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What Is Your Leadership Style? Learn How You Lead and Why It Matters

From the boardroom to the living room, leadership is essential in all walks of life. Leaders have the power to inspire us, motivate us, and hold us accountable. Not everyone is cut out for this esteemed role, but many types of people can rise to the occasion with the proper training and a healthy dose of passion.


In today's complex business world, it is increasingly clear that leadership is not (and should never be) a one-size-fits-all situation. Rather, leadership must be adapted to meet the specific needs of the business at any given point in time, not to mention the talents, personality, and passions of the leader in question.


All this can quickly make the concept of leadership feel complicated or downright overwhelming, so we're here to answer an important question: what are the types of leadership styles? Keep reading to find out — and to learn how to describe your leadership style. 

Benefits of Understanding Different Leadership Styles

Before we delve into various leadership styles, it's important to address another question that may be top of mind: why do the common leadership styles even matter? The answer is simple: these styles influence how effective leaders ultimately are — and whether they can help organizations and individual employees meet ambitious goals.

If you're unable to recognize the various leadership styles or determine how they play out in your own life, you might assume that you're ill-suited to leadership in the first place. If, however, you understand how your unique situation fits into the big picture, you can develop the specific leadership skills needed to improve your performance and that of your organization at large.

Moreover, a thorough understanding of the common leadership styles will help you better respond to approaches that do not mirror your own. 

Seven Types of Leadership Styles and Their Characteristics

When you picture the ultimate leader, who comes to mind? If you name several well-known leaders, you may be surprised to discover that you can match them to just as many different leadership styles.

Leadership is far more varied and nuanced than most people realize, but it tends to fall under a few main categories. We have outlined several of these below:

1. Autocratic Leadership

When many people think of the most memorable historical figures, they picture autocratic leaders. These are most prominent in government (especially autocracies) but also exist within many corporations, such as Bill Gates of Microsoft or Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX.

This heavy-handed leadership style typically grants one person extensive control over all employees or decisions, with little room for input from others. Under this approach, a highly rigid environment can be expected with lots of structure, including clearly outlined rules and responsibilities.

While many people are quick to malign autocratic leadership these days, it does have its uses. Limited input expedites the decision-making process, which can streamline various management tasks. This can be particularly useful during crises when leaders need to act fast.

Unfortunately, morale tends to be low when employees feel they don't have a stake. What's more, in bypassing insight, autocratic organizations can easily miss out on valuable ideas and accompanying opportunities for innovation.

2. Participative Leadership

Heavy on employee input and strategic delegation, participative leadership is, in many ways, akin to democracy. Employees at all levels receive extensive opportunities to share their thoughts and opinions. Collaboration is emphasized above all else.

Detractors believe that, while it sounds nice, this approach is inefficient and, therefore, not ideal for urgent situations. In low-pressure environments, however, this can be an excellent opportunity to boost morale and gather valuable ideas. 

3. Laissez-Faire Leadership

The term laissez-faire originally referred to an economic system that limited interventions and allowed private individuals and groups to conduct transactions as they saw fit. In leadership, this term also involves a relatively hands-off approach, with self-guidance heavily encouraged.

This relaxed culture can be useful when creativity and autonomy are prized — and it often promotes exceptional employee morale. Left to their own devices, however, employees may become isolated, so teamwork and collaboration could potentially suffer. 

4. Transformational Leadership

Often contrasted with transactional leadership, a transformational approach holds true to its name: transformational leaders focus on the distant future and how they can enact sweeping changes alongside valued team members.

Often referred to as change agents, transformational leaders have a unique ability to sense the zeitgeist and adjust their approach to harness the power of innovation. This can be an exciting and impactful approach to leadership, but it can also cause issues with morale if employees are happy with the status quo.

5. Situational Leadership

Developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, the Situational Leadership Model emphasizes the need for adaptations in response to what any given individual or group requires at any particular point in time.

Recognizing that this is never easily accomplished, the situational leadership style provides much-needed guidance. If you follow this blueprint, you can determine who needs what — and when.
Situational leadership is not a single style but rather a series of leadership solutions that can be rotated through on an as-needed basis. The four core styles of situational leadership include:

  • Telling, Directing, or Guiding. Best reserved for short-term functions, this leadership style involves close supervision in an attempt to spur action.
  • Selling, Coaching, or Explaining. Under this nuanced approach, you are still responsible for making key decisions but will also make a greater effort to engage with team members rather than simply stating orders.
  • Participating, Collaborating, or Facilitating. This style centers around a clear effort to get multiple stakeholders involved. As a leader, you will encourage team members not only to share their opinions but also to make decisions on their own while you provide insight and support.
  • Delegating, Empowering, or Monitoring. This style provides the most autonomy for followers, who receive the unique opportunity to go beyond simply making short-term decisions. Instead, you will demonstrate that you value their opinion by actively courting feedback on potential areas for improvement — and implementing new strategies based on their responses. 

6. Servant Leadership

The practice of servant leadership highlights the need for leaders to focus on serving their teams, organizations, and communities rather than simply striving to climb the career ladder or gain more power.

In many ways, this resembles the “Delegating, Empowering, or Monitoring” style from the Situational Leadership Model — in both contexts, one of the main goals is to foster leadership potential in others.

Empathy and stewardship are vital to the success of the servant leadership model, which typically operates in a decentralized fashion. While this style seems appealing, it can be difficult to implement and may not be appropriate for urgent matters. 

 7. Appreciative Inquiry

The Appreciative Inquiry method of leadership uses positive and collaborative techniques that foster innovation. This approach to leadership rivals the typical problem-solving method by taking a more positive approach. With problem-solving, many leaders may focus on negative criticisms or issues that need remediation. The Appreciative Inquiry strategy flips that defeatist thinking on its head, focusing on untapped potential and opportunities. 


The United States Navy is just one example of how an organization has used the Appreciative Inquiry method. Through a series of positive questioning, Naval personnel conducted interviews to get a sense of Naval culture, and the impact on retention and recruiting efforts. 


At Champlain College Online, students have access to the Cooperrider Center for Appreciative Inquiry. The college also offers online classes, certificates, and workshops on Appreciative Inquiry techniques. 

Identifying Your Own Leadership Style

Most people gravitate toward at least one of the leadership styles described above, although it is possible to display a blend of these qualities — or to demonstrate different versions of leadership at different times and in different contexts.

While you almost certainly have a distinct leadership style, you might not actually know what it is or how it impacts team members. Self-awareness is critical; if you don't know where you're at now, you will struggle to improve your approach or adapt your style as needed.

As you describe your leadership style, start simple: identify the first three or four words that come to mind. Chances are, at least a few of these will closely echo language from the aforementioned situational leadership lineup.

Assessing Which Leadership Style to Use

Now that you have a basic answer to the question "What is your leadership style?", it's time to determine how this could be adjusted to fit the situation at hand.

Are there any downsides to your innate leadership style that could be amplified by your environment? Determine where both personal and organizational challenges line up — and examine the various leadership styles to see if any of these are well-suited to addressing these challenges.

Feedback is also important. Don't be afraid to ask questions, as this will help you determine where your current approach to leadership is letting down employees and whether an urgent adjustment is required. When in doubt, use the aforementioned situational leadership blueprint to gain insight into current leadership needs.

Tips for Effective Communication as a Leader

No matter which leadership style you gravitate toward (or purposefully choose to implement), strong communication and emotional intelligence are essential. Employees need to know how you typically operate, when you intend to change your approach, and what those adjustments will involve. These suggestions should boost communication:


  • Tailor your message to fit the needs and preferences of the intended audience.
  • Listen actively and attentively — and acknowledge employees' concerns.
  • Set clear expectations and communicate them both verbally and in written form.
  • Communicate frequently to keep employees abreast of changes.

Challenges of Adapting to Different Leadership Styles

Adjusting your leadership style is never easy. When challenges arise, you will be inclined to return to the status quo, even when you know it may be less than ideal. Conversely, it's easy to jump in too deep and go to excess with new ideas or approaches rather than adopting a nuanced take on leadership.

No matter the extent to which you apply a new style (or aspects thereof), it could feel unnatural at the outset. Like anything, this is a muscle that will need to be exercised; the more you get out of your leadership comfort zone, the easier you will find it to adjust your approach.

Importance of Continuous Learning and Development as a Leader

Every leader, no matter how impressive, can always stand to improve. Continuous learning allows you to determine where you have room to grow — and how you can implement new tools or techniques as they become available. The best leaders make every effort to avoid stagnation, with the understanding that new circumstances will call for an adjusted approach, complete with new skills and a willingness to change with the times.

How a Master’s Degree in Leadership Can Help

It takes considerable time and effort to identify and improve your leadership style, especially if you go it alone. Graduate education can expedite this process while also giving you a competitive advantage as you pursue your most ambitious goals.

Champlain College Online is committed to supporting your career goals every step of the way. Whether you're just starting out or looking to advance in your field, we provide the resources and guidance you need to succeed. We offer a leadership-oriented master's degree online with the intention of helping you build a variety of foundational leadership skills.

While enrolled, you will gain a thorough understanding of crucial concepts such as deficit mindsets and strategic transformation. This degree program culminates with a leadership capstone project, which will help you apply your newly developed skills to resolve a compelling, real-life situation.

Ready to take the next step toward becoming an effective leader? Reach out today to learn more about our leadership master's program. We'd also love to introduce you to our many other online degrees and certificates, leadership opportunities, and options to cover the cost of your college education.


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