14 Famous Leaders. Each with a leadership style. Image by Sid Maier.

12 Types of Leadership Styles (And Where to Use Each)

The more leadership types you can play, the more influential you are. This article lists a number of them. Along with each style, you’ll find a short definition.

“Throw away those books and cassettes on inspirational leadership. Send those consultants packing. Know your job, set a good example for the people under you and put results over politics. That’s all the charisma you’ll need to succeed.” — Dyan Machan.

Excellent quote but just about completely wrong. Hopefully, this guide will help you understand why this is the case.

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What is a  Leadership Style?

A leadership style is a set of behaviors that one consciously chooses to use that BEST FITS the situation. Therefore, when the situation changes, so should the style.”

Changing leadership style means that you are role flexible. Like changing a set of clothes, you can change your behavior. You can be supportive or directive. You are not locked into a particular leadership style but can vary depending on conditions. 

A leadership style is not the same as a leadership trait. A leadership trait is something stable and active across many situations. For example, if you are an extrovert, that behavior pattern shows up across many different contexts. Likewise, autocratic leaders tend to be autocratic even when they shouldn’t be. That’s the problem with traits — they lack flexibility. But to use the theories mentioned, one has to be adaptable, and willing to change leadership styles to find one that works.

Two Fundamental Questions About Styles

Underperforming organizations are usually overmanned and under led. — Warren Bennis

1. How Many Leaderships Styles Are There?

“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” — said Dr. Linus Pauling (Two times winner of the Nobel Prize).

For example, Kurt Lewin suggested just three leadership styles: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire. You might prefer the laissez-faire style since your people tend to do things without direction. That way, you have lots of time for the golf course.

2. How Many Leadership Styles Do I Need To Be Effective as a Leader?

It depends. It depends on how many different situations you find yourself in. The type of organization you find yourself in is important. For example, we use “team leader” instead of a supervisor. Others routinely use projects and put. group on it.

12 Types of Leadership Styles

Overview. You will find that some styles overlap (i.e., charisma and transformational). They can be used together (facilitative and team leadership). Others are used less frequently (strategic and cross-cultural), and some are opposites (autocratic & participative).

1. The Transformational Leadership Style

“Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits” — Mark Twain.

“It a poor sort of leader who tries to change others, but can’t change themselves.” — Murray Johannsen.

The primary focus of the transformational leadership style is to produce a change in oneself and others. It’s closely associated with the charismatic leadership style and acting as a visionary leader

Some of our most outstanding transformational leaders have been long gone. But we still identify with their goals and ideals. And some of them have millions and millions of followers.

Transformational Leadership Competencies

This is a model of evolving to become a great transformational leader. This is a critical style for change—and who doesn’t need to change? It’s a leadership style for organizational change and personal transformation. Discover four key competencies—four catalysts—for change.

This type of leadership style applies to many of the most famous leaders in history. So you might say if you want the word great next to your name, you better be one.

Best Use

Entrepreneurs. Building something from nothing is never easy. Therefore, entrepreneurs must be transformational if they wish their organization to grow.

Turnaround Officer. Organizations grow, but they also decline. Some say the way individuals manage produces inevitable decline. To reverse this, you need transformational leaders.

Transformational leadership is essential. These leaders have an impact. They are so important that they can cause nations to rise or fall, as mentioned in this short speech. This video talks about the importance of leadership using examples ranging from student organizations to three historical models: Japan, China, and Britain, and three leaders who had such an immense impact on those nations: Emperor Meiji, The Dowager Empress Ci Xi, and Elisabeth I.

2. The Charismatic Leadership Style

So how do you introduce a product no one has ever seen before? Jobs is a showman, a charismatic CEO (I know, they are rare), and a transformational leader. Note the reaction of the audience and the use of humor.

What is charisma, and what is the charismatic leadership style? Charisma (in the male) and charm (in the female) has an ineffable quality — you know it when you experience it. It is sometimes related to the ability to form a positive first impression. When you meet them, you like them. Researchers like House have described the charismatic style, but no universal set of charismatic characteristics exists.

Charismatic leadership encourages particular behaviors in others through force of personality. It’s a set of nonverbal body signals that transmit power, trust, warmth, and likability.

The significant difference between charismatic and transformational leaders involves style and nonverbal communication patterns. Many feel that charisma is something that only experienced live. But others think that you can capture its essence on video and in movies,

Best Use

To Build a Network. Managers are not charismatic typically. The bureaucratic organizations in which they work want nameless workers, sad to say.

3. The Autocratic Leadership Style

David and Ingres, before 1815: Portraits of Napoleon I. Notice the symbols of authority in each portrait.

One leadership style dimension has to do with control and one’s perception of how much power one should give to others. For example, the laissez-faire style implies low control; the autocratic style requires high control, while the participative style lies somewhere between. Kurt Lewin (1939) called these styles: authoritative, participative (democratic), or delegative (Laissez Faire).

Take an online Quiz on these Leadership Styles

Authoritarians are control freaks. They don’t trust others, so many decisions cannot be delegated.

If you were a personality psychologist, you would say that the style is simply an expression of dominance and submissiveness. Also, authoritarians and autocrats are similar in their personality structures.


This type of leadership style has its advocates (see the Academy of Management: When Authoritarian Leaders Outperform Transformational Leaders), but it is falling out of favor due to its many weaknesses (see The Autocratic Leadership Style: Four Strengths and Seven Weaknesses). For example, authoritative works well in a crisis where a decision must be made now. Some people have argued that the style is popular with today’s CEOs; who, a cynic would say, have much in common with the feudal lords of Medieval Europe. 

4. The Facilitative (Democratic/Participative) Leader Type

What is the facilitative leadership style? The participative leadership style (also known as the facilitative leadership style) means the leader gives more control to subordinates. For example, in a large organization, one sets up profit centers or decentralized divisions that can function pretty well without. Sometimes, this type is called the laissez-faire leadership style. It’s a style that’s primarily “hands-off.” 

This is an exceptional leadership type that anyone who runs a meeting can employ. Rather than being directive, one using the facilitative leadership style uses many indirect communication patterns to help the group reach consensus.

It’s hard to order and demand someone to be creative, perform as a team, solve complex problems, improve quality, and provide outstanding customer service. However, the participative style presents a happy medium between over-controlling (micromanaging) and not being engaged and tends to be seen in organizations that must innovate to prosper.

Where and When To Use

Facilitative leadership is critical in certain types of leadership situations where the leader wants to appear to not to lead.

It requires a lot of skill. The amount of direction and face time required. Works well if you have highly trained, highly motivated direct reports. Likewise, use it when one needs a consensus, or you have the time to do so. 

5. The Bureaucratic Leadership Style

“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” — Publilius Syrus.

Tabulating Machine Co., December 1917; Picture by Marcin Wichary

The autocrat and the bureaucrat fit together like a hand and glove. One reason? Obedience to authority. One can argue that authority is the most common type of influence in large groups, such as multinational corporations and government agencies.

In a large bureaucratic organization, you rely on the authority associated with the position. Therefore, both charisma and transformational leadership styles tend to be rare.

When To Use

This type of leadership style needs a sizeable bureaucratic structure, such as a multinational corporation or a government agency. Those who excel don’t necessarily have a significant degree of personal power; they tend to be very good at positional power. Most are skilled at using “the rules” to their advantage. And it doesn’t hurt to have some political savvy as well.

6. Paternalistic and Maternalistic Types of Leadership

Fresco with a coat of arms of Pope Pius VII. Essentially, all Popes look after Catholics; just a shepherd will look after a flock of sheep. Image by: Livioandronico2013

This type of leadership style focuses more on work but still pays attention to the people aspect. In addition, this style can take advantage of the “family” mentality. It allows one to act ethically (in the best interest of others) by demonstrating care for employees in a work setting. 

Some Good Reads:

A Paternalistic Leadership Guide

From Paternalistic To Maternalistic

Situations Of Use  

People like it because the leader has the best interests of their group at heart. This can play out in a nation-state or a corporation. For example, Singapore is sometimes known as a “nanny state” because government tends to provide policies for its citizens that start at the womb and end at the tomb. It also applies to family-owned businesses. However, it would NOT apply to executives of public corporations since the executives, by law, only care about one group of stakeholders — the stockholders. 

7. The Coaching Leadership Style

“A groom used to spend whole days in currycombing and rubbing down his Horse, but at the same time stole his oats and sold them for his profit. “Alas!” said the Horse, “if you wish me to be in good condition, you should groom me less and feed me more.” — Aesop’s Fables.

Most people would not consider coaching to be a leadership style. However, it is one of the most influential of all leadership behaviors when it comes to:

  • Enhancing employee motivation (engagement in HR speak),
  • Dealing with performance problems, and
  • Building individual performance skills.

What’s not to like?

Coaches possess two unique talents — especially the ability to train and lead. Many companies now expect their team leaders to have this ability. 

Situations of Use

Organizations have long been known to waste huge tranches of time and money using training models that don’t work. So supervisors and managers who can genuinely develop skills are a big source of competitive advantage. Also, lacking this leadership style helps explain the dismal engagement numbers in most corporations.

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“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.”— Kenneth Blanchard

8. Transactional Leadership+

The transactional leadership style has two major characteristics: it supports the status quo (in contrast to the transformational leadership style). It tends to be (as its name suggests) about the transaction.  

This leadership type is essential and commonly used — much more than the transformational leadership style. There are two significant definitions in everyday use: one more common to psychology, the other more common to management.


This type of leadership style can work pretty well in business situations where one is using rewards (money) and punishment. Transactional leadership emphasizes results, stays within the existing structure of an organization, and measures success according to that organization’s system of rewards and penalties.

This style works for large organizations because most objectives and outcomes are tangible/quantifiable (i.e., assignments, rubrics, grades), and there is a reward or punishment.

Under transactional leadership, goals and objectives tend toward the short-term. This makes them easier to accomplish. Transactional leaders motivate by using rewards such as money. According to Chris Hughes in the article, “Leading With Transactional Leadership,” you have four types of tips you can use.

That makes it an effortless style if you happen to be a billionaire. It’s also easy to use if you happen to work in a profitable organization full of greed-minded individuals.

Basses Continent Reward Definition.

To a management professor, the transactional leadership style is based on Bernard Bass’s concept of transactional leadership. One aspect is the tendency for an individual to exist within the status quo. Another aspect focuses on contingent reward within the context of an organizational structure.

CEOs tend toward the transactional. That person generally has little interest in making significant changes because they benefited immensely from the system. You might say the c-level rarely wants to change the business model. As a result, we are likely to see Exxon-Mobile exist as an oil company, not an energy company.

The Psychological Definition

This definition stresses that individuals exist within an organizational structure and use corporate rules as a way to get things done. For most people, the structure includes a nation-state and a place of work, such as a corporation. The transactional leader exists in a world of conformity and compliance quo. Those exercising transactional leadership style would rarely change norms. It’s sometimes captured in the famous words of advice, “You can’t fight city hall.”

Second, agreements take the structure of if A then B. If you meet contract requirements, you get the deal. If you meet my expectations, you will be rewarded as a quid pro quo – or “this for that.” That means there is a relationship, a relationship that must include trust. Trusting that customers will pay for the candy at the counter is another thing entirely about the marriage vows. Inherent are the nuances of what social psychology calls “The Law of Reciprocity.”.

Third, you create a rule or expectation and associate positive reinforcement with it. The brilliant ones will also say what they don’t want and then have some type of punishment. This is a common form of operant conditioning, more popularly known as behavior modification.

Fourth (and this is important), there must be trust. If not, the whole thing falls apart.

9. Emergent Leadership

  “The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.”Confucius.

Contrary to the belief of many, groups don’t automatically accept a new “boss” as the leader. Instead, emergent leadership is what you must do when taking over a new group. One way to emerge so involves the exchange of favors. An exchange can be hierarchical between the boss and subordinate or between two individuals of equal status. But for this leadership style to work, you must know how to develop, maintain and repair relationships.

10. Situational Leadership

In the 1950s, management theorists from Ohio State University and the University of Michigan published a series of studies to determine whether leaders should be more task or relationship (people) oriented. The importance of the research cannot be overestimated since leaders tend to have a dominant style, a leadership style they use in a wide variety of situations.

In this case, the fundamental question related to the situational context associated with task and relationship issues. Which works best?

Surprisingly, the researchers discovered that there is no best style: leaders must adjust their leadership style to the situation and the people being led. 

Choosing the right style at the right time and in the right situation is a crucial element of leader effectiveness. But that’s not what most people do—they have one style used in many contexts.

It’s like having only one suit or dress which you wear everywhere. But, of course, all of us would agree that having only one set of clothes is ridiculous. But then, so is having only one leadership style.

And so today, situational leadership means something entirely different than what you think it does.

11. Military Leadership

Great storytelling here. Admiral William H. McRaven was a Navy seal and shared what here learned about leadership and success during the training.

The military services stress the importance of leadership at all levels and have extensive programs designed to develop leadership skills in the officers and noncommissioned officers. The context is war and peace as practiced by the military services such as the US Army and US Air Force. 

12. The Servant Leadership Style

While servant leadership is more commonly associated with religious organizations, there are other contexts as well.

“The Roots Of Our Problems Are: Wealth Without Work, Pleasure Without Conscience, Knowledge Without Character, Commerce Without Morality, Science Without Humanity, Worship Without Sacrifice, Politics Without Principles.” – Mohandas K. Gandhi

Some leaders have put the needs of their followers first. For example, the motto of the Los Angeles Police Department, “To Protect and Serve.” reflects this philosophy of service. But one suspects servant leaders seem rare in business. It’s hard to imagine a CEO who puts the needs of employees first before the needs of the stockholders and the bankers.

Since transformational leaders take their followers into the light or the darkness, it’s helpful to have a set of values that uplift rather than destroy. One such set of values is known as servant leadership. While this leadership style has been around for thousands of years, the American Robert Greenleaf coined the term servant leader in 1970 in his book The Servant as Leader.

This leadership type rests on a set of assumptions (Greenleaf, 1983). In this case, it is not the leader who benefits most but the followers. We have leaders not acting selfishly but socially. A second aspect is an orientation toward service with a primary direction toward using moral authority. Finally, the approach emphasizes positive values such as trust, honesty, fairness, etc.


“Throw away those books and cassettes on inspirational leadership. Send those consultants packing. Know your job, set a good example for the people under you and put results over politics. That’s all the charisma you’ll need to succeed.” — Dyan Machan.

Excellent quote but just about completely wrong. Hopefully, this guide will help you understand why this is the case.

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Burns, James MacGregor, (1982). Leadership, New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.

Follow the Introverted Leader | Nikki Ling | TEDxYouth@ISBangkok

Odumeru, J., & Ogbonna, I. (2013). Transformational vs. transactional leadership theories: Evidence in literature, International Review Of Management And Business Research, 2(2), 355-361. Retrieved from

Yukl, Gary. (2013) Leadership In Organizations., 8th Edition Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press.

Last Updated: November 4, 2023

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