Leadership Styles

In leadership theory, there is an abundance of leadership styles. It is a commonly studies and controversial topic. Some leadership styles are still contested today on their usefulness or legitimacy. New leadership styles are still emerging too, such as Thought Leadership. Thought leadership seems to focus on providing deep answers to questions (full disclosure, I’m still learning the concept of thought leadership).

No matter what style is used, it is imperative that the leader has the acceptance of his/her followers in order to be effective. A leader has to establish and effectively communicate their goals, providing direction for change. Some of the top leadership researchers have defined leadership as (as cited by Wren, 1995, p. 41):

  • The creative and directive force of morale (Munson, 1921).
  • The process by which an agent induces a subordinate to behave in a desired manner (Bennis, 1959).
  • The presence of a particular influence relationship between two or more persons (Hollander & Julian, 1969).
  • Directing and coordinating the work of group members (Fiedler, 1967).
  • An interpersonal relation in which others comply because they want to, not because they have to (Merton, 1969).
  • Transforming followers, creating visions of the goals that may be attained, and articulating for the followers the ways to attain those goals. (Bass, 1985; Tichy & Devanna, 1986).
  • The process of influencing an organized group toward accomplishing its goals (Roach & Behling, 1984).
  • Actions that focus resources to create desirable opportunities. (Campbell, 1991).”

Some of the most popular leadership styles are:

Transactional – These leaders tend to focus on contingent rewards, ignoring problems, micro-managing, and using punishments and humiliation to get the work completed by followers.

Transformational – This leadership style inspires followers to a higher moral conduct, encouraging learning and teaching from each other (the leader included). These leaders encourage followers to take initiative to become better with an emphasis on intellectual stimulation and inspirational motivation.

Servant – These leaders have a people-first frame of mind and thrive off of follower satisfaction and collaboration. These leaders love to build up employee morale and help people re-engage.

Situational – Leadership style that is based on contextual factors and the overall situation, paying attention to followers’ level of readiness. Situational leaders are constantly adjusting their leadership style from directive, managing, coaching, and delegating, depending upon the maturity level of each follower.

Charismatic – These leaders inspire their followers to attain shared goals, often garnering unquestioning obedience. The followers are often influenced by their perception of the leader having exceptional qualities regardless if the leader actually has them.

Laissez-Faire – A leadership theory based on a hands-off approach where the leaders provide the tools and resources and then lets everyone else make decisions, solve problems, and accomplish the work.

Theory X – Based on management taking control on all levels to result in higher employee production (dictate and control).

Theory Y (aka Participative or Democratic) – Based on management incorporating employee involvement on decision-making and input (engage and empower).

There are still many more leadership styles that I have not addressed, including Pacesetter, Autocratic, Visionary, and Coach.  Beyond that, some theorists like to divide leadership styles into categories, such as the six common emotional leadership styles (Visionary, Coaching, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting, and Commanding). No matter how people group the leadership styles, there will typically be some overlap along the way.

Do you know what Leadership Style you tend to use the most? Do you use more than one style?


Clawson, J. G. (2013). Level three leadership: Getting below the surface. (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

McGregor, D. (1960). The human side of enterprise. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Wren, J. T. (1995). The leader’s companion: Insights on leadership through the ages. New York: The Free Press.

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