9 common leadership styles: Which type of leader are you?

There is never a one-size-fits-all leadership style for every business – all companies operate differently and certain traits will be more successful in some environments than others.

However, having a thorough understanding of various leadership styles enables senior executives to not only adopt the correct characteristics for themselves, but also choose better managers throughout the organisation.

Here is a list of nine common leadership styles and a brief summary of their advantages and disadvantages.

Transformational leadership

Often considered among the most desirable employees, people who show transformational leadership typically inspire staff through effective communication and by creating an environment of intellectual stimulation.

However, these individuals are often blue-sky thinkers and may require more detail-oriented managers to successfully implement their strategic visions. For more information on transformational leadership traits, please click here.

Transactional leadership

Transactional leadership is focused on group organisation, establishing a clear chain of command and implementing a carrot-and-stick approach to management activities.

It is considered transactional because leaders offer an exchange; they reward good performances, while punishing bad practice. While this can be an effective way of completing short-term tasks, employees are unlikely to reach their full creative potential in such conditions.

Servant leadership

People who practice servant leadership prefer power-sharing models of authority, prioritising the needs of their team and encouraging collective decision-making.

Research by Catalyst has claimed this style, described as altruistic leadership by the company, can improve diversity and boost morale. However, detractors suggest servant leaders lack authority and suffer a conflict of interest by putting their employees ahead of business objectives.

Autocratic leadership

A more extreme version of transactional leadership, autocratic leaders have significant control over staff and rarely consider worker suggestions or share power.

Ruling with an iron fist is rarely appreciated by staff, which can lead to high turnover and absenteeism. There can also be a lack of creativity due to strategic direction coming from a single individual.

This leadership style is best suited to environments where jobs are fairly routine or require limited skills. It is also common in military organisations.

Laissez-faire leadership

More commonly used to describe economic environments, laissez-faire literally means “let them do” in French. This is typically translated to “let it be”. As such, laissez-faire leaders are characterised by their hands-off approach, allowing employees to get on with tasks as they see fit.

This can be effective in creative jobs or workplaces where employees are very experienced. However, it is important that leaders monitor performance and effectively communicate expectations to prevent work standards slipping.

Democratic leadership

Also known as participative leadership, this style – as the name suggests – means leaders often ask for input from team members before making a final decision.

Workers usually report higher levels of job satisfaction in these environments and the company can benefit from better creativity. On the downside, the democratic process is normally slower and may not function well in workplaces where quick decision-making is crucial.

Bureaucratic leadership

Bureaucratic leadership models are most often implemented in highly regulated or administrative environments, where adherence to the rules and a defined hierarchy are important.

These leaders ensure people follow the rules and carry out tasks by the book. Naturally, this works well in certain roles – such as health and safety – but can stifle innovation and creativity in more agile, fast-paced companies.

Charismatic leadership

There is a certain amount of overlap between charismatic and transformational leadership. Both styles rely heavily on the positive charm and personality of the leader in question.

However, charismatic leadership is usually considered less favourable, largely because the success of projects and initiatives is closely linked to the presence of the leader. While transformational leaders build confidence in a team that remains when they move on, the removal of a charismatic leader typically leaves a power vacuum.

Situational leadership

Developed by management experts Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in 1969, situational leadership is a theory that the best leaders utilise a range of different styles depending on the environment.

Factors such as worker seniority, the business process being performed and the complexity of relevant tasks all play an important role in what leadership style to adopt for any given situation. For example, situational leaders may adopt a democratic leadership style when discussing commercial direction with senior executives, but switch to a bureaucratic strategy when relaying new factory protocols to workers.

However, many people have a natural leadership style, which can make switching between roles challenging. It can also be difficult to gauge what style is most suitable for certain circumstances, holding up decision-making processes.

Networking your way to executive success

Business does not operate in a vacuum, and for a leader to succeed, interpersonal skills such as relationship building are just as crucial as the technical skills they possess.

We are often taught the importance of networking in the earliest stages of our career – the famous mantra of “it’s not what you know, but who you know”. This critical competency rises even further in importance for those leading an organisation.

With that in mind, it’s essential to find the right balance between quantity and quality when building your executive network. A large network will not necessarily contribute favourably to your career if it is not filled with the appropriate individuals who can drive your executive development.

Therefore, just like any major business activity, a strategic approach to networking is vital. Here are some points to consider when expanding your web of corporate relationships.

Why leaders need to network

So why exactly is networking so important to the modern business leader, and what benefits does it bring?

In a Psychology Today article, author Ray Williams even goes as far to call networking “the essential professional skill”. In the article, he cites numerous experts in the field to build an argument for why networking needs to be a priority for any professional.

For example, he cites Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap who, in their Harvard Business Review article entitled “How To Build Your Network”, claim that networking comes with “three unique advantages: private information, access to diverse skill sets, and power”.

According to Uzzi and Dunlap, business leaders can often recognise these three advantages being enacted in their day-to-day work – however, many do not realise just how big a role networking plays in all this.

Further, in an article for the INSEAD Knowledge blog, Professor of Organisational Behaviour Herminia Ibarra takes a unique spin on the classic networking slogan and argues that “what you know is who you know”. In other words, what and who you know are just as important, and leaders need to learn how to marry these two for the benefit of the business.

“Other things being equal, what is going to give you an edge?” she asks.

“It’s the relationships that you have that allow you to augment what you know and allow you to take the ‘what you know’ and actually to translate it into practice, into something the organisation can use. It makes all the difference.”

The three types of networking

The importance of business networking can certainly not be doubted – however, it’s important to recognise that there is more than one type of networking, and successful leaders need to know how to leverage each one. As outlined in a Harvard Business Review article by Herminia Ibarra and Mark Lee Hunter, there are in fact three types of networks:


Operational networking is when you develop relationships with the right people within your organisation, with the purpose of doing your job better and more efficiently. The relationships tend to be focused internally, although they can be spread across different departments, with the goal of meeting the current operational demands of the organisation.


On the other side of the coin, personal networking is important as it grows your list of contacts outside of the immediate organisational sphere. As such, relationships tend to be focused on those external to the business, and can centre around interests and pursuits beyond the corporate world.

According to Ibarra and Hunter, such relationships are crucial as they play a role in fostering both personal and professional development.


Lastly, strategic networking is one of the most complex – and also one of the most important – forms of relationship building. This focuses on creating connections with high-value individuals both internal and external to the organisation, such as those who are future-oriented and likely to contribute to the positive growth and development of your company.

Ibarra and Hunter outline that when a leader believes he or she is a good networker, they are often only thinking in terms of their operational or personal ability. However, leaders need to learn to “employ networks for strategic purposes” in order to gain maximum value out of their relationships.

It can be a worthwhile exercise to rate yourself on these three types of networking and see if there are any areas for improvement. Assess your current network – are the relationships too focused on the operational and personal level, or is there an overarching strategic goal that governs them?

What makes a good network?

For all three types of network, it is obviously important to create meaningful, lasting relationships that contribute in a positive way to your development. So what characteristics make up a strong network?

The Center for Creative Leadership’s ‘A Leader’s Network How to Help Your Talent Invest in the Right Relationships at the Right Time‘ paper posits one view on the issue, listing three key qualities of a good network. According to the paper, the best networks are:

Open – networks should be open enough that not everyone in your circle knows each other.
Diverse – connections should “cross critical boundaries”, reaching across vertical, horizontal, geographic, demographic and other limits.
Deep – quality, meaningful relationships that can lead you to new information, ideas and resources are crucial.

By strengthening your network-building skills across the three types listed above, and ensuring each connection you make is open, deep and diverse, you can make sure your network is primed to contribute the best possible value for the development of yourself and your business.