Leadership Styles: Definitions and Uses for Every Career

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Leadership styles are important for determining how best to give direction to a team, meet deadlines, resolve disputes and handle a variety of situations that typically arise in the workplace. You can consider the organizational culture of your company and its unique needs to develop a leadership style that suits your current role. This guide will help you to understand different leadership styles and how you can incorporate their unique elements into your own style. 

Why are leadership styles important?

Understanding different leadership styles can allow you to be a better leader and collaborator. When different situations require different leadership styles, having a firm understanding of how to implement them can help you to alternate the ways you lead to meet the unique needs of each situation. When new projects start, you can examine which leadership style is a good fit for helping the project to succeed. 

Learning about leadership styles can help you to identify the ones that match your professional style and your organization. It can also help you to work and collaborate better with managers and other departments when your leadership styles differ. You’ll be better able to understand the reasoning behind their methods and actions, allowing you to make effective compromises and to give your suggestions in a way they’ll be more willing to listen to. 

What are the most common leadership styles?

Here are eight common leadership styles and how you can use them in your career:

  • Democratic
  • Autocratic leadership
  • Laissez-faire leadership
  • Transactional leadership
  • Coach-style leadership
  • Bureaucratic leadership
  • Servant leadership
  • Visionary leadership


Democratic leadership is based on a leader making decisions after considering input from team members. Although the leader makes the final decision, employees reporting to them have a say in the direction a project takes.

The democratic leadership style encourages teams to share ideas, making it ideal for organizations in which innovation and creativity are important.

Autocratic leadership

Autocratic leadership is in many ways the opposite of democratic leadership. Under this leadership style, leaders make decisions without consulting or gathering input from employees who report to them.

Autocratic leaders expect employees to comply with the leader’s decisions. This leadership style is suited to situations and careers in which teams follow strict guidelines.

Laissez-faire leadership

This is a highly flexible style of leadership. Under this style, leaders afford a great deal of authority to their employees. Laissez-fair leadership can empower employees by trusting them to work in the way they feel is best for them, potentially making them more efficient. 

Transactional leadership

Transactional leadership involves rewarding employees for exactly the work they do. For example, a transactional leader may reward a marketing team with a scheduled bonus for generating a certain number of leads.

Transactional leadership may be based on effort, results or both. For example, a manager may offer a marketing agent a bonus for sending 20 marketing emails, or the employee may only receive the bonus if their emails result in conversions.

Coach-style leadership

As the name suggests, this leadership style is one in which a leader identifies and nurtures the individual strengths of the members of their team.

Using this leadership style, a leader may also focus on devising strategies that help the team work better as a unit. There are some similarities between this style of leadership and strategic and democratic leadership. However, coach-style leadership places greater significance on the development.

This is a highly effective style of leadership in situations where each employee can achieve more by focusing on a goal that matches their expertise and skillset, as opposed to all employees having the same set of objectives.

Bureaucratic leadership

In bureaucratic leadership, leaders make most of their decisions based on established practices and company policy. A leader who exercises this leadership style may be more flexible than an autocratic leader.

This is a useful leadership style in companies and organizations where strict compliance to rules, regulations, deadlines and guidelines is essential to achieving results.

Servant leadership

Servant leadership is a people-first approach and a belief that team members are more effective when they feel professionally and personally fulfilled. Servant leaders sometimes receive a high level of respect because of the emphasis they place on employee collaboration and satisfaction.

Servant leadership is well-suited to organizations in any industry regardless of size. It is, however, most commonly found in nonprofit organizations. Leaders who use this style focus on building employee morale and helping people engage with their work.

Visionary leadership

Visionary leadership involves encouraging progress and promoting periods of change through inspiring employees. Visionary leaders also try to earn trust for new ideas while establishing strong organizational bonds.

This type of leadership is an excellent fit for small organizations that are experiencing fast-paced growth. It can also help large organizations that are going through transformations such as corporate restructuring.

What is the best leadership style?

It’s important to keep in mind that the most assured way to be successful as a leader is to borrow from a range of styles. This flexibility allows you to alternate your leadership style depending on what goal you are trying to achieve. Developing your leadership abilities may equip you to combine aspects of different styles at the same time when necessary, making you a much more capable leader.

Through gaining an understanding of these various leadership types, the situations they are best suited for and the outcomes they are effective at achieving, you can select the right leadership style for your current situation.