As we’ve seen this in month’s blog series on leadership, there are different styles of leadership, different types of teams and many workplace scenarios that call for a diverse range of leadership skills to come into play. 

So now we need to address one final question. What is right for your team and your business? We all have our own character leanings when it comes to a leadership style. Some people are naturally autocratic and some teams respond well to authority, while other leaders are very relaxed and the laissez-faire style helps teams feel free to be creative and ambitious.

However, the leadership style you’re naturally inclined towards might not be appropriate for every situation, it could even fail to motivate those you’re leading. Sometimes teams need a decisive leader who will push teams to accomplish goals by a deadline, and at other times they need an empathic leader who will pitch and get busy with task completion.

For most businesses, a situational approach from leaders tends to yield the best results in terms of productivity and employee satisfaction. This means understanding your natural leadership style that you display on a daily basis, and learning how to shift gears into other styles when the need arises.

Here are six types of leadership styles and what types of situations they work best in. If you aren’t sure what type of leader you are, or what office culture your business promotes, check out some of our earlier blogs.

1. Authoritative Leadership

A true authoritative leader is confident and inspiring. They have a vision, understand the details of the strategy and motivate others to work to their highest level.

The authoritative leader provides direction and keeps the team focused. With this positive and focused approach, the team is driven towards success along a set path.

When This Leadership Style Works Best

Authoritative leadership works best when:

  • A leader is truly competent to take charge.
  • Detailed instructions are not required.
  • Employees already have the tools they need to do their most effective work.

For this style of leadership to be effective, the leader must be experienced and the team competent. If the leader is inexperienced, they will come across as aggressive and arrogant. If the team does not have the skills and knowledge to complete tasks, they will fail and feel incompetent, reducing productivity and morale.

2. Transactional Leadership

A transactional leader bargains with employees. They dangle a carrot in front of each workhorse. If the employee does something positive, they are rewarded. If they don’t meet the exact expectation, they are punished. This style does not encourage workers to grow or think autonomously.

This type of task-oriented leadership focuses on meeting basic expectations. The transactional leader usually sets KPIs and workers are expected to meet targets in formulaic ways, but innovation is not encouraged.

When This Leadership Style Works Best

Transactional leadership may be appropriate when:

  • You are working with team members who are new to a certain type of project or need detailed guidance.
  • Clear goals and a plan to get there will increase productivity.
  • The team will benefit from celebrating victories together or holding each other accountable for project completion.

The downside to transactional leadership is that leaders focus on the work, not the people. Transactional leadership doesn’t foster the human-work connection. It works best in short bursts, such as urgent task completion, or in low-level (and usually low paying) jobs that require repetitive task completion.

3. Servant Leadership

Servant leaders work beside their team members. Their goal is to achieve the best outcome. These leaders make themselves available to help with issues, they help manage tasks and guide employees towards upskilling opportunities and professional development.

Servant leaders coach. They lead by example and never ask anything of their team that they would not do themselves. Servant leaders are focused on constantly transforming their teams into stronger, more efficient, more productive and happier entities. Servant leaders are empathetic and use emotional intelligence to guide their leadership decisions.

When This Leadership Style Works Best

This leadership style is most beneficial when:

  • A team is in desperate need of a great example to look up to and learn from.
  • A team has conflict and needs mending.
  • Big projects require all hands on deck.

Servant leadership can be time-consuming. Servant leaders must be aware that they need to avoid doing all the work. This takes opportunities for growth away from team members. They must also be wary of being too close to projects or team members and missing big picture images or opportunities for improvement.

4. Democratic Leadership

A truly democratic leader gets everyone involved in the decision-making process. The whole team is a part of creating a vision and the ideal way to achieve goals. Democratic leaders embrace group meetings and surveys. They value transparency in decision making. They want their team to feel as involved in work processes as they are.

Employees who work for a democratic leader are aware that they’re part of a larger team. They learn the value of collaboration and know they play a role in the evolution of their work environment. Democratic leaders foster discussion, but they also are able to step in when needed and make a decision that’s guided by overall input.

When This Leadership Style Works Best

A democratic leadership style could help teams when:

  • A new project that will benefit from brainstorming is introduced.
  • There is a problem and fresh ideas are needed to solve the puzzle.
  • Tight-knit, highly collaborative teams are in formation, such as startups or small businesses.

A democratic style can lead to some problems if overused. A leader who never really takes charge and instead lets everyone else debate every decision can lose respect as an authority. Decision making can be delayed, costing the business time and money, and team members can become frustrated without a clear leader to follow or take direction from.

5. Empathetic Leadership

An empathetic leader recognizes that great work starts with engaged workers. This type of leader strives to create a team that feels bonded and connected. The empathetic leader chooses to focus on people first and job second. The most important thing to this type of leader is the happiness of team members and the shared bond.

Empathetic leaders do not micromanage teams, rather, they empower team members to do their work, and offer themselves up as a resource whenever needed. They’re quick to praise workers and offer support when needed.

When This Leadership Style Works Best

Empathetic leadership can be effective when:

  • A competent team knows the job they need to do and how to effectively execute that.
  • Little direction is needed from the leader.
  • The team benefits more from space and independence to complete tasks.

However, an empathetic leader who only focuses on people and not output can leave employees confused and unmotivated. With no clear direction or oversight, such a leader might find that work submitted is not up to standard, filled with errors or even incomplete.

6. Narcissistic Leadership: The One to Avoid

The narcissistic leadership style, also known as a coercive leader, is considered highly undesirable in today’s workplace. Instead of empowering team members to produce high-quality work, the narcissistic leader has an agenda and aims to coerce those they’re leading to carry it out.

Narcissistic leadership is self-centred, often not results-focused, and is disrespectful to team members. This type of leader dictates terms and is not engaged with human emotions. This leads to resentment and apathy from team members, which results in high turnover rates in the workplace.

However, a narcissistic leadership can be appropriate when quick action is needed to avert a crisis. Many people use battlefield situations as an example. In the workplace, making swift decisions and asking workers to carry them out to avert a crisis might be appropriate in a short timeframe, but it should not be the style used in everyday team interactions as it is alienating and deflating for most workers.

Your Most Effective Leadership Style

You are likely to know what leadership style fits most naturally with your character, and if you are a successful leader who is well respected, it is likely that your style fits with the needs of your team and you are using your abilities well. If you feel some friction, maybe it’s time to test yourself and see if you can learn a new approach.

If you haven’t connected with your team members on a personal level, try being an empathetic leader and book some time for individual meetings with employees. Learn more about their career goals, strengths and weaknesses. Listening to their needs could help you understand how your team could work together more cohesively.

If you have been overly empathic and need to take a step back, try being more authoritative with your next project. Approach your team with a clear strategy for completion of the project and let them know that you intend on taking a less immersive role. Allow your team to develop without you and be the guidance they need so that they can develop their skills and be creative independently.