Top Leadership Styles and How to Find Yours

October 25, 2022 - Izaskun Olarreaga

"Leaders come in many forms, with many styles and diverse qualities. There are quiet leaders and leaders one can hear in the next county. Some find strength in eloquence, some in judgment, some in courage." - John W. Gardner.

If we were all the same in our personal and professional attributes, the world of business would be a far more boring landscape; but also totally chaotic and unviable.

Different business sectors and companies each require a distinct set of leadership attributes. In fact, within the same organisation, you can find you need to vary your leadership style to suit a particular situation or need.

For instance, providing effective leadership under pressure utilises different skills when compared to times when you can focus solely on the development of your team.

You may even need to vary your leadership stance and delivery systems dependent on who you are dealing with, not just what.

For instance, being authoritative with someone reticent or causing conflict, and being nurturing and transaction to bring out the best in a colleague or team member lacking in confidence. Getting the right results from your board of directors may require a fresh approach, such as showing transformational leadership traits.

Leadership in a meeting

Some attributes are common to all leadership styles, of course. Including fairness and consistency, and emotional intelligence. However, how you deliver those attributes defines your 'style' or manner of leadership.

Also keep in mind that being versatile enough to switch your leadership style to match team dynamics, is one of the most highly valued skills in business.

Therefore, understanding the most common leadership styles can not only help you find the role you are most comfortable in. It can also help you decide on learning and development goals to enable you to 'grow' your confidence and ability in leadership styles that don't currently come naturally to you.

"The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails." - John Maxwell.

1. Transformational leadership

"The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership." - Harvey Firestone.

This is potentially the type of leader who uses emotional intelligence the most. That's because they become a catalyst for change and improvement, rather than being the centre of attention.

It requires investing in making sure you have the best team dynamics and nurturing individual contributions to achieve business goals.

Transformational leaders also work hard to provide their teams with all the resources they need to effect change successfully.

It would tend to suit introverts, attracted to the concept of 'leading' from behind, by backing up not spearheading teams.

2. Participative / Democratic leadership

This is a similar leadership style, though it requires strong confidence in communication skills and critical analysis. It fundamentally involves a great deal of constructive listening – stimulating and supporting high-volume feedback – upwards and across your company.

This may mean putting people together in project teams, to elicit greater collaboration and engagement. Communications are also open, free-flowing and spontaneous.

Management decisions are then made using this constant flow of business intelligence. Of course, as you are a leader, not a manager, due credit would go to the authors of ideas that work, and you would display constant appreciation for insights. There are no bad ideas, just some you can't progress!

3. Delegative leadership

"As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others." Bill Gates.

You may see this referred to as the laissez-faire leadership style. It is in effect an evolution of the above two ways to be a leader.

Building the best teams, developing them and then having a powerful understanding of what they are capable of, can enable you to lead 'from a distance'. You can empower people with a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, and then only get involved when they ask for your help.

It can be the ideal leadership style when you have a great many tasks to perform, or when you have a great deal of trust in the abilities of your employees.

Not least because empowering others to make decisions can develop their leadership abilities too.

4. Authoritative leadership

"We live in a society obsessed with public opinion. But leadership has never been about popularity." - Marco Rubio.

A collaborative approach with plenty of delegation may not always be the best one, however. Being an effective leader can sometimes depend on you being able to make tough decisions and impose rigorous goals and deadlines, This includes being decisive and firm in opposition to the views and preferences of others. In other words, showing an authoritative style of leadership.

This is not the same as the 'Rottweiler school of management' that once existed, when people in authority believed fear was one of their most effective 'control' tools and being authoritarian was a mark of strength.

Good leaders listen and consider the views of others. However, they may then need to be transparent and unfailing in their willingness to do what they feel is right, even if it is 'unpopular'.

This can be one of the most challenging leadership styles.

"A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone." - Henry Kissinger.

5. Transactional leadership

"The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority." - Kenneth Blanchard.

If you are a natural manager, this may be the leadership style that suits you most. It relies on creating a strong structure and routines, including a clear set of constantly updating goals.

Then, to ensure your team completes tasks on time and with the proper outcomes, you support them by emphasising rewards and incentives.

All good leaders show appreciation for their teams' contributions. It is a core factor that separates managers from leaders. However, a transactional leader takes this further and demonstrates clearly the role each person plays in achieving the organisation's business aims.

In effect, rather than commanding people to carry out their daily tasks, you make them feel like their destiny and success are in their own hands.

This does require that you are constantly alert to the needs of others and able to deliver incentives and rewards in a fair and consistent way.

When someone is not 'on task' or reaching their individual key performance targets, a transactional leader finds out what they need and formulates solutions, motivating them to get back on track.

It can be a particularly effective leadership style at times of change when you need employee engagement and dedication to be at its optimal level.

"A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better." - Jim Rohn

Communications skills for leaders

"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." - John F. Kennedy

Mention was made earlier of some of the common traits within all leadership styles. There is also a vital skill that enables the successful application of them all – advanced communication abilities.

Even introverted leaders who prefer a more 'hands off' approach know how to communicate to get the best out of their team and achieve business growth and development.

Being a constructive listener, alert to business intelligence being generated by your entire workforce and other stakeholders, also enables you to decide which leadership style is necessary to achieve your individual responsibilities and goals.