6 leadership styles: how and when to apply them on your team

Written by: Sophie Choukah | Edited by: Ana Collantes
Published on February 26, 2021 | Reading time: 8m

There are many theories about different leadership styles. Our favorite is Daniel Goleman’s theory of “6 leadership styles” discussed in his book, Primal Leadership. Why do we like it? Because it doesn’t only focus on hard skills, and we agree that great leaders are emotionally intelligent and human at the core. In this article, we will take you on a spin of the 6 different styles you are bound to use as a manager.

💡 You should know: There isn’t one style that fits all. The leadership style you use will change depending on different situations. As a manager, it’s up to you to gauge which leadership style will best suit your team, and when.

The 6 leadership styles, what are they and when to apply them

First off, leadership styles refer to the behaviours that leaders adopt to interact with their their teams. Let’s look into 6 different styles!

1. The visionary leader

The visionary leadership style creates momentum toward a shared vision. This style is about getting your team aligned towards their North Star.

  • Key elements: encouragement of innovation, experimentation and action.
  • When should you apply it: Adopt this style when the requirement for direction becomes extremely urgent.
  • Importance: 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 of where they need to go next.

For example: At Officevibe, our mission is to empower managers to lead successful teams. A common understanding and reminder of this vision ensure that the work we do coincides with the products we create.

How to become a visionary leader:

  • Be bold. Don’t be afraid to try new things and experiment.
  • Get comfortable with the prospect of failing forward.
  • Pinpoint one ambitious goal that the whole team can contribute towards.
  • Keep track of tasks moving you towards your direction, or away from it. Adjust accordingly.
  • Communicate with. motivation the team’s vision and set clear team expectations
  • Visionaries delegate. Ask your team for help. Encourage them to share their strengths and express diverse perspectives

2. The coaching leader

Coaching leaders adopt a coaching mentality to help develop the skill set of their employees and encourage them to shine their strengths by living out their potential. Part of being a coach is helping others to evolve into their role, feel challenged and supported.

  • Key elements: encourages improvement and confidence.
  • When should you apply it: especially in growing teams, as work gets more complex, you’ll team will need more than clear objectives. They will need your encouragement to grow their skills and abilities so that they grow confidence in their ability to perform.
  • Importance: A great manager and leader strives for balance to avoid a micromanaging mentality. Provide the right tools and resources available for employees to feel set up for success. This styles also helps you to develop a strong connection with your teams.

For example: Managers at Officevibe love our 1-on-1’s feature because it allows managers to schedule regular check-ins and continuously keep career-goal conversations. Our teams are not only working to complete a to-do list. They work together to become the best at what they do.

How to become a coaching leader

  • Host frequent 1-on-1s with your team. 
  • Provide thoughtful feedback that encourages employees’ strengths. 
  • Reflect with each team member and specify what they’re doing well, to reach their full potential.

If you’re looking for a tool that can automate feedback in your team, try Officevibe for free! Our science-based questions will get you all the insights you need to prioritize your team’s needs.

3. The affiliative leader

Affiliative leadership happens when a leader feels comfortable building connections throughout the company. The focus is to create a harmonious workplace, one where employees can feel as though they have achieved team chemistry and a level of comfort with one another.

  • When should you apply it: if you sense a lack of connection between teams. This style is very important in a remote work context, where we could easily work in silos and find ourselves disconnected from what is going on.
  • Importance: Resolving team conflict is a hallmark of the affiliative leader. They support teams and develop those who have been working in silos.

For example: With the rise of the pandemic, we decided to take a stand and go digital-first. However, the leaders of our organization didn’t want to lose the sense of connection that made our team culture so great for so long. By using Officevibe to collect feedback and by working together, our leaders rose to the occasion. With the insights they received, they developed a full plan to keep our teams well and connected.

How to become an affiliative leader

  • Build a culture of recognition. When employees feel 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

In democratic leadership, the manager knows how to collaboratively implement inclusive next steps and focuses on building healthy progress for everyone, at all levels.

  • Key elements: a strong sense of collaboration, problem-solving, process management and implementation.
  • When should you apply it: This approach is helpful in situations where everyone’s input is required to support decisions and strategic planning that will affect the whole team.
  • Importance: Collective intelligence promotes diverse solutions. This leadership style can help your team work together towards common goals, and find efficient ways to do so.

For example: Officevibe has grown really quickly over the years. Without our managers actively working on implementing structures and processes that make sense to our team dynamics, we wouldn’t be able to keep with the pace of work. Managers make sure that everyone has access to the teams and tooling they need to do their job.

How to become a democratic leader

  • Trust 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. Pacesetting leaders have high expectations of the team and are fast-paced in their demands. They should balance their high-intensity leadership with a strong recognition plan.

  • When should you apply it: this style is most effective with short-term goals. It’s wise to first address if this level of pressure is conducive to the success of your team.

For example: If there is something we have learned first hand, it’s that business as usual never goes as usual. Things can change overnight. New direction and mandates need to be quickly implemented. It is during times of change that we need pacesetting leaders to rise up and lead the way while trusting their teams to perform.

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.

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. 

It’s generally recommended to avoid using this style altogether unless it is in a state of emergency when you need to quickly make decisions, even if they are unpopular.

If you feel like you have been leading with his style, we recommend:

  • Instead of demanding and ordering your team around, try inspiring them, leading with vulnerability, empathy and collaboration.
  • Instead of micro-managing your team, create a safe space for effective 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 about leadership styles

  • Fluctuate between different leadership styles. Effective leaders find the most relevant way to manage their team. Notice that each style has a way of impacting your team differently.
  • A good 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 and great 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.
  • The best approach to understanding the need of applying different styles falls on the concept of “servant leadership”. Your leadership style should have the intent to help and support. As long as you keep that mentality, you will do great things for your team.

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. Try it for free!