Business Leadership Today

The 8 Types of Leadership


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

We recently explored the most commonly utilized styles of leadership, but there are many other types of leadership out there. The effectiveness of each leadership type largely depends on the type of work that is being done and the level of day-to-day managing a team needs. 

Some employees are able to work with a great deal of independence. Some types of work require a strict adherence to rules and regulations to ensure work is completed safely and efficiently. 

In some types of work, innovation is critical to the success of the organization. In other types of work, doing regimented, rules-driven work is a bigger priority than creative input from workers, which requires a different leadership approach. 

While most of these types of leadership aren’t inherently good or bad, each takes its own unique approach to leadership and has its own pros and cons. 

The eight types of leadership are autocratic, bureaucratic, transactional, democratic, laissez-faire, charismatic, transformational, and servant. Leaders often incorporate different elements of several types, based on their abilities and experience, the needs of their team members, and the organization’s goals.

In this article, we’ll briefly explain how each type approaches leadership.

1. Autocratic Leadership

In this type of leadership, leaders have all the decision-making power, typically excluding employees input and dictating work processes and goals. 

There is an emphasis on obedience, rule enforcement, and following a clear chain of command, which leaves little doubt for employees about what is expected of them. Loyalty is built through coercion, control, and, sometimes fear. 

Because they do not seek input from those they are leading, autocratic leaders can make decisions quickly and with a great deal of authority and confidence, which can be effective in situations where an organization needs a decisive leader to guide it through a crisis. 

However, this type of leadership stifles innovation and creativity, can demoralize employees, and can lead to highly toxic work environments. 

2. Bureaucratic Leadership

In this type of leadership, there is a clear chain of command, and everyone’s duties are fixed. This can provide clarity and prevent confusion in that everyone knows what their roles are and how the hierarchy is structured. 

This type of leadership is best suited to environments where employees do highly specialized work where there is an emphasis on following strict guidelines, processes, and rules. 

This kind of leadership can be efficient but does not leave much, if any, room for innovation, creativity, or employee input regarding problem-solving. 

3. Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership adheres to the ideas many have about the role of traditional managers, with an emphasis on organization, supervision, performance, compliance, and meeting goals, and utilizes rewards and penalties to motivate people. 

Transactional leadership produces consistent, predictable results, and employees can see the tangible impacts of their work when their goals are tied to the growth and success of the organization. 

This type of leadership reduces confusion about expectations and can create a sense of fairness amongst employees, but it does not tend to inspire greatness and leaves little room for creativity and innovation. 

It is also a very rigid style of leadership that does not value empathy, listening or input from subordinates. This can have a negative impact on performance, engagement, and retention, all of which can hurt the chances for the long-term success of an organization. 

4. Democratic Leadership

Democratic leaders value input from their teams and invite employees to be a part of the decision-making process. They create environments of open-minded communication, collaboration, and transparency.

Democratic leadership can be a great leadership style because it includes team members in the decision-making process, which makes them feel heard and valued. It can foster a more positive, more collaborative work environment.

However, it can be a difficult leadership style to maintain when fast decision-making and quick turnaround are priorities in an organization.

5. Laissez-Faire Leadership

Laissez-faire leadership is considered to be one of the least intrusive forms of leadership as it avoids micromanagement and delegates initiatives to employees. These leaders are strong proponents of autonomy and flexibility, often relying on intrinsic motivation and the expertise and experience of team members. 

It is a style best suited to teams with employees who are highly skilled, knowledgeable about their jobs, and able to work well with little supervision, which can be ideal in remote work environments. There is little guidance, lots of mentoring, and complete creative and decision-making freedom for employees. 

However, this type of leadership can rely too heavily on self-motivation, lead to stagnation, and create scenarios where teams are slow to react and adapt to change. In some cases, these leaders may avoid their responsibilities by handing most of them off to subordinates.

6. Charismatic Leadership

Charisma is the key to mastering this type of leadership. These leaders are passionate and seek to inspire the same level of passion in their team members. As charismatic leadership is characterized by a strong system of communication and persuasiveness, the charisma of the leader is often the motivating factor.

Charismatic leaders are adept at articulating a vision and mobilizing their teams around it. They are able to engage employees with their work, define clear goals for them to achieve, encourage a strong spirit of collaboration, and view mistakes as learning opportunities.

While this type of leadership can inspire greatness, it is not for everyone. A natural amount of charisma and the ability to communicate one’s passion for the mission and vision is necessary. 

Course correcting under this leadership style can be difficult, and employees may struggle to adjust and find their own motivation when a charismatic leader leaves the organization. 

7. Transformational

Transformational leaders are focused on getting their teams to buy into the vision and unite over a shared sense of purpose. 

These leaders are supportive of their employees and use empathy, recognition, and empowerment to energize their teams, help them achieve positive outcomes, and motivate them to go above and beyond to achieve the vision. 

There is a high level of trust, motivation, commitment, and potential to inspire great work, high performance, and positive outcomes, with a focus on achieving long-term, big-picture goals.

It can, however, place more emphasis on long-term goals at the expense of day-to-day operations and short-term goals. It can also slow decision-making and lead to employee burnout.

8. Servant Leadership

Servant leadership is a non-traditional style of leadership that places an emphasis on fostering the growth of individuals. 

Servant leaders achieve this through listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and community building.

The goal of servant leadership is to build authority and influence through supporting and serving employees and avoids the potentially toxic, more controlling tactics employed in some leadership styles and the hands-off approach of others.

Authenticity is central to servant leadership. Servant leaders work continuously to build strong, authentic relationships with their followers. This can create a tremendous amount of cultural buy-in and contributes to a positive employee experience, high employee engagement, and high employee satisfaction. 

This kind of leadership can be challenging to maintain for a leader who is not prepared to put the work into building authentic relationships, but, for the leader who is truly committed to bringing out the best in their teams, there are many rewards.

We sat down with Ben Lichtenwalner, author of Paradigm Flip, and discussed how the selfless leadership and humility that guides the servant leader can positively shape the culture of an organization and inspire teams to do great work. 

Ben says the servant leader’s focus on values is the key to getting teams to perform well: “Too often we just overlook the value systems, the ‘soft side’ we like to say. But if your team doesn’t get along, the project is going to fail.”

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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