Every team makes mistakes, whether that’s missing deadlines or creating information silos. As a team leader, working with your team is how you make a difference. A good leader charts a course for their team, aligns members to a unified goal, and creates a culture of accountability in the workplace.
There’s no “correct” way to be a leader. It’s not about which leadership style is the best, it’s about the one that suits your team’s needs. And being a leader is different from being a manager. Managers might be responsible for leading teams, but leaders are people who inspire and motivate their team toward a shared vision, regardless of their seniority.
If you need some guidance to give your leadership more structure, choosing a style can help. Knowing what type of leadership style speaks to you can guide you toward a more consistent decision-making and team-building process. Here’s what the different types of leadership styles are and how to choose one to become a better leader.
What’s a leadership style?
A leadership style is how you lead and interact with your team based on your team’s needs, your personality, and company culture. Finding out what your leadership style is will help define your strengths and skills. It can help you find opportunities for growth or any areas for improvement to become an effective leader.
Finding your leadership style isn’t a short, one-time process, since you’ll need to adapt it to new situations. As well, your style may evolve over time as you learn new things and work with different teams. It depends on factors such as the size and composition of your team, the nature of the work you’re doing, and the stage of your team’s development.
18 types of leadership styles
Everyone experiences leadership challenges, from delegating tasks to giving feedback. Identifying your leadership style can help you overcome any challenges you face.
Learn about 18 common ways to lead, and see if one style jumps out to you as one you’re already following or that could be effective for your team.
1. Transformational leadership
If you’re a transformational leader, you focus on inspiring and motivating your team to achieve a shared vision or goal. You emphasize creating a positive organizational culture that fosters creativity, innovation, and personal development. As its name suggests, transformational leadership is all about helping people and teams transform.
To be a great transformational leader, you should care deeply about the company and its employees. It requires a high degree of personal investment and emotional intelligence. That’s why this style is a good choice for fast-growing teams who love to innovate.
Steve Jobs is a great example: he inspired his team at Apple while taking his company from the brink of bankruptcy to one of the most valuable businesses in the world.
Here are some of the types of leadership skills you’ll need to be a transformational leader:
2. Delegative leadership
A delegative leadership style empowers team members to make decisions and take responsibility for their work. If you’re a delegative leader, you provide guidance and support but ultimately employ a hand-off approach. You trust your team to make the right choices.
The increased autonomy from this type of leadership fosters better accountability, teamwork, and trust. Sometimes, though, a delegative leadership style can create confusion within your team if you don’t communicate correctly. Team members may not know who to look to for direction or conflict resolution.
Key skills for delegative leaders include:
3. Authoritative leadership
If you give clear direction with specific goals, you might have an authoritative leadership style. As an authoritative leader, sometimes known as an autocratic leader, you’re confident and assertive, and you provide guidance to help team members achieve results.
This eliminates confusion, leading to faster decision-making and improved performance. Unfortunately, offering one-sided authority can seem inflexible and extreme. A heavy hand that doesn’t let team members make their own choices might make them feel undervalued.
An authoritative leader should have:
4. Transactional leadership
If you’re a transactional leader, you enforce the exchange of rewards (or consequences) to help your team achieve specific goals. You set clear expectations and provide incentives for achieving them.
This style lays out clear expectations and can lead to improved performance and productivity. It’s most useful in structured work environments. But a transactional leadership style can also restrict your team’s creativity and add unnecessary stress.
It’s not well-suited to complex or quickly-changing environments like tech startups because expectations can get lost in the hustle. Key skills you’ll need as a transactional leader include:
5. Visionary leadership
As a visionary or affiliative leader, you inspire teams to focus on the big picture and prioritize teamwork and collaboration. You create a positive work culture and emphasize the well-being of the team as a whole.
From this leadership style, team members feel like they’re part of something, and can be less likely to experience burnout at work. But this can result in a lack of direction or accountability and be overly reliant on consensus instead of individual voices.
If you want to be a visionary leader, you should strive to have these skills:
6. Participative leadership
As a participative leader, you zero in on collaboration and involve team members in your decision-making process. You encourage open communication and feedback not just between coworkers, but between employees and managers.
Participative leadership is similar to a democratic leadership style because it acts as a democracy, fostering a safe space for everyone to pitch and implement new ideas.
This can also be a time-consuming leadership style because you need to give space to every person on the team. You could also develop a lack of clear direction if your team members aren’t self-motivated or creative thinkers. Use participative leadership styles on smaller teams and in less structured work environments.
Key skills for participative leaders include:
7. Democratic leadership
Democratic leadership, like participatory leadership, prioritizes collaboration. However, as a democratic leader, you take this one step further by promoting a democratic environment where all team members can contribute ideas, from planning to decision-making.
This style is ideal for teams in less-structured work environments that require creativity and innovation. Democratic leadership fosters diverse perspectives and approaches while ensuring everyone’s voice is heard. But it can lead to slower decision-making processes as more people get involved.
The key skills for democratic leaders include:
8. Adaptive leadership
As an adaptive leader, you prioritize flexibility in response to changing circumstances, like the needs of your team or project hiccups. This leadership style requires a willingness to embrace change, take risks, and be innovative since you need to adjust quickly to new situations while staying on track for overall goals.
Adaptive leadership requires a combination of strategic thinking, practical problem-solving skills, and strong communication and collaboration. Use adaptive leadership in rapidly changing environments like startups, where traditional leadership approaches may be too slow or bureaucratic to be effective.
These are some key skills for adaptive leaders:
- Strategic thinking
- Emotional intelligence
9. Authentic leadership
As an authentic leader, you prioritize transparency and honesty in your leadership style. You’re true to yourself and your values and encourage team members to be the same. By emphasizing everyone’s unique qualities, you empower your team to bring their own subject matter expertise to the table.
Authentic leadership requires self-awareness, strong communication skills, and the ability to build relationships based on trust and respect. As an authentic leader, you’ll clearly communicate your values and vision to inspire your team to work towards goals.
Authentic leaders have skills like:
- Active listening
10. Charismatic leadership
If you’re a charismatic leader, you motivate team members through your natural charisma. You articulate a clear vision and inspire your team and stakeholders to follow your lead.
Charismatic leadership can be highly effective in driving change and achieving results. But it can also be a double-edged sword. You may end up relying on your personal charm to get things done rather than nurturing your team’s abilities.
Key skills for charismatic leaders include:
- Strong communication skills
- Visionary thinking
- Ability to inspire and motivate others
11. Coaching leadership
If you employ a coaching leadership style, you prioritize developing your team members’ skills through personalized mentoring and one-on-one meetings. By promoting a culture of continuous learning and improvement, you help your team reach their full potential — both together and on an individual level.
Important skills for coaching leaders include:
12. Distributed leadership
As a distributed leader, you share leadership responsibilities and decision-making power with your team members. You rely on the expertise and skills of everyone involved, rather than just your own, to drive success.
To use distributed leadership effectively, you need to have a high level of trust and collaboration among your team members. You also need to let go of control, which can be difficult but worth it.
This leadership style has the potential to be highly effective in promoting innovation, creativity, and a culture of ownership within your team. Distributed leaders have skills like:
- Conflict resolution
13. Empathetic leadership
As an empathetic leader, you understand that your team isn’t just a means to an end. They’re people with their own lives, experiences, and emotions. That’s why you make a conscious effort to get to know them on a personal level, whether through regular check-ins, team-building exercises, or one-on-ones.
By demonstrating empathy, you create an environment where team members feel valued, supported, and motivated to do their best work.
To be an empathetic leader, you need to listen and respond to the needs of team members, which can sometimes be hard to do when people have different needs. You should also commit to building a culture of trust and mutual respect.
Key skills for empathetic leaders include:
- Active listening
- Emotional intelligence
14. Inclusive leadership
Inclusive leaders actively seek out diverse perspectives. If you’re inclusive, you’re open to feedback and ideas from team members with different backgrounds and experiences. You focus on creating a work environment that values and respects diversity in all its forms so that all your team members feel seen, heard, and valued.
Inclusive leadership requires a deep understanding of different perspectives and experiences to create a sense of psychological safety within the team. This helps people reach their full potential with creativity, innovation, and problem-solving. Inclusive leadership impacts the entire business, so it requires effort and commitment.
Key skills for inclusive leaders include:
- Active listening
15. Servant leadership
Servant leaders prioritize team members’ needs above their own. If you’re a servant leader, you focus on empowering your team members through mentorship, guidance, and servitude.
By doing so, you build trust and respect within your team and encourage members to contribute their best work. This leadership style promotes teamwork, collaboration, and accountability.
Key skills for servant leaders include:
- Active listening
- Emotional intelligence
- Coaching and mentoring
16. Situational leadership
Situational leadership is a flexible leadership style that focuses on adaptability. As a situational leader, you pivot and meet project developments based on the skillsets of your team members. This lets you promote growth and meet problematic situations head-on.
To be an effective situational leader, you need to have a deep understanding of your team members’ strengths and weaknesses. You also need to provide the right level of support and guidance for each team member based on their individual needs.
Situational leaders are skilled at providing feedback, setting clear goals, and communicating expectations.
Key skills for situational leaders include:
- Flexibility and adaptability
- Active listening
17. Strategic leadership
As a strategic leader, you set a clear direction and develop a plan to achieve it. Effective strategic leadership requires a deep understanding of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) since these let you develop in-depth plans.
Use strategic leadership to promote growth and long-term success. Empower your team to take calculated risks, experiment with new ideas, and set big goals.
Key skills for strategic leaders include:
- Visionary thinking
- Strategic planning and execution
- Analytical and critical thinking
- Effective communication
18. Organizational leadership
As an organizational leader, you manage people and resources with efficiency. You optimize the performance of your team, create a positive work culture, and align individuals toward company goals.
To be an effective organizational leader, you’ll need to delegate tasks and create systems that operate smoothly. Use this type of leadership in large, structured work environments where you need to standardize outputs and have streamlined work processes in place.
Key skills for organizational leaders include:
- Strategic thinking
- Team management and delegation
- Process optimization
- Employee engagement and motivation
- Change management
6 tips for identifying your leadership style
No leadership style works for everyone. The key to effective leadership is figuring out which works best for you, your team, and your environment. And sometimes, that takes trial and error.
Here are six tips to help you identify your leadership style:
Identify your purpose: Understanding your purpose and what you want to accomplish can help you find which style works best for you and your team’s goals. For example, if you’re short on time and need to get things done, a delegative style might work best.
Make mistakes: Play around with different leadership styles to find the one that feels the most natural and effective. What may have worked for a previous group may not work for your current one. Some might appreciate transactional leadership, and others might dislike the pressure.
Be authentic: Your leadership values are part of what helps you succeed. Be true to yourself, and while it’s good to take cues from other leaders, don’t focus on emulating someone else’s leadership style. If an authoritative leadership style doesn’t feel right, try adjusting it in a way that works for you.
Ask for feedback: Ask your team members how they want to be led. This will help you understand how they’ll respond to your leadership style. They might prefer more direct instruction than participative leadership allows, or they might thrive under transformational leadership.
Brainstorm: Consider different scenarios and challenges you may face in your role, and think about which leadership style would be most effective in each situation. Then you can assess what style might work best for your roles and responsibilities. This is also known as situational leadership.
Find a coach to help you: If you’re feeling stuck, a second opinion about your leadership style can help. Getting input from a trusted mentor or career coach is a great way to identify your leadership style, improve your skills, and gain a better understanding of what works best for you and your team.
Is it possible to change your leadership style?
Anyone can change their leadership style. In fact, you should change it to adapt to different situations and workplaces. To be an effective leader, you need to empower your team members to reach their goals — and since every team is different, they need different leadership approaches.
But changing the way you lead is easier said than done. Leadership considers more than just your team. It’s about your personality, instincts, and tacit knowledge. Altering your leadership style takes effort and work.
Start by seeking out some leaders you admire. This can be a famous leader, a mentor, or someone on your team. You can also consult leadership books and resources to discover more about the mindsets and decisions of different leaders. Find out how they define and practice their leadership styles, and choose one to emulate.
Next, list the skills you should have to be that kind of leader. While effective communication and goal-setting are key to most leadership styles, each also has its own focus areas, like conflict resolution, team-building, or cognitive empathy. If you don’t already have these skills — or if they just aren’t your strengths — decide how to help them grow.
Remember: charting the course for a new style doesn’t mean that you’ll never change again. You may need to adjust your approach depending on the needs of your team or the circumstances of a particular project.
You might also discover that one leadership style doesn’t work for you, and that’s okay. Being a leader (and simply being a person) is a process of ongoing learning and growth.
Ready to become a better leader?
Identify what type of leader you want to be and start paving the way to get there. Remember that your leadership style can, and will, change over time as you evolve, whether you’re working on a team of democratic leaders or prefer to take the authoritative route.
By identifying your strengths, weaknesses, and preferences, you can help lead your team to success. Finding a type of leadership style that works can help you become a better leader — and maybe even a great one.