6 different leadership styles and how to use each one

Written by: Sophie Choukah
Published on April 27, 2018 | Reading time: 8m

Based on the book Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, there are 6 different leadership styles you should know about. The main premise of the book is that it is neither IQ or skills that make a great leader. The secret to great leadership is a high level of emotional intelligence. There’s obviously more than one correct way to lead a group of people, and while certain leadership styles may be more warmly received than others, choosing which to rely on depends on the circumstances, your personality, and the state of your team. What’s important to keep in mind is that there isn’t one perfect approach to leadership. In fact, you’ll most likely wind up using all of them eventually. It’ll be on you to switch between them as you go, deciding on the best style to employ according to the situation.

Leadership styles definition

Leadership styles refer to the behaviors that leaders use to interact with their employees. It covers everything including how they motivate, give directions, accomplish goals and empower their team. It’s important that as a manager, you empower your employees to become great leaders, too. They should understand that a leader doesn’t need to be in a position of authority to have an impact. Enabling your employees to become leaders themselves will only create a more autonomous and productive environment for your team.

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The 6 different types of leadership

1. Visionary leadership

The visionary leader moves people towards a shared vision. It’s not about how to get there, it’s about getting your team to understand where you want to go. This style works best in the moments where a new direction is needed.

What’s great about this style is that it promotes autonomy and allows people to innovate and experiment to get towards a goal. Failure is accepted, and employees can feel comfortable trying new things that will help move that mission forward.

Many organizations out there don’t have a clear mission, which can often lead to employees feeling unmotivated. That’s why it’s so important to have a mission or a “why” behind what you’re doing.

As an example, our vision at Officevibe is to empower managers. Incredibly simple and powerful, it’s also an exciting vision.

Pro tips to become a visionary leader

  • Be bold. Don’t be afraid to try new things and experiment. Be okay with the prospect of failure.
  • Create one ambitious goal that the whole team can focus on.
  • When you’re about to start a new task, ask yourself if it will help you reach your goals.
  • You don’t have to come up with every answer alone. Asking for help from your team won’t only encourage a greater diversity of ideas, but it’ll empower your group for the next steps necessary in bringing those ideas to life. It will also enable them to become visionaries themselves.

2. Coaching leadership

This leadership style, like its name suggests, is all about coaching employees to get better at what they do. Things like one-on-ones are where managers with a coaching leadership style thrive.

However, there is a difference between micromanaging and coaching. As a manager, your goal is to help them evolve in their role, to challenge them so they can surpass themselves while giving them the tools, advice, and support they need to succeed.

Coaching leadership is not dictating what a person should do every step of the way, but rather guiding them towards an improved version of themselves so they can best contribute to the team, while also meeting their own personal objectives.

One of the biggest mistakes that leaders make with this style is focusing on improving the weaknesses of their employees. As a leader, if you want to get the best results from your team you need to focus on their strengths.

Pro tips to become a coaching leader

  • Check in frequently with each member of your team, and make the time to mentor them. No matter how busy you are, if you’re a coaching leader, then you need to empower each of your employees to be the best they can be.
  • Try to schedule monthly one-on-ones where you’ll be able to ask them about their challenges and improve their strengths.

3. An affiliative leader

Managers with this leadership style act as an affiliate, making connections throughout their organization. Their focus is to create a more harmonious workplace where everyone knows and works well with each other.

Often, employees will have disagreements among themselves and may not like all of their coworkers, but this leadership style aims to fix all of that.

If trust is ever broken in an organization, an affiliate leader is the perfect person to mend those cracks.

Pro tips to become an affiliative leader

  • Build a culture of recognition on your team. Over time, this will bring everyone in the group closer together, and help to develop those relationships.
  • Otherwise, regular team building activities are a great way to bring the team closer together.
  • Encourage difficult conversations within your team. It won’t always be perfect, and it’s perfectly normal to have challenges and disagreements between the employees. They key is to encourage vulnerability and real conversations.

4. Democratic Leadership

A democratic leadership style is all about creating group alignment towards a result. This leadership style is best used when you, as a leader, aren’t 100% sure of which direction to take and you want to source the wisdom of the crowd to help you make the call.

This approach can be extremely powerful when you need to make big decisions, are planning for future strategies or even when making strategic choices that may impact the future of the business.

The knowledge of collective intelligence is always greater than the knowledge of one person alone.

Pro tips to become a democratic leader

  • Learn to trust your employees and work on your communication skills so that you can discuss ideas with everyone on the team. A democratic leader gives everyone on the team an equal say in the decision making.
  • Suggest a few ideas to spark the conversation and a game plan as to how you want to collect the opinions of everyone involved. Maybe suggest a brainstorm session, or a survey with qualitative questions.
  • Consider all the ideas presented and share your thoughts with the team. It’s important for them to know that you spent time considering each idea submitted. Whether you move ahead with them or not, it’s important to acknowledge that they took the time to think about the possibilities and challenges.

5. Pacesetting leadership

A pacesetting leader sets goals for their team that they expect will be reached no matter what. They demand a lot from their people and exemplify what is expected of the team.

This leadership style has the potential of being detrimental to your team, so you need to be extremely careful when using this approach, and that it works best in short bursts.

Sometimes you may need to expect a lot from your team, whether it’s due to the company going through challenges that force you to be more demanding to meet objectives – or for any other number of reasons.

The trick is to balance this style with recognition. You need to make your team realize that while you’re asking a lot from your team and it may be tough, it’s also only temporary.

Pro tips to become a pacesetting leader

  • Recognize their efforts both individually and collectively, it can be a great motivator, especially when asking a lot!
  • Make sure to tell your team that the expectations are temporary and that as a group, it’s the perfect time to pull together. In the end, it’ll only create stronger bonds between employees.
  • Share the results of their efforts on the bigger picture. To be able to see the impact of their effort across the organization can be a very powerful thing.

6. Commanding leadership

The commanding leader leads with fear.

These leaders typically come across as cold and emotionless. Most of the time, this style has extremely negative effects on company culture and is highly ineffective.

This style should be only used when in situations of crisis. But even then, it’s likely not the best approach to take. It’s generally recommended to avoid using this style altogether. Unless you’re in the military…

How to avoid being a commanding leader

  • Do not order your team, instead, inspire participation and clearly explain the full portrait of the situation. They will understand what needs to be done.
  • Make sure to communicate that it’s only a temporary situation, your team will need to hold on for the storm to pass.

Key takeaways

  • There isn’t one perfect leadership style. You’ll need to interchange between them according to the situation.
  • You don’t have to do everything alone. It’s not because you’re the manager that it all falls on you. Ask the team for help.
  • Enable your employees to also become leaders themselves. A leader doesn’t always mean a manager.
  • It’s important for a leader to also develop its emotional intelligence.

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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.