12 Leadership Styles for Different Business Types and Work Environments

Leadership stylesLeadership styles

Leadership isn’t about you. It’s about the effect you have on the people who rely on you. The best way to maximize your potential as a leader? Learn how to adjust your leadership style to fit any given situation.

Overall, there are 12 distinct types of leadership styles you can harness to succeed in any given situation.

Choosing the right style is crucial, both for your own success and that of your team.

Recent statistics highlight this. According to researchers, 70% of US employees are unhappy in their jobs due to bad leadership. As a result, their performance suffers.

So how do you choose the right leadership style? It’s easier than you think. Continue reading to find out how.

The Meaning of Leadership

There are three keys to effective leadership.

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way. — John C. Maxwell

Acronyms are good for memory retention. Here’s one that will help you cement what leadership means inside your mind.



First, you must embody the attitude and characteristics you expect from staff. If you expect them to concentrate on the task at hand, but are constantly engaging in gossip with team members, nobody will take you seriously.

Second, you should empower your staff to take charge of any scenario they’ll encounter on the job. If people are asking questions about every single situation, that’s a big problem. It steals your attention from higher impact activities and indicates your staff lacks confidence.

Third, you need to empathize with your staff and their struggles. If you aren’t able to relate, they’ll feel resentful of you and your position. People are happier with leaders who understand them. And they will work harder to achieve your company’s mission if you demonstrate how much you care on a regular basis.

Combine all three elements of leadership to fire up your staff, raise their self-esteem, and keep them motivated in the long-term.

Engage your self-awareness to ensure you’re embodying your vision, culture, and philosophy on a daily basis.

Encourage your crew to take ownership of their role for a more empowering experience.

Enlist your inner empathy to make sure every last employee feels like they belong.

Situational Awareness and Leadership

Different settings require different styles of leadership.

Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results, not attributes. — Peter Drucker

No leadership style is inherently “good” or “bad.” Every leadership style is useful in a certain context.

Your best bet? Be flexible and agile. Adjust in real time.

Sometimes your customer or client is thrilled with their experience. Other times, the same customer or client might be unhappy or even irate, though this should be rare.

Would you handle a satisfied and upset customer with the exact same strategy? Probably not.

Satisfied customers are easy. Find out what they liked, who was responsible, and how to replicate the effect. Done!

Unsatisfied customers are hard. You’ll have to pinpoint the precise cause of dissatisfaction and prevent it from happening again.

Depending on the complexity of your industry, there might be ten, twenty, or even a thousand different scenarios you face on a day-to-day basis.

These are the two most common ones. They highlight you can’t handle every conversation with a customer, client, colleague, or co-worker from the same frame-of-mind.

So which leadership styles can help you and your team deal? Here’s the run-down.

12 Leadership Styles and When to Use Them

Discover how to tailor your leadership style to fit any situation.

Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another. ― John Maxwell

Now let’s dive deep into 12 different leadership styles. Please note you probably won’t need every last one of them.

Focus on the ones that resonate with your purpose and personality.

The more authentically you lead people, the more they’ll trust your judgment. Forcing yourself to apply an incompatible leadership style will make you seem like a phony.

You don’t want that. It’s already difficult to connect with staff, especially folks towards the bottom of your organizational chart.

Your overarching goal is to find common ground. If people feel like you’re “one of them,” it will be easier to persuade them of anything.

graphic listing the 12 leadership styles

1. Strategic Leadership Type

the strategic leadership type

This leadership style occurs at the vision/mission level.

Policies, procedures, and processes are the foundation of any successful organization.

Without a system or strategy to inform your daily decisions, your business is doomed to fail.

What impact do you hope to make in the world? How does your staff factor into that picture?

Every member of your personnel should have clearly defined goals and expectations.

Don’t make them guess what success looks like. Tell them on day one.

2. Autocratic Leadership

The autocratic leadership tpye

This leadership style is strictly at the executive level.

If you’re not careful, autocratic leadership can come off as “bossy” or even “authoritarian.”

It’s rarely the best option. But there are exceptions. I’ll illustrate the most obvious one below.

Let’s say you work in health care, insurance, or some other industry with strict laws and regulations.

Failing to follow those rules could easily result in a lawsuit or credibility crisis. If that’s true, be firm and inflexible.

Another appropriate use of autocratic leadership is when a decision has little effect on everybody else, i.e. what meeting software to use.

3. Transactional Leadership Style

the transactional leadership type

This leadership style is great for sales and commission roles.

Leading sales staff is simple. “Sell the product/service or you won’t earn a good commission.”

Yes, you should provide them with reliable scripts and systems to utilize, but performance is on them.

Sound harsh? It’s really not. Imagine running a car dealership. You don’t motivate car salesmen by being nice.

You motivate car salesmen by giving a big commission in exchange for selling a car that earns an even bigger profit.

4. Laissez-Faire “Leadership” Type

a laissez faire ethic isn't really a leadership style - but it's common and sometimes it does work

This leadership style is perfect for artsy or creative types.

Artists and content creators have low tolerance for micromanagement. Don’t be too bossy.

While they should create art or content that achieves a desired effect, you shouldn’t overstep your bounds.

Creative types such as writers and web designers have spent thousands of hours mastering their craft (at least the good ones have).

When someone with 10% or 1% of their experience tells them what to do, be assured they’re biting their tongue so hard it might fall off.

Great writers know what words tend to evoke certain emotions or user actions, such as sharing a blog post or subscribing to an email list.

Great web designers know what color combinations make content easier to read, resulting in a better user experience and “time-on-page.”

If you hire an expert for a creative task, trust their expertise. Unless it’s something obvious like using the incorrect color for your branding.

5. Transformational Leadership Style

This leadership style is essential in times of disruption.

We’re living in such a time now. The aftermath of the pandemic, wars, and the ways they disrupted our global supply chains are transforming the world and the way it operates as we speak.

In times of disruption, employees need a leader with a reassuring presence that says: “We will survive and thrive in the future.”

This is accomplished by having a solid and forward-thinking plan. It should spells out how your company will weather the storm.

Many web design and digital marketing agencies are struggling. They rely on local businesses, many of whom first shut down due to the virus, and now strain under the burden of inflation.

No business, no budget. The leader of an agency could change their strategy. Remove the local focus and replace it with national outreach.

6. Charismatic Leadership

This leadership style raises your staff’s spirits.

Charisma is all about how you make people feel. You should inspire positive feelings.

Think about Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign message, which promised: “Hope and Change.”

Regardless of your politics, you have to admit it’s an uplifting slogan that touched millions of people.

You don’t have to be an expert orator like Obama, of course. The important things are simple, really: Smile, be friendly, and encourage your staff every day.

7. Democratic Leadership Style

This leadership style makes employees feel valued.

If your lover made every decision without consulting you, you wouldn’t like it.

This behavior reflects a total disregard for how you feel. The same applies to business.

Use surveys and questionnaires to get feedback from staff before you make major decisions.

Regardless of what move you make, they’ll feel involved. Expect less internal resistance from staff.

8. Servant Leadership

This leadership style is all about putting others first.

While this style of leadership is great in theory, you have to be careful in practice.

Effective businesses have clear channels of authority. People should know who’s in charge.

This applies to every level of the organization. Seniors go to project managers. Juniors go to seniors. You get the idea.

If a leader caters to the people beneath their pay-grade, people might become confused about the command structure.

That said, small acts of kindness cause no harm. Feel free to surprise your staff with a catered lunch or Christmas bonus.

9. The Paternal or Maternal Leadership Style

This leadership style is common in family businesses.

A mother runs a spa or salon. Her children work as stylists and massage therapists.

A father runs an auto repair shop. His children work as mechanics and service advisors.

If a child has a horrible day, the parent might go far out of their way to nurture and encourage.

Makes sense? The next style of leadership is quite similar and more appropriate for any business.

10. Coach Leadership

This leadership style gets the best out of your staff.

Unless you run a family business, you probably shouldn’t play “mom” or “dad” to staff.

But you can serve as a coach. It’s the next best thing. This is a great way to build competence and confidence.

The goal is to pinpoint an individual employee’s greatest talents or capabilities and point their efforts in the right direction.

There are two benefits. First, it feels nice to be recognized. They’ll be energized by your praise and want to do an even better job.

Second, the long-term effect is powerful. If you help every employee maximize their strengths, your organization will reach a new level.

11. Pacesetter Leadership

This leadership style amplifies speed and performance.

Competitive runners often have a pacesetter. They set a competitive pace the athlete can meet consistently.

You can achieve the same effect in business. Carefully select high performers to serve as mentors or role-models.

Their goal is to set an example for what performance metrics are possible. To make it feel like a fun game, use a scoreboard.

Even better, offer cost-effective but appreciated rewards. Contests are a great way of doing so. Give a $100 Amazon gift-card to the first person who beats your pacesetter.

12. Situational Leadership

This leadership style is the absolute best.

Like I said at the start, no leadership style is “right” or “wrong.”

You have to analyze the situation before you can determine which one to deploy.

Even so, some styles of leadership are scientifically proven to be more effective than others.

In 1939, a group of researchers discovered democratic leadership led to higher quality output than autocratic.

This global survey of 450 HR professionals found the three most desired traits and attributes from a leadership figure:

  1. Builds trust (charismatic leadership)
  2. Big picture thinker (strategic leadership)
  3. Empowers others (democratic and laissez-faire leadership)

Additionally, the same survey highlighted four highly undesirable traits that would make people very unhappy with their workplace:

  1. Pressure oriented (transactional leadership)
  2. Independent thinker
  3. Market knowledge

Lastly, a massive analysis involving 17,300 managers from 951 organizations in 58 countries determined charismatic and democratic were the most effective leadership styles internationally.

Find the Leadership Style That’s Best for You

In closing, some guidance on choosing your ideal leadership style.

The data sends an unmistakable message. Most employees don’t like being told what to do.

Of course, that’s the entire function of a leader. But you need to work around people’s feelings.

Avoid autocratic leadership unless violating a certain rule or regulation would result in a lawsuit.

Speak in terms of “we” and “us” to ensure your staff the workplace operates on democratic principles.

Only use pressure or transactional leadership for sales and commission positions where it is expected.

Convince people with story and emotion. They’re not interested in market research, no matter how thorough it is.

Earn trust and buy-in with the power of charisma. You can also set clearly defined values within operational documents.

Outside of those situations, you have to read the room and use your brain to determine which leadership style is the best fit.

Selecting a leadership style is hard. Bookmark this article for ease of access. You might need to reference it later! If you know any aspiring leaders who would benefit from this advice, share on Facebook and Twitter.

Read also: Our curated 20 best quotes on business growth!

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