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4 Types of Leadership Styles Every Manager Should Know

Written by: Wilson College   •  Jun 6, 2023
A team leader speaks to a group of employees seated at a conference table.

4 Types of Leadership Styles Every Manager Should Know

Effective leadership is the cornerstone of a productive and motivated workforce, and key to profitability and growth. Professionals who work to develop their own leadership style are better equipped to navigate the complexities of a rapidly changing business landscape. Understanding the benefits and drawbacks of different leadership styles is essential to becoming an effective leader.

Business professionals should learn the principal four types of leadership styles so they can choose which fits their personal approach and which might be preferable for a particular situation. Those who hope to become leaders should consider the benefits of earning an advanced degree, such as a Master of Organizational Leadership, to help them understand different leadership techniques and develop a leadership style that suits their team’s and organization’s goals.

Why Is Leadership Important in Business?

Capable leadership is essential to any organization’s success. Influential leaders play a crucial role in setting a company’s direction, providing guidance and support to team members, and making decisions that benefit the organization as a whole. When leaders create a positive work environment that fosters engagement and productivity, their organizations are better positioned to meet the organization’s goals and achieve success.

On the other hand, poor leadership can have serious negative consequences. When leaders are ineffective, team members may feel unsupported and undervalued, which can lead to low morale, decreased productivity, and high turnover among staff. Poor leaders may also make decisions that are detrimental to the organization, resulting in lost profits and a damaged reputation. In the worst case, bad leadership can lead to a toxic work environment that causes irreparable harm to the organization, either financially or reputationally.

4 Types of Leadership Styles

While there are several different leadership styles, leaders should be able to switch to whatever style meets the moment and best complements their employees. Here are four types of leadership styles to consider when taking charge of a team.

1. Autocratic Leadership

In the autocratic leadership style, a single individual holds a high degree of control and decision-making authority. The leader makes the decisions and expects team members to follow instructions without question. Autocratic leaders tend to be very direct in their communications and focus on results, with little consideration for the opinions and ideas of their team members.

One advantage of autocratic leadership is that it can be very efficient. Because leaders drive decision-making and team members aren’t expected to contribute, there is little room for confusion or disagreement. This feature of the leadership type can be beneficial in situations where leaders need to make quick decisions or in high-pressure environments where there is no time for debate.

However, when a single leader makes every decision, innovation can be stifled, and the organization’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances or take advantage of new opportunities may be limited. It may also result in lower morale and disengagement from employees who feel their contributions are not valued.

Autocratic Leadership Example

An example of an autocratic leader might be a restaurant manager who is responsible for making most of the establishment’s decisions without seeking input from workers. In a busy kitchen, decisions need to be made on the fly in response to accidents, complicated orders, or missing staff. This type of environment can benefit from having a single leader who can dictate to the rest of the staff to keep them focused on the same goals.

2. Democratic Leadership

Democratic leadership emphasizes collaboration and sharing decision-making responsibilities with team members. Rather than leaders making decisions in isolation, democratic leaders encourage input and feedback from their team members to cultivate a more inclusive and participatory work environment where everyone’s ideas are valued.

Democratic leaders often delegate tasks to team members and encourage them to take ownership of their work. This type of leadership can foster a sense of teamwork and camaraderie, leading to increased motivation and productivity among team members. However, decision-making can take longer when a democratic leadership style is employed, as it focuses on building consensus and collaboration.

Democratic Leadership Example

A democratic leadership style might appeal to a store manager. The manager might hold regular team meetings to gauge employees’ thoughts and feelings on improving the workplace, and then incorporate that input into the department’s direction. They might also delegate projects to team members and encourage them to take the initiative on finding a way to get them done.

3. Transformative Leadership

Transformative leadership emphasizes inspiring and empowering team members to achieve shared goals. With this leadership style, the leader acts as a role model and creates a vision for the future that team members can rally behind. Transformative leaders are often charismatic and motivate their team members through enthusiasm and energy.

Transformative leaders focus on developing their team members’ potential and encouraging them to take on challenges that will help them grow. This type of leadership can be especially effective when change is needed, as transformative leaders can inspire and guide their team members through difficult transitions. However, maintaining momentum can be challenging for transformative leaders, as this style requires sustained focus on inspiring and empowering team members.

Transformative Leadership Example

An example of a leader using a transformative style might be a manager at a startup technology company. As the tech industry must constantly innovate in an ever-evolving market, these managers empower their employees with drive and vision. They can utilize their charisma to inspire their workforce in order to help bring to life the systems, services, and products they imagine.

4. Servant Leadership

Of the four types of leadership styles, servant leadership is unique in that it centers on putting the needs of one’s team members before one’s own needs. Servant leaders prioritize the well-being and development of their team members and aim to create a sense of community and shared purpose among them. Servant leaders make the practice of empathy a core component of their leadership style, taking the time to listen to their team members and understand their needs and concerns.

One of the biggest challenges servant leaders face is the difficulty in balancing individual team member’s needs with the organization’s goals as a whole. Servant leaders must be careful to pay attention to the broader goals and objectives of the organization in their efforts to meet the needs of their team members.

Servant Leadership Example

Servant leadership can be particularly effective in healthcare management, as it builds an environment of care for staff members who in turn can more effectively care for the needs of their patients. Healthcare professionals build relationships with their team members, listen to their concerns, and ensure they have the necessary resources and support to provide high-quality and effective care for patients. By creating a culture of empathy and compassion, healthcare professionals can help their staff feel more comfortable and valued, leading to a more positive work environment.

How to Develop Leadership Skills

One proven method of developing leadership skills is through formal education, which provides a theoretical foundation in leadership and management principles. Leadership and management programs help students understand the various leadership styles and the many factors that contribute to effective leadership.

Those interested in pursuing an advanced education may be considering a master’s in organizational leadership vs. an MBA. While many executives have a Master of Business Administration (MBA), a master’s in organizational leadership program provides a strong foundation in the many aspects and qualities of leadership rather than focusing on business subjects like finance and marketing.

Practice is another important way to develop leadership skills. Taking on leadership roles in extracurricular activities, volunteer tasks, or work projects can help individuals gain experience leading teams, making decisions, and managing conflict. By practicing their skills in different settings, leaders can develop their abilities, identify areas for improvement, and gain a better appreciation for the strengths of different leadership styles.

Learn the Types of Leadership Styles That Can Help You Succeed

Understanding different leadership styles is crucial for anyone seeking to significantly impact their business or organization. Whether you are a seasoned manager or a midlevel associate, recognizing the benefits and drawbacks of each of the main four types of leadership styles can help you navigate challenging situations and lead your team to success. By embracing the principles of effective leadership, you can create a positive work environment that fosters innovation, engagement, and growth.

Those interested in developing their leadership skills should consider the benefits of enrolling in Wilson College Online’s Master of Organizational Leadership program. The program’s holistic curriculum covers fundamental leadership principles and strategies, focusing on leadership ethics, empathy, and interpersonal dynamics. Discover which leadership style best suits your personal style and career ambitions.


Inc., “7 Ways to Become a Business Leader People Are Excited to Follow”

Indeed, “8 Common Leadership Styles (Plus How to Find Your Own)”

Indeed, “8 Types of Management Styles for Effective Leadership”

Indeed, “What Is the Importance of Leadership?”

Verywell Mind, “How to Lead: 6 Leadership Styles and Frameworks”

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