5 types of leadership styles every ambitious graduate should know

types of leadership
Steve Jobs was an autocratic leader, who had a meticulous eye for detail, and surrounded himself with like-minded people to follow his lead. Source: AFP

As you advance in your career, you might find yourself in a leadership role, whether it’s running a meeting, overseeing a project, managing a team or leading an entire department.

Many professionals develop their own unique style based on their experiences, personality, and the needs of their company.

If you’re exploring leadership or looking to refine your current style, it’s essential to pick a style that suits you best.

To make the right choice, you can ask yourself some questions, like whether you value goals or relationships more, prefer structure or freedom, make decisions alone or collaboratively, focus on short-term or long-term goals, find motivation in empowerment or direction, and envision a healthy team dynamic.

To develop your leadership style, consider these strategies:

  • experiment with different approaches
  • seek guidance from a more experienced leader
  • ask for honest feedback from individuals

Keep in mind that the best types of leadership often involve a blend of styles, and it takes time, practice and emotional intelligence to know when to apply a particular style. In different job roles, you might need to adapt your leadership style to ensure your team operates effectively.

By understanding different leadership types, you can identify areas for improvement, adapt to different situations and collaborate with managers who have different styles.

Knowing your leadership style helps you provide the right guidance and feedback to employees, make better decisions, and understand your team’s perspective.

It also allows you to address areas where you may need improvement.

Studies show that individuals who tailor their leadership styles to different situations are more likely to be more satisfied with their job. It was found that leaders who recognise the different competence and motivation levels of their employees and match their leadership styles to it could help reduce turnover rates and increase retention levels. 

Imagine you’re leading a team in a startup environment where adaptability is important. Applying the laissez-faire leadership style can inspire your team to innovate and overcome challenges with ease.

While in a corporate setting, a more structured and authoritative leadership approach can be more effective in driving projects forward.

types of leadership style

Laissez-faire is one of the types of leadership styles and is the leadership approach popularised by Buffett. Source: AFP

Examples of different types of leadership styles

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Inc., was known for his autocratic leadership style. He had a laser-focused vision for his company’s products and often made critical decisions without seeking extensive input from his team.

This style allowed him to drive innovation in the tech industry, leading to iconic products like the iPhone and iPad, ultimately revolutionising the way we interact with technology.

His visionary and authoritarian approach led Apple to unparalleled success, making it one of the most valuable companies globally.

On the other hand, Warren Buffett, the renowned investor and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, embodies a more democratic leadership style. He encourages collaboration, values diverse perspectives, and promotes open discussions among his team. Buffett’s approach to leadership in the financial sector allowed him to build a vast and successful conglomerate by making informed investment decisions based on collective input and expertise. His democratic style has led to consistent financial growth and substantial wealth for himself and his investors.

These two leaders showcase that different leadership styles can lead to success in various fields, and the key is to align your leadership approach with your strengths and your field of work.

5 types of leadership and the best career for each

types of leadership style

Elon Musk is another leader who also uses the autocratic leadership style. Source: AFP

1. Autocratic leadership style

Autocratic leadership, often called the “authoritarian style of leadership,” is one of the most known types of leadership style. It is characterised by a leader’s primary focus on results and team efficiency.

Autocratic leaders typically make decisions independently or with a small, trusted group and expect employees to follow their instructions without question. Autocratic leadership is like the “my-way-or-the-highway” style of leading, where your leader is like the captain of the ship. 

However, the downside of this style is that limited involvement in decision-making may leave team members feeling disengaged and undervalued. The lack of input from others can also impede generation of fresh ideas and diverse perspectives.

This leadership style is most effective in situations where a business needs to control specific and critical circumstances, such as emergency or crisis situations, that require quick and decisive action.

While autocratic leadership can be effective in specific cases, it may not suit organisations seeking a more collaborative and participative approach.

Best roles for those with autocratic leadership style:

  • Military officer: In the military, autocratic leadership is often necessary to maintain discipline and execute orders effectively.
  • Emergency services leader: First responders, such as police officers and firefighters, require quick, decisive decision-making in high-pressure situations.
  • CEO: In top executive roles, autocratic leaders can set the strategic direction and make decisions for an organisation.

2. Bureaucratic leadership style

Bureaucratic leadership is one of the types of leadership styles where leaders emphasise strict adherence to established rules and procedures within a hierarchical system.

In this approach, team members are expected to follow guidelines as precisely as written, and there is little room for collaboration and creativity.

The benefits of bureaucratic leadership include minimising risks by following established protocols and guidelines. This style establishes clear structures, rules, and processes, promoting efficiency and consistency.

Bureaucratic leaders are often detail-oriented, task-focused, value rules and structure, possess strong willpower and self-discipline, and maintain a strong work ethic.

This is effective in industries like finance, healthcare, and government, where strict compliance is crucial.

If you thrive in a structured, rule-driven environment, this leadership style may align with your approach.

While they may listen to employee input, their decisions tend to prioritise adherence to established rules and procedures over adaptability.

While it may limit individual autonomy, the structured approach can lead to high levels of creativity for some employees who thrive in a rule-driven, predictable environment.

An example of a leader known for their bureaucratic leadership style is Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company.

He revolutionised the automotive industry by implementing assembly line production with strict rules and procedures.

Ford’s leadership approach was instrumental in achieving mass production efficiency. 

Best roles for those with the bureaucratic type of leadership style:

  • Quality control manager: In manufacturing and production, quality control managers use a bureaucratic approach to enforce quality standards and consistency.
  • Legal counsel: In the legal field, lawyers and counsellors use their bureaucratic approach to follow legal procedures and regulations.
types of leadership

The aim of Mandela’s leadership style was to encourage racial harmony, forgiveness without forgetting, power sharing and a strong focus on the future. Source: AFP

3. Democratic leadership style

Democratic leadership, or “participative style,” combines aspects of both autocratic and laissez-faire leadership. 

Democratic leaders actively seek input and feedback from their team members before making decisions. This approach values group discussions, rationality, and flexibility, the opposite of authoritarian styles. 

The benefits of democratic leadership include increased employee engagement, job satisfaction and motivation because people feel like they are part of the team. However, one downside is that this type of leadership can be slower due to discussions and consensus-building, potentially leading to disagreements and conflicts among team members, which may require effective conflict resolution.

Best roles for those with the democratic type of leadership style:

  • Project manager: Project managers with a democratic leadership approach excel in guiding teams, facilitating open discussions and making informed decisions.
  • Teacher: Educators who use this leadership style will create an environment where students provide input and active participation.
types of leadership

Laissez-faire leadership takes a hands-off approach to leadership and gives others the freedom to make decisions. Source: AFP

4. Laissez-faire leadership style

It’s a style where the leader is like, “You got this, team!” They trust you to do your job without a ton of interference.

The name actually comes from French, and it means “let them do.” So, it’s like your leader saying, “Go ahead and do your thing!”

Think of it as the hands-off leadership style, where the boss lets you take the wheel and make decisions on your own.

But the downside of laissez-faire leadership is that it can lead to a lack of structure and guidance, leaving employees feeling lost or uncertain about their roles. It may also result in a lack of accountability and decreased overall productivity.

Best roles for those with a laissez-faire leadership style:

  • Project manager: When managing experienced professionals, a laissez-faire leadership style can empower team members to take ownership of their roles and responsibilities.
  • Entrepreneur: As an entrepreneur, a laissez-faire leadership style can be effective when managing a team of experienced professionals or promoting a startup culture.
  • Creative director: In graphic design, advertising or filmmaking, a laissez-faire leader can give people the freedom and autonomy to unleash their creativity.

5. Servant leadership style

Servant leadership is one of the types of leadership styles that prioritises the needs of others before all else. It emphasises the creation of strong, nurturing relationships with team members, focusing on enabling them to reach their full potential. 

These leaders believe that when team members feel personally and professionally fulfilled, they become more effective and consistently produce outstanding work.
This leadership approach is marked by its emphasis on employee satisfaction, collaboration and fostering higher levels of respect within the team.

Servant leaders are skilled motivators and effective communicators, encouraging collaboration and engagement among team members while committing to their professional growth.

Picture your leader as the coach who wants to see every player score big. It’s fantastic when you’re in a group where your leader encourages you to shine and grow.

This style promotes a collaborative environment where creativity and problem-solving thrive, as team members feel empowered to suggest new solutions and build upon each other’s ideas.

Improved communication between all levels of the organisation, from senior management to front-line employees, helps prevent conflicts and fosters healthy relationships.

Best roles for those with the servant type of leadership style:

  • Teacher: Servant educational leaders put students’ needs first, ensuring their success and personal growth.
  • Healthcare professional: Doctors, nurses, and healthcare administrators with a servant leadership style focus on patient care, well-being, and providing the best services.
  • Customer service manager: Leaders in customer service roles can create exceptional customer experiences by prioritising the needs and satisfaction of both customers and employees.