Business Leadership Today

The Different Types of Leadership


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

The future success of any company hinges on the ability of its leadership to engage and inspire employees to do great work sustainably. When leaders fail to do this, and there is no course correction, organizations fail. 

We have seen the negative impact bad bosses can have on employees and how they can throw the future success of a company into peril. Leading in a way that alienates employees and threatens future success is the wrong way to go about leadership. 

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership, the way we lead should always be informed by our current realities, but with an eye to the future and what we hope to accomplish. The decisions we make today can have far-reaching impacts. 

While some types of leadership may be highly effective for some types of work, the effectiveness of any leadership style depends on a number of factors, including the level of experience and expertise of team members, the priorities of the organization, and its long-term goals. 

For example, organizations that focus on predictable, consistent results and follow a strict chain of command require a different approach than organizations that emphasize collaboration, employee input, and innovative solutions. 

There are 10 common types of leadership that we can look to that can help us craft leadership strategies that fit our current reality, while helping us set our teams up for future success.

The different types of leadership are autocratic leadership, bureaucratic leadership, transactional leadership, democratic leadership, laissez-faire leadership, charismatic leadership, coaching leadership, collaborative leadership, transformational leadership, and servant leadership.

In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of each of these types of leadership.

Autocratic Leadership

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

These leaders exert complete control over subordinates and place an emphasis on obedience and enforcement of rules and policies to control employees. 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.

This style of leadership is sometimes considered effective in situations where an organization needs a decisive leader to guide it through a crisis. There is an emphasis on a clear chain of command, which leaves little doubt for employees about what is expected of them.

However, these kinds of decisions can often have unforeseen consequences because making decisions in this way stifles innovation and creativity. It often demoralizes employees, leading to highly toxic work environments, and is not conducive to a positive employee experience, engagement, or job satisfaction. 

Bureaucratic Leadership

In this type of leadership, there is a clear chain of command, rigid regulations, and conformity. Everyone’s duties are fixed. 

Bureaucratic leadership and autocratic leadership share some characteristics, but they differ in that autocratic leadership gives the leader all the authority and decision-making power, and bureaucratic leadership relies on the authority of the leadership hierarchy.

This type of leadership can provide clarity and prevent confusion in that everyone knows what their roles are and how the hierarchy is structured. It is best suited to environments where employees do highly specialized work where there is an emphasis on following strict guidelines, processes, and rules and producing predictable outcomes. 

While there is a high degree of clarity, both in terms of roles, duties, and expectations, bureaucratic leadership does not leave much, if any, room for innovation, creativity, or employee input regarding problem-solving. The emphasis on following a strict chain of command can slow decision-making, making it a less efficient type of leadership when response time is a factor, and can make it hard for teams to adapt. 

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. 

Democratic Leadership

Self-awareness refers to a person’s ability to accurately perceive their emotions and remain aware of them as they occur, and it is essential to conscientious, mindful leadership.

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, and more inclusive work environment where employees are engaged and highly productive, leading to greater innovation.

However, it can be a difficult leadership style to maintain when fast decision-making and quick turnaround are priorities in an organization. The minority opinion is typically overridden by the majority (not always a good thing), and poor communication with this leadership style can quickly lead to confusion. 

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, and they expect their employees to take ownership of their duties and responsibility for their actions. 

These types of leaders create and support the conditions necessary for an autonomous culture by offering little guidance and a lot of mentoring, complete creative and decision-making freedom for employees, and the resources employees need to do their jobs with independence.

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.

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. 

Coaching Leadership

Coaching leadership emphasizes collaboration and guidance that helps employees achieve goals and overcome obstacles to success. Whereas other leadership styles focus on directing employees, this leadership style takes a more interactive approach. 

Coaching leaders are good communicators who engage in active, non-judgemental listening, give and encourage constructive feedback, support collaborative efforts, and foster growth and development.

These leaders are focused on the development of their team members and nurture them through the development process, helping them identify areas for long-term improvement and develop an improvement mindset. 

This can be an effective leadership style. Coaching leaders provide their team members with opportunities for growth, which can improve an organization’s engagement and retention, and inspire creative thinking that can be great for innovation and problem-solving. 

It is, however, a labor-intensive style of leadership and may be less effective for leaders who don’t have this kind of time to put into coaching employees. It is also not ideal in organizations that place a heavy emphasis on quick results. 

Collaborative Leadership

Collaborative leaders encourage their team members to work together. Whether it’s employees working together in one department, across multiple departments, or the whole organization, collaborative leadership is about eliminating the boundaries that keep a team from reaching its full potential, accomplishing goals, and working toward a shared purpose. 

These leaders build influence by actively engaging with employees, building trust-based relationships with them, and helping them develop their talent. 

This type of leadership is conducive to creative problem-solving and innovative solutions, creates an inclusive work environment with diverse perspectives, eliminates silos, and can generate a lot of trust between employees and leadership. 

Strong communication is a central component of this type of leadership. Research has shown that around 75% of employers rate teamwork and collaboration as “very important,” but only 18% of employees get communication evaluations at their annual performance reviews.

In an organization where real efforts are not made to maintain strong communication, this type of leadership will be less successful and lead to a lack of clarity of job expectations, confusion over roles and responsibilities, and even power struggles if leaders are not intentional in how they manage the collaborative effort. 


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 are four pillars of transformational leadership known as the “four I’s”: idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individual consideration.

Idealized Influence

Idealized influence describes leaders who are good role models for employees who trust them to make good decisions for the organization.

Inspirational Motivation

Inspirational motivation describes leaders who motivate employees to commit to the organization’s vision and inspire them to reach goals that lead to increased profits and growth.

Intellectual Stimulation

Intellectual stimulation describes leaders who encourage and foster creativity and  innovation by challenging the norms and views of the group by promoting critical thinking.

Individual Consideration

Individual consideration describes leaders who coach employees to strive for and achieve goals that help them and the organization.

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.

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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