The 8 Types of Leadership Styles Explained – With Examples

Written by Samantha Ferguson

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Last updated on 4th March 2024

At the head of every successful project is a great leader. But not all great leaders are the same. 

There are many different ways to lead a team. And different leaders have different traits that make their specific brand of leadership work. 

In this article we’re going to take a look at 8 leadership styles (with examples), so you can discover which one is the right leadership style for you, your business, and your team. 

1. Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is a leadership style that requires the leader to inspire employees and motivate them towards achieving their collective goal. 

Transformational leaders often embody their vision and believe in it so strongly that they can empower others to do the same.  

Transformational leadership: advantages and disadvantages

Pros: – Puts a greater focus on the vision of the business
– Employees are usually more aligned with company values
– Build stronger relationships – resulting in higher employee engagement and retention
Cons: – Constant pushing towards an ambitious goal can lead to employee burnout
– A high level of continuous motivation is required
– Transformational leaders can unintentionally cause too much competitiveness among their team

Millennials are a demographic that respond really well to transformational leadership because of the focus on aligned values.

Statistic
56% of millennials would consider leaving an employer that didn’t have the values they expected
Source: PwC

However, even the most inspired and motivated people have a breaking point. Think of the start ups that work 80 hour weeks in a bid to disrupt their industry – yes, it’s exciting. But in the long run it can also be incredibly tiring. 

If you want to be a successful transformational leader, it’s important to strike the perfect balance.

Example of a transformational leader

There are many examples of transformational leaders throughout history, because these are exactly the type of people to go down in history. They have bold visions and they make them a reality. 

Think of Churchill’s “we shall fight on the beaches” speech. Churchill is a great example of a transformational leader that inspired an entire nation of people to work towards a common goal. 

In today’s world, Elon Musk is another example of a transformational leader. His company SpaceX was the first ever private spaceflight company to send a crewed spacecraft to space. And he is famously quoted as saying:

“Failure is not an option. If things are failing, you are not innovating.”

Richard Branson is also an excellent example of a transformational leader. His Virgin Group owns several companies across a range of industries, from broadband to international travel.

Branson himself isn’t an expert in all of these industries, but his charismatic personality gives him the power to inspire others to get excited about these ideas and make them work.

2. Autocratic Leadership

An autocratic or authoritarian leadership style imposes policies and procedures, sets expectations and defines outcomes. 

Authoritarian leaders are individuals who take full control of their team and makes all of the decisions with little input from anyone else. 

Autocratic leadership: advantages and disadvantages

Pros: – Decisions are made faster
– Expectations are made clear
– Directions are easy to follow
Cons: – Employees can feel unmotivated and disengaged
– Innovation can be stifled
– Dissatisfaction can result in increased turnover

On the face of it, this leadership style can sound a little tyrannical, but if the leader is the most knowledgeable person on the team – and if they act with fairness and kindness – then this leadership style can work well.

Example of an autocratic leader

Martha Stewart has her autocratic leadership style to thank for her self-made empire. She has been described as a meticulous boss that’s very demanding of her employees. 

And that’s because Stewart has a very clear vision to share with her staff and her customers. It’s this same attention-to-detail that’s boosted her to be a household name, with almost every home in America using her merchandise at one point or another. 

3. Participative (Democratic) Leadership

Also known as democratic leadership, participative leadership allows everyone on the team to get involved and work together to make important decisions.

While everyone’s input is encouraged, it’s the leader who will have the final say in the decision-making process. 

Participative leadership: advantages and disadvantages

Pros: – Employees feel a sense of inclusion and ownership
– Increased employee engagement and satisfaction
– Increased chance of finding creative or innovative solutions
Cons: – “Too many cooks!”
– Decision-making can be time-consuming and unproductive
– Multiple perspectives can make it difficult to achieve a clear and focused direction

The participative leadership style is a great way to create an atmosphere of inclusion and it can really help employees feel more aligned with the company, which is a big focus of democratic leaders. However, we all know the saying about too many cooks!

Example of a participative leader

Southwest Airlines has had many different leaders over the years, and all of them seemed to embody the participative leadership approach.

It’s likely that this is the trait that has taken the business from a small Texas airline to a major US carrier.

Ex-CEO, James Parker referred to participative leadership in his book, Do the Right Thing:

“I’ve always tried to expect the best of people and to trust them – and I have almost never been disappointed…Part of trusting people is empowering them to make decisions.”

4. Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership uses a model of rewards and punishments to motivate employees. 

Clear goals are set at the start of a project, with everyone informed on the reward if those goals are met and the consequences if they are not. 

Transactional leadership: advantages and disadvantages

Pros: – It’s easy to understand and implement
– Employees know exactly what’s expected of them
– The potential for rewards can be really motivating
Cons: – Reduced employee innovation and creativity
– Punishments can result in high employee turnover
– The reliance on rules and procedures makes for a rigid work environment

This “give and take” leadership style can motivate employees and increase productivity and satisfaction, so long as the goals outlined are clear and achievable. 

However, not everyone will be motivated by a ‘carrot and stick’ method like this, and the implementation of rigid rules makes it difficult for the business to adapt quickly if needed.

Example of a transactional leader

A classic example of a transactional leader is the ex-football manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. When he was managing Manchester United, he got a lot out of his team using this leadership style. 

Players were rewarded financially if they played well consistently. However, those that were seen as underachieving felt the wrath of Ferguson’s notorious temper. 

This is touched upon in his book, Leading, in which he states:

“I place discipline above all else and it might have cost us several titles. But if I had to repeat things I’d do it precisely the same because discipline has to come before anything else.”

5. Delegative Leadership

Also known as “laissez-faire leadership”, delegative leadership is a hands-off approach that allows every team member to use their own initiative to make decisions.

There are similarities to participative leadership here, in that employees are valued for their opinions and decisions are made somewhat collectively. 

Delegative leadership: advantages and disadvantages

Pros: – Competent employees are given the space to shine
– It can be fulfilling and make employees feel valued
– Positive working atmosphere
Cons: – This leadership style has been associated with low levels of productivity
– It can take longer to reach decisions and complete tasks
– Some employees may feel lost by the lack of guidance

Delegative leadership allows employees the autonomy to make their own decisions and be rewarded for their innovation. This provides many opportunities for skills development, but can also result in accountability issues if roles and responsibilities aren’t clearly communicated.

Example of a delegative leader

The American investor, Warren Buffet has been the CEO of the holding company Berkshire Hathaway since 1970. He’s currently 93 years old and quite comfortably holds the record for longest reigning CEO of an S&P 500 company.

He’s noted as a delegative leader because of his method of empowering his employees to make their own decisions and solve their own problems. 

6. Bureaucratic Leadership

The bureaucratic leadership style puts the needs of the company first and relies on stringent rules being in place for all team members to follow. 

This is common in long-established industries where rules have been laid out by predecessors.

Bureaucratic leadership: advantages and disadvantages

Pros: – Promotes order and stability
– Decisions and actions remain consistent, reducing uncertainty
– Roles and responsibilities and clearly defined
Cons: – Bureaucratic structures can be slow to adapt to change
– Stifled creativity and reduced innovation
– The hierarchical nature of bureaucracy can lead to communication delays between different teams

The bureaucratic leadership style can be advantageous in industries where there’s little room for error, such as healthcare organisations. However, doing things just “as they’ve always been” can lead a team – and a company – to go stale and possibly fall behind. 

Example of a bureaucratic leader

Bureaucratic leaders, because of the nature of this leadership style, are typically forged by the businesses that they work for. 

An example of a business that does things as they’ve always done is McDonalds. Despite their leadership team changing over time, McDonalds has always been run in the same way because their barometer for success is profit. 

As long as the business is profitable, the shareholders are happy and the company is classed as successful – and ultimately, customers get the same experience every time. 

This is why entrepreneurs that opt to buy a McDonalds franchise are expected to adhere to strict rules and regulations when running their branch. 

7. Servant Leadership

Servant leadership places the value of the team ahead of the individual. As such, a servant leader is someone who can shed personal agendas and whose main goal is for their team (and the company) to thrive. 

Servant leaders do everything they can to serve their team and ensure that everyone is happy and fulfilled.

Servant leadership: advantages and disadvantages

Pros: – Fosters a collaborative and supportive work environment
– Increased job satisfaction and employee morale
– Increased opportunity for employee development
Cons: – Slows down decision-making
– Potential for exploitation
– Organisational goals and financial outcomes can be neglected

Servant leaders – because of their selfless nature – see potential in their team and enjoy raising them to new heights.

However, because of this focus on serving the team, servant leaders can sometimes be undermined if they are seen as lacking authority. Plus, balancing the needs of individual employees with overall organisational success can be difficult.

Example of a servant leader

Leadership expert and author of Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, Simon Sinek strongly believes in this leadership style. 

He explains this in more detail here: 

8. Coaching leadership

The coaching leadership style is a great way to develop your team members and get the best out of them. It involves giving employees guidance and frequent feedback to help them grow and develop.

Coaching leadership: advantages and disadvantages

Pros: – Skills development!
– Improved team performance and a stronger team bond
– Allows for more creative problem-solving methods
Cons: – Coaching can be time-consuming
– Giving consistent feedback can be difficult with larger teams
– Some employees will be resistant to feedback

Coaching is a highly nurturing leadership style, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and enhanced employee morale.

On the other hand, it’s high-maintenance and requires a lot of time and energy input. Coaching leaders need to be consistent in their feedback and guidance, which can be difficult in large teams. Plus some employees could be resistant to feedback or coaching and become demotivated as a result.

Example of a servant leader

An example of a terrific leader that embodied this style was Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs. He encouraged creativity in his team members and was known for giving them helpful criticism when necessary. His vision and use of the coaching leadership style helped to propel Apple to be the billion-dollar success it is today.

Final thoughts

There are many ways to lead your team to success. Effective leadership styles come in all shapes and sizes – and, quite simply, the most effective leadership style is the one that best suits you and your team.

However, one thing that all leaders need – regardless of style – is the correct tools at their disposal.

A project management tool can help you successfully manage your projects by keeping everything – communication, files, tasks – in one place, so that you have complete visibility of your team’s work. 

To find out more and get started for free, head to Project.co

Written by <a href="https://www.project.co/author/samanthaferguson/" target="_self">Samantha Ferguson</a>

Written by Samantha Ferguson

Samantha is Head of Content at Project.co. She has 5+ years' experience in the project management industry and in that time she's written over 100 articles on the subject and conducted studies on employee engagement and how AI is impacting the industry. She also has a lifetime's experience of being obsessed with organisation and productivity - Samantha is that person who plans travel itineraries down to the hour! Her favourite Project.co feature is the AI assistant.

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