Being a leader is not an easy task. After you become one, you’re no longer responsible for just your own work. You’re accountable for your team as a whole and every team member's work individually. Some of us strive to become a leader. Others prefer to specialize in their craft and stay in their lanes. That’s totally fine because not everyone has the qualities to be a leader. Some people are born leaders, but being a good leader is also a skill that you can master through mentorship and training.
You need to know that there are no universal guidelines for how to be a good leader. Different teams require different ways of motivating them. It takes time before you figure out what your favorite leadership style is that will also make your team feel comfortable.
Kurt Lewin first defined leadership styles in the 1930s. He developed a framework that distinguished three major leadership styles: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire. They served as a base for the styles that followed. Let’s have a look at seven different leadership styles and their characteristics.
1. Autocratic leadership
Autocratic leadership leaves very little room for team members’ input. Leaders who employ this style make decisions on their own most of the time, and they don’t take the opinions of team members into consideration. While autocratic leadership has a few advantages, like a short amount of time spent on decision making, it’s gradually becoming less effective because it’s too strict. In extreme cases, employees with no space for creativity and innovation might rebel and eventually quit.
An autocratic leader is laser-focused on results and hitting key performance indicators which leaves little to no time for mentorship and team members' growth. While it might be an uncomfortable model for most employees, autocratic leadership can turn out effective in companies with strict guidelines.
2. Democratic leadership
Democratic leadership falls on the other end of the spectrum. Democratic leaders take the voice of their employees into account while making decisions. Team members feel that they’re being taken care of and that there’s space for them to make the most of their creativity. This leads to higher job satisfaction and increased productivity. Leaders building their teams in environments like this have a solid foundation for building strong teams that can achieve incredible results. On the flip side, democratic leadership can be problematic when you need quick decision-making.
3. Laissez-faire leadership
The literal meaning of this French term translates to “let them do.” Laissez-faire is also known as a hands-off leadership style. What does that all mean? Leaders that run their teams using this style give their team members the green light to do whatever they think is best for the business. They have a lot of freedom to experiment with tactics they use. Leaders are usually happy to mentor their employees and give them any advice they need. Outside of that, they don’t interrupt employees who do their job based on what they think works best for them.
Depending on the team, laissez-faire can be a little tricky. If your team members struggle with procrastinating, letting them do things on their own terms can backfire eventually. Your employees need to have strong organizational skills and experience for this leadership style to work out. Otherwise, it’s easy to end up with a bunch of people confused about what your expectations for them are.
Transformational leaders are good at transferring their vision to their teams. Excellent communication skills allow them to get people on board with their ideas related to what the team is trying to accomplish. High levels of empathy and emotional intelligence help them inspire people to act exactly the way they want them to.
Leaders that use this style are motivated more by committing to meet the demands of the whole company rather than just focusing on the growth of each team member separately. Setting clear goals helps the leaders increase productivity and engagement among their employees. This, in turn, leads to a lower turnover rate. One thing to be wary about is that, at some point, team members will need constant external motivation to be able to push harder. Depending on how much commitment it takes from a leader to meet organizational objectives, there might not always be the time for that.
5. Bureaucratic leadership
Bureaucratic leadership is tedious. A bureaucratic leader wants his team members to do everything by the book. I think we can all agree that nobody likes being constrained by too many rules. Yet, in some industries, this seems to be the most effective leadership style. It benefits work that has anything to do with safety risks or routine tasks that need to be done repeatedly. Don’t try to implement this leadership style if you’re managing an innovative team of creative people. In the long run, you’ll suffocate them.
6. Servant leadership
A servant leader is simply there for their team. Whatever the needs of the team members are, this leader’s main goal is to make team members feel that they’ll do the best they can to help them succeed. They lead with empathy and bond with their teams. Usually, they’re responsible for building a company culture that makes people feel good about working in a particular place. They also never put themselves ahead of their people. That’s what usually makes them highly respected people, too.
7. Transactional leadership
Transactional leaders are very KPI-oriented. They set goals and a system that rewards employees with monetary bonuses for achieving those goals. With this leadership style, it’s very clear what’s expected of the team members. The promise of financial rewards leads to increased motivation and productivity.
While it sounds like this might be the best leadership style from an employee’s perspective, you’ll eventually notice its downsides. I’ve experienced transactional leadership myself, and I have to admit that too much focus on getting a bonus leads to a loss of creativity and innovation. At some point, you start noticing what works best for getting a bonus, and you start churning out a lot of similar content, hoping it leads to a bigger reward.
Transactional leadership can be highly effective for sales teams. They’re always focused on hitting their targets, and sales bonuses are among the best ways to motivate them. However, if you’re a leader of a creative team, consider using a different leadership style.
If you’re a leader or aspire to become one someday, remember that each of the leadership styles leaves some space for your input. There are similarities between some of them, so you can mix and match their characteristics depending on your needs.
Your choice will also depend on the team you manage as a whole and your team members' individual characteristics. Each of them might require different stimuli, and you’ll learn what works best for your team along the way. No leadership style is set in stone. Make the necessary adjustments, and don’t be afraid to change to a different framework if you feel that your team needs something different.