6 leadership styles and how to apply each one

Published on April 27, 2018 | Reading time: 7m

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership, but as a manager, it’s key to understand the basic 6 leadership styles and when to use each one. The more awareness you have around the style you use, the easier it will be for your team to trust your vision and instincts.

Knowing that varying leadership styles suit different teams at different moments, choosing which one to implement depends on a variety of factors. These can include circumstances, personality types, and team productivity levels. You know your team best, so you can determine which leadership style will best apply to your team, and when.

Defining leadership styles

Leadership styles refer to the behaviours that leaders adopt to interact with their employees. It’s also important to note that leadership skills will greatly influence leadership style. A good leader knows how to adopt different styles with different dependencies. These include how to motivate your team, providing a sense of direction, building strength to accomplish objectives and mentorship to empower each team member.

The 6 different types of leadership

1. The visionary leader

This style is about getting your team aligned towards their North Star! Visionary leaders create momentum with charisma and mobilize people toward a shared vision. This style is also meant to be adopted when the requirement for alignment around a direction becomes urgent. When things shift and change or the going gets tough, visionary leaders can get their people on the right track.

Pausing to reflect on how visionary leadership is defined, it’s clear that this style encourages innovation, experimentation and action. Visionaries welcome failing-forward as a means to enable teams towards trying new things, evolving, and finding solutions.

Unclear direction often results in a lack of motivation and employee engagement. Visionary leadership helps to shape up teams who have lost sight of their goals and increase their understanding about where they need to go next. 

How to become a visionary leader:

  • Be bold. Don’t be afraid to try new things and experiment with your team. 
  • Get comfortable with the prospect of failing forward. 
  • Pinpoint one ambitious goal that the whole team can contribute towards.
  • Continuously ask yourself if each task is moving you towards your direction, or away from it. Adjust accordingly.
  • Visionaries delegate. Ask your team for help. Encourage them to share their strengths and express diverse perspectives.
  • Remind your team of the vision you are all working towards.

2. The coaching leader

As its name suggests, coaching leadership encourages improvement and confidence. Ultimately, you want your employees to feel both challenged and supported in their role. Adopting this approach helps you develop strong connections with your teams because they know you’re on their side, pushing them to be the best they can be.

To put your coaching leadership style to work, be sure to provide the right tools and resources for employees to feel set up for success. And, avoid a micromanaging mentality. Coaching is about helping others find the answers, not giving them away.

Lastly, coaching and 1-on-1s go hand in hand. Officevibe helps managers master their 1-on-1 meetings. Developmental goals are stored in one shared place. Meeting agendas are set collaboratively beforehand. And, you can set direct action items for improvement.

How to become a coaching leader

  • Host frequent 1-on-1s with your team to keep track of development.
  • Provide thoughtful feedback that motivates and
  • Ask questions that encourage employees to discover solutions on their own.
  • Reflect with each team member and specify what they’re doing well to reach their full potential.
  • Amplify your employees strengths without harping on their weaknesses.

3. The affiliative leader

At the base, an affiliative leader is all about relationships. These leaders feel comfortable building connections throughout their company. They focus on creating a harmonious workplace; one where employees can feel as though they have achieved team chemistry and a level of comfort with one another.

Resolving team conflict is a hallmark of the affiliative leader. They support teams, mediate through difficult discussions and develop those who have been working in silos. 

This type of leadership also helps to improve environments where there’s a lack of trust and support felt within a team. A good leader knows how to delegate, a great leader knows how to build trust and collaboration within the group.

How to become an affiliative leader

  • Build a culture of recognition. When employees feels valued, they are more likely to contribute and build meaningful connections.
  • Facilitate employee bonding. Host regular team building activities that highlight individuals’ strengths and communication styles.
  • Be open about difficult conversations. Make sure that you provide a supportive and safe environment to promote vulnerability within the team.
  • Moderate conversations and encourage transparency and kindness as a baseline.

4. The democratic leader

Democratic leadership requires a strong sense of collaboration. This approach is helpful in situations where everyone’s input is required to support decisions and strategic planning that will affect the whole team.

After all, collective intelligence promotes diverse solutions. A collaborative leader knows how to implement inclusive next steps and focuses on building healthy progress for everyone, at all levels.

How to become a democratic leader

  • Trust that your employees are there to support each other as well as yourself. You hired smart people who are capable of big things, empower them.
  • Be clear with your communication style and expectations
  • Identify clear objectives and provide a strong foundation of ideas for the team to brainstorm upon.
  • Run a qualitative pulse survey to observe data-driven results that can help drive decisions. 
  • Consider each idea equally and be clear on why or why not it is being considered in your next steps.

5. The pacesetting leader

A pacesetting leader focuses on concrete goals that are set for their team. These are non-negotiable goal posts which require firm decision making and clear cut expectations. This approach of leadership also requires you, the manager, to exemplify this within your day to day.

Note that this style comes with a sense of volatility and is most effective with short term goals. It’s wise to first assess if this level of pressure is conducive to the success of your team.

While pressures can mount due to unexpected changes that are company-wide, try to balance pacesetting leadership with a strong recognition plan. This way, your team will understand the value they bring and will feel motivated to keep up with the team

How to become a pacesetting leader

  • Explain that this is a temporary measure and be clear about why this is being adopted. 
  • Give visibility around timelines and let them know that this won’t last forever. 
  • Share results. Underline what had a positive impact and how they contributed.
  • Recognize your team for their efforts. It’s equally important to recognize individuals and the collective team.

6. The commanding leader

Simply put, this leadership behavior promotes a fear based mentality. These leaders are more forceful and direct in nature. It’s generally recommended to avoid using this style altogether, but there are moments when leaders might need to make quick and even unpopular decisions.

This approach can come across as harsh and typically leaves a negative footprint on a company’s culture. To say it bluntly, those who lead with fear are regarded as ineffective. If this style is ever required in “emergency” situations, it needs to be well-explained and supplemented by a more tender leadership afterward.

Build effective leadership skills with the following

  • Instead of demanding and ordering your team around, try inspiring them, leading with vulnerability, empathy and collaboration. 
  • Instead of micromanaging your team, create a safe space for meaningful 1-on-1 conversations.
  • Instead of focusing on weaknesses and objectives that were not met, try focusing on strengths, potential, growth and progress. 

Finding a different leadership style that suits your team will encourage a well rounded and productive team. Below are some key takeaways that will allow you to make your mark as a great leader to bring about transformational impact.

Key takeaways to improve your management style

  • Fluctuate between leadership styles to find the most effective way to manage your team. Notice that each style has a way of impacting your team differently.
  • A great leader knows when to ask for help. The weight of the world doesn’t have to fall on your shoulders; your team is there to support you, too.
  • A clear mark of an effective leader is that they inspire others to be great: give your team the space to thrive and grow.
  • Continuous learning is a part of the journey. Building your own emotional intelligence will only further develop your skills in addition to those of the people who look to you for leadership.

Officevibe empowers managers to build productive teams who enjoy showing up to work. If you’re not sure where to start, our pulse surveys help clarify the needs of your team so you can build an effective, customized experience.

What leadership style have you used lately?

Let us know what styles you’ve used in the past. This post has been updated to reflect current views.