The Most Common Leadership Styles, and How to Find Yours

Written by Brian Montes

On August 19, 2021

While we’ve explored ways to boost accountability in your workplace and assess your organizational health, it is important to realize that these efforts can be much more difficult, if not impossible, without a well-defined leadership team. Having a team that understands their leadership styles, and that fits well together in complementing each other’s strengths and opportunities, is critical to driving the results of a business.

Leadership has been studied as a component of both business and psychology for many years. Kurt Lewin is known for carrying out the first major study of leadership styles. As a result of his study, Lewin classified types of leadership into three major styles, which are still widely referenced today, known as autocratic, participative or democratic, and laissez-faire. These styles are described in the Leadership Styles Today section below. Over the years, many other researchers have continued this study, refining and adding leadership styles based on their own continuation of leadership research.

Leadership Style

Leadership Styles Today

Common Leadership Styles

Today, Lewin’s three major styles of leadership have been expanded into many more; an often-cited number is ten. The ten commonly described styles of leadership as researchers have classified them today are:


Coach: As an empathetic and patient leader, coaches improve staff performance by providing valuable coaching and mentorship to their employees.
Visionary: Visionary leaders communicate a new vision for the future, and are skilled at bringing along the staff to the new shared vision.
Servant: Servant leaders operate with a people-first mindset, and prioritize taking care of their team, encouraging collaboration and engagement.
Autocratic: Autocratic leaders are commanding, driven to achieve, and results-focused. While this can be useful at times, staff may find the approach demotivating if used on a regular basis.
Laissez-faire: Laissez-faire leaders are typically charismatic and promote autonomy among their staff, but at times may cause confusion or uncertainty when support is needed.
Democratic: Democratic leaders work well in a team, and consistently engage their staff in decisions.
Pacesetter: Conscientious and achievement-oriented, pacesetter leaders are often inspiring, but can also be exhausting to work for if not moderated.
Transformational: With good communication skills, these leaders are skilled at supporting staff in moving forward and making decisions.
Transactional: With a focus on performance, transactional leaders drive their teams to hit specific metrics and achieve goals, and are typically practical and pragmatic.
Bureaucratic: Bureaucratic leaders are tradition-focused rule-followers who value structure and have a commitment to the organization.

Identifying Your Leadership Style

What is essential for your organization is ensuring that your leaders know how to identify their leadership styles, and that you can identify yours. First, there are a couple of important attributes of leadership that are worth keeping in mind.

1. Leaders are not born, they are made. Leadership evolves over time, and the best leaders became so by listening to feedback and practicing their skills. Understand your team’s natural strengths and opportunities, and help them develop into the best possible leaders they can be.
2. Leadership is situational. The styles above are not meant to be in use by any individual 100% of the time. Certain situations call for certain leadership styles, and at times, this may require an individual to flex outside of their comfort zone. Again, understanding one’s natural leadership style can help to connect the best ways to do this flexing outside of the natural domain.

That said, there are many tools available to help leaders self-explore and understand their own leadership styles. While a simple internet search will return many ideas, here are two to start with:

Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow from Gallup: Strengths Based Leadership is a popular leadership book that includes an assessment tool for leaders to identify their own leadership strengths. The book reviews four domains of leadership strength: executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking. Throughout the book, real life leaders with strengths within each domain are described.

Five-Factor Model of Personality (McCrae and Costa): While many “personality tests” have been found to be invalid, the five-factor model of personality is widely accepted across psychologists as an indicator of adult personality, which tends to be consistent across situations. While different leadership styles can be applied in different situations and by different personality types, having an understanding of your own personality can be a good indicator of your natural leadership style preferences. The five factors assessed are:

○ Extraversion, a measure of a person’s natural ability to be outgoing, sociable, friendly, assertive and
○ Neuroticism, a measure of a person’s natural ability to be anxious, hostile, self-conscious, insecure, vulnerable
○ Openness to experience, a measure of a person’s natural ability for curiosity, flexibility, vivid fantasy, imaginative, artistic, unconventional nature
○ Agreeableness, a measure of a person’s natural ability to be sympathetic, trusting, cooperative, modest, straightforward
○ Conscientiousness, a measure of a person’s natural ability to be diligent, disciplined, well-organized, punctual, dependable

Strengthening Your Leadership Style

Just as was discussed in our Organizational Culture article, it is important to first have a full understanding of your starting point. In discussing organizational culture, we recommended observing your organization and chatting with employees to see where your culture strengths and weaknesses stood. Similarly, you can strengthen your leadership style by asking for feedback to understand your current strengths and weaknesses.

You might start by talking with employees at multiple levels of the organization, but especially your direct reports, and asking some of the questions below:

● What do I do that makes you feel supported?
● What do you wish I did differently?
● How can I help you to achieve your goals?
● What do you wish was different about our team’s interactions?
● What is your favorite part about working on our team?

After collecting a few answers, review the trends. Then, compare back to the leadership styles we discussed above. Where do you think your natural leadership style falls? Where do you think it might be helpful to stretch your style based on situational or organization needs? How can you craft situations to practice those styles?

Remember, this is a skill, and it will take practice. Since you’ve already boosted accountability in your workplace, you’ll have a great forum to ask for feedback and continue improving as you continue to refine.

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