionary leaders work on the product today so it will meet the needs of its customers tomorrow. They often bring about change in the world or an industry and value innovation and creativity.

The visionary style of leadership was initially described by Daniel Goleman in his 1995 seminal book, Emotional Intelligence.

Pros of the Visionary Leadership Style:

  • Visionary leaders have the innate ability to inspire and motivate people to pursue a long-term vision.
  • The team led by a visionary leader entrusts them with their capabilities and respects their judgment.
  • Suitable when the company lacks big-picture thinking and overall vision.
  • Team members feel empowered and heard; they have complete autonomy over their tasks.

Cons of the Visionary Leadership Style:

  • Failure to communicate the vision and get everyone on the same page often results in an organizational breakdown.
  • Focussing on the long-term vision may impact the short-term goals and the day-to-day operation of the company.
  • Fixation of the leader’s vision could result in other potentially good ideas being tossed aside.
  • The visionary leader needs a team who will pull him back down to earth when the vision is not realistic.

6. The Pacesetting Leadership Style – “Rise to my standards”

Pacesetting is a leadership style where the leader sets high standards for performance and expects their team to exceed them with minimal management.

Describing this style of leadership in his book, “Primal Leadership”, Daniel Goleman says the pacesetting leader is “obsessive about doing things better and faster, and asks the same of everyone.”

Pros of the Pacesetting Leadership Style:

  • It is suitable when the leader works with a highly skilled team of employees that requires limited management.
  • This style of leadership requires a skilled manager who is capable of leading from the front and a team culture that strives for constant improvement.

Cons of the Pacesetting Leadership Style:

  • Goleman warns this style should be used sparingly because it can undercut morale and make people feel as if they are failing. “Our data shows that, more often than not, pacesetting poisons the climate,” he writes.
  • When it is practised long-term, pacesetting leadership results in a team that’s demotivated and burned out.
  • It is intense and not sustainable.

7. The Democratic Leadership Style – “Your opinions are listened to”

Democratic leaders include their team members in their decision-making process.

While they are ultimately responsible for making final decisions, they often ask team members what they think and try to take their thoughts and opinions into account.

This approach is ideal when a leader is uncertain about the best direction to take and needs ideas and guidance from able employees. This style of leadership works well to generate fresh ideas.

Pros of the Democratic Leadership Style:

  • Employees are included in the business side of the company.
  • The leader shares information with employees and values transparency.
  • Listening to everyone’s opinions is one of the most important aspects of a democratic leadership style.
  • Appropriate when management has a difficult decision to implement. Instead of enforcing the said decision upon employees and being faced with backlash, the employees reach the same conclusion collectively and the decision is accepted and not fought against.
  • By getting people’s buy-in, the democratic leader builds trust, respect, and commitment and drives up flexibility and responsibility.

Cons of the Democratic Leadership Style:

  • Endless meetings where ideas are mulled over.
  • A consensus may not be reached.
  • Sometimes leaders use this style to put off making crucial decisions which leaves people feeling confused and leaderless.
  • Doesn’t work when employees are not competent or informed enough to offer sound advice.

8. The Coaching Leadership Style – “I support your growth”

A coaching leader is someone who can quickly recognize their team members’ strengths, weaknesses, and motivations to help each individual improve.

This type of leader often assists team members in setting smart goals and then provides regular feedback with challenging projects to promote growth. They’re skilled in setting clear expectations and creating a positive, motivating environment.

These leaders are willing to put up with short-term failure if it furthers long-term learning.

Pros of the Coaching Leadership Style:

  • The coaching leadership style produces a positive workplace environment.
  • Employees know what is expected of them.
  • It increases the skill set available to the individual employee.
  • The coaching leadership style can create competitive advantages.
  • It makes it easier for a company to endure a time of change.
  • Coaching leaders turn their employees’ weaknesses into strengths and offer performance feedback that motivates them.

Cons of the Coaching Leadership Style:

  • In the first stage, the coaching leadership style is time-consuming.
  • Doesn’t work if the employees, for whatever reason, are resistant to learning or changing their ways.
  • This style doesn’t yield positive results if the leader lacks the expertise to help the employee along.

9. The Affiliative Leadership Style – “People come first”

The affiliative leader promotes harmony among their followers and helps to solve any conflict.

This type of leader will also build teams that make sure that their followers feel connected to each other. Typically the followers will receive much praise from this style of leader, however poor performance tends to go unchecked.

Affiliative leadership is focused on a few key characteristics. Above anything else, these leaders are honest to a fault. Their employer and their direct reports become a direct reflection of themselves. They see themselves as a beacon of moral guidance that everyone can follow.

Pros of the Affiliative Leadership Style:

  • The affiliative leader has strong communication skills, clearly describing what needs to be done and what steps are required to achieve success.
  • The leader’s primary focus is placed on positive feedback.
  • The affiliative leader is confident, assuring everyone that a setback is something everyone encounters.
  • The well-being of the employee becomes a top priority and the leader is committed to producing consistent results that improve the quality of the working environment for everyone.

Cons of the Affiliative Leadership Style:

  • Affiliative leaders tend to avoid conflict and create an attitude of complacency.
  • This style of leadership struggles with complex problems in the workplace.
  • These leaders can sometimes lose sight of the vision.
  • Affiliative leaders avoid scenarios that make them feel uncomfortable.

10. The Laissez-Faire Leadership Style – “Trust is the stepping stone of success”

Leaders who practice this style are known for giving their team members a lot of freedom.

They provide support and resources for team members when it’s necessary, but they don’t constantly micromanage employees.

This can be an effective leadership style if you have a lot of trust among your team members and you know that they do good work and manage their time well on their own.

However, if you’re working with newer team members or those who need more guidance or time-management help, it may not be as effective.

Pros of the Laissez-Faire Leadership Style:

  • It’s appropriate when your team is composed of talented and experienced individuals.
  • The employees are encouraged to express ideas and opinions; it’s a great environment for innovation.
  • Laissez-faire leadership provides employees with opportunities to develop as individuals.
  • Team members feel valued which leads to increased job satisfaction and a low employee churn rate.

Cons of the Laissez-Faire Leadership Style:

  • This type of leadership places a considerable amount of responsibility on the shoulders of your team.
  • If your employees are not committed to the business, this style may encourage laziness.
  • Not every employee can self-manage so productivity levels may drop.
  • It can reduce accountability.

11. The Transformational Leadership Style – “Improvement cannot happen without transformation”

Transformational leaders work with the goal of transforming their teams and organizations so that they’re constantly improving.

They create a vision of the future that they share with their teams so that everyone can work together toward that shared goal and vision.

Transformational leaders are also often seen as authentic, self-aware, and empathetic. In addition, they handle conflict among team members well and hold both themselves and their team members accountable.

Pros of the Transformational Leadership Style:

  • Transformational companies stand the test of time because they are constantly embracing change instead of rejecting it.
  • It fosters creativity and innovation by producing innovative solutions through collaboration.
  • Builds and maintains employee motivation and satisfaction.
  • Effective in facilitating organizational change.

Cons of the Transformational Leadership Style:

  • Doesn’t work with new and chaotic groups or organizations, those that perform mechanized tasks, and in emergencies or situations that require quick decision-making or prompt problem-solving.
  • When cultural context exists, it can limit the application and effectiveness of this leadership style.
  • Not every employee is willing to take on more responsibility and autonomy over their tasks.

12. The Servant Leadership Style – “My job is to meet your needs”

Servant leaders are seen as charismatic and generous and they are working hard to meet the needs of their teams.

This often leads to high worker satisfaction rates since team members feel heard and cared for in their work.

Pros of the Servant Leadership Style:

  • High employee engagement and motivation.
  • The servant-leader puts people first.
  • The servant-first leader strives to help people grow and make a lasting positive impact on society.
  • The leader has good listening skills and a high level of empathy.
  • The servant-leader is emotionally intelligent.
  • The team members learn how to support each other and develop serving work culture.

Cons of the Servant Leadership Style:

  • This style of leadership may focus more on individuals and less on the actual goals of the organization.
  • It takes time and it doesn’t work with every organization.
  • Not appropriate in situations when making fast decisions is vital.


Which of these leadership styles should leaders use to be successful?

The answer is ideally, all of them. Studies have shown that leaders who have mastered four or more have the very best climate and business performance.

Effective leaders switch effortlessly between styles using whichever is appropriate to solve the problem at hand.

It’s a combination of styles that allows them to achieve short and long-term goals, empower and grow their employees in such a way that they, in turn, carry the company into the future.

Attend the BUSINESS STRATEGY MASTERCLASS, on October 27 to learn how to upgrade your skills in team management and strategic communication from Costas Markides, Professor of Strategy & Entrepreneurship at London Business School.


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