Leadership doesn’t come with a one-size-fits-all approach. There are many different types of leaders and leadership approaches.
All organisations operate differently. And so, different types of environments require different types of leadership in order to succeed and grow.
So, perhaps it’s time to pause and reflect on what type of leader you are. Or, rather what type of leader you could be. Let’s run through #9 common types of leadership.
Leadership Type 1: Transformational Leadership
There’s much to be admired in transformational leadership. Transformational leaders inspire staff through effective communication and by creating environments of intellectual stimulation.
The transformational type of leader uses their strength of vision and force of personality to garner trust, respect and admiration amongst followers. They respond to individual followers’ needs to motivate them to work towards common objectives.
What makes transformational leaders particularly interesting is the way that they empower their followers to grow and develop into leaders.
The main components of this type of leadership include:
1. Intellectual Stimulation: by exploring new ways of doing things and opportunities to learn, and encouraging this same creativity in their followers
2. Individualised Consideration: by encouraging followers to share their ideas to get a gauge of the unique contributions and/or talents
3. Inspirational Motivation: by articulating a clear vision, and inspiring followers to experience the same passion and motivation to fulfil these goals
4. Idealised Influence: by using their force of personality to serve as a role model for followers, who emulate and internalise these ideals
The downside? Transformational leaders tend to be “blue sky” thinkers. And for some businesses, more detail-oriented managers are needed to successfully implement strategic visions.
Leadership Type 2: Transactional Leadership
This type of leadership is a little more “old school”. Transactional types of leaders follow a “structure equals results” premise. Transactional leaders focus on group organisation, a clear chain of command, and use rewards and punishments to motivate their followers.
Basically, these folks offer an exchange. A transaction. They reward good performance. And punish bad practice.
Transactional leaders maintain formal positions of authority and offer tangible rewards for the work and loyalty of their followers. This type of leadership operates by closely monitoring their team via:
- Performance reviews
- Focus on short-term goals
- Focus on policies, procedures and “rules”
- Detailed work criteria
- Structured routines
- Reward-penalty systems
- And, a focus on the organisational status quo
The downside? In all honesty, there are plenty. This type of leadership is very effective for completing short-term tasks, but in the long-term, this level of inflexibility doesn’t allow for vision or change. Employees are unlikely to reach their full potential in such conditions. It also takes on a pretty simplistic view of human motivation.
Leadership Type 3: Servant Leadership
These types of leaders aren’t servants per se. But they operate in the service of their followers. Servant leadership types focus on power-sharing models of authority by prioritising the needs of followers and encouraging collective decision-making.
Servant leadership is a little like transformational leadership in that it empowers followers to become leaders themselves. The servant leader shares power and helps followers to develop and perform to their highest potential.
Servant leadership is quite an altruistic form of leadership and works particularly well in improving the diversity of strategic direction, boosting morale and enriching the working lives of followers.
The downside? Servant leaders can often suffer a lack of authority when it comes to quick decisions and strategic direction. They also often suffer a conflict of interest by putting employees ahead of business objectives (which while admirable, can seriously affect performance).
Leadership Type 4: Autocratic Leadership
Autocratic leadership comes from a similar strand of thought as transactional leadership. What differentiates autocratic types of leaders is that they tend to be a whole lot more traditional and extreme.
Autocratic leaders have significant control over followers and rarely consider worker suggestions or sharing power. Autocratic leadership strongly focus on:
- The total command of the leader
- Clear separation between leader and followers
- Work is highly structured and regimented
There’s not much to love about being micromanaged, nonetheless, autocratic leadership can work in environments where jobs are fairly routine or require limited skills. It’s also particularly effective where strong leadership is needed in high stakes situations (think military organisations).
The downside? Ruling with an iron fist is rarely (if ever) appreciated by followers. And autocratic leadership can impair the morale, lead to resentment, and culminate in a lack of followers (queue high-staff turnover and absenteeism). This type of leadership also suppresses creativity and innovation, and ignores expertise in favour of “subordinates”.
Leadership Type 5: Laissez-Fair Leadership
Laissez-faire means “let them do” in French. And the approach of Laissez-Fair leaders is exactly that. Laissez-Faire types of leaders allow followers a great deal of autonomy in decision making and work processes. This type of leadership is characterised by the approach of letting employees get on with tasks as they see fit.
This is particularly effective when it comes to creative jobs or workplaces where employees are very experienced. The main components of Laissez-Faire leadership include:
- Complete independence for followers to make decisions
- Leaders provide tools and resources needed
- Group members are expected to solve their own problems
- Power is handed over to followers to lead, however, leaders take responsibility for group decisions or actions
The downside? Laissez-Faire Leadership has a few pitfalls. It doesn’t exactly help groups that are lacking necessary skills, motivation, or adherence to deadlines. This type of leadership can also become problematic if leaders do not monitor performance and effectively communicate their expectations to prevent performance from slipping.
Leadership Type 6: Democratic Leadership
Safe to assume, we all know what this type of leadership is. But let’s just give it a quick run-through. Democratic leadership, sometimes known as participative leadership, means leaders often ask for input from team members before making a final decision.
Followers are given the opportunity to participate, ideas are exchanged freely, and discussion is encouraged. When decision making becomes a democratic affair, these types of leaders allow more room for creative solutions in problem-solving. Involvement also means followers feel more committed to end goals.
Democratic types of leaders inspire a strong amount of trust and respect amongst followers, courtesy of these primary traits:
- Group members are encouraged to share ideas and opinions
- Members of the group feel more engaged in the process
- Creativity is encouraged and rewarded
The downside? The downside of democracy…processes slow down. In which case this type of leadership is definitely not ideal when quick decision-making is a must. There’s also the concern of poor decision-making by unskilled groups just because they are the “majority opinion”.
Leadership Type 7: Bureaucratic Leadership
Bureaucratic leaders tend to be sticklers for rules and processes. In which case, this type of leadership model is usually reserved for highly regulated or administrative environments, where adherence to rules and a defined hierarchy are important.
Bureaucratic leaders apply a clearly defined “system” of rules for management and decision-making. And they expect followers to follow these normative rules (and the leader’s authority) in a pretty strict manner.
Essentially this type of leadership focuses on “governing” the processes and activities of followers. The main components of bureaucratic leadership include:
1. Centralised duties and roles within a team; leaders give followers clearly defined roles, often based on their experience, to create siloed experts where followers can focus on their strengths
2. Seeks to create best practices; leaders ensure projects follow structures (based on the fastest and cheapest way of doing things without compromising work quality)
3. Focus on familiarity in roles; leaders ensure followers have clearly-defined roles with a set of expectations to encourage familiarity and productivity
The downside? Bureaucratic leaders, with their extreme system of structure and regulations, don’t exactly encourage creativity. This type of leadership can stifle innovation and decrease productivity as followers are isolated from the decision-making process and conform to best practice models. And we can probably all agree that truly great leaders inspire!
Leadership Type 8: Charismatic Leadership
We all know these lively folks. Charismatic types lead through conviction. These types of leaders basically elicit behaviours in followers by sheer force of personality. This leadership style motivates followers through (eloquent) communication, persuasion and conviction.
There’s a certain level of overlap between charismatic and transformational leadership. Both leadership types rely pretty heavily on the positive energy and personality of the leader in question.
But Charismatic leaders tend to veer off near the cult of personality side of life. This type of leadership evokes strong emotional reactions (and subsequent motivation) from followers.
These types of leaders have the distinct ability to dissect and decipher any inefficiency within an organisation, and then to problem solve through communicating a shared vision.
The downside? With charismatic leadership, followers are motivated, but not exactly empowered. The success of projects is closely linked to the presence of the leader, rather than the followers. The removal of charismatic leader types usually leaves a power vacuum.
Leadership Type 9: Situational Leadership
Situational leadership is one of the most fluid leadership styles out there. Essentially, situational leadership follows the premise that the best leaders utilise a range of different styles depending on the environment.
Situational leaders adjust their style of leading to better fit the development level of the followers they are trying to influence. In this case, the leader changes their style to fit the follower, as opposed to the follower adapting to the leadership style.
Core character traits of situational leadership include:
1. Diagnosis: leaders identify an individual's “performance readiness” to complete a specific task and interpret their environment
2. Adaptability: leaders adapt their behaviour based on their diagnosis of an individual or organisational environment
3. Communication: leaders create a language of performance. They tailor their communication style in a manner that followers can understand and accept.
4. Advancement: leaders seek to accelerate the pace and quality of the follower’s development by tailoring their management style to the individual’s needs
The downside? This type of leadership can be difficult to maintain, namely as many people have natural leadership styles, making switching roles challenging. Situational leadership also requires a depth of skill in gauging what leadership type is most suitable for the specific scenario. Interpretations can be incorrect, or simply slow down processes.
Final Thoughts On Types Of Leadership
Leadership isn’t just a position. It’s a decision. And all good decisions require moments of reflection and retrospection. How can you spot an ineffective leader? Are you one of them? Is there another type of leadership that could serve you, your followers and your organisation better?
At the end of the day, it comes down to deciding what type of leadership allows for the most innovation, growth and success for all involved. Because what is a leader without loyal followers? A tyrant. So...you may also want to learn how to distinguish a leader from a tyrant.