The Three Types of Leadership Styles

You’ve proven you’ve got the chops to lead, and now it’s time to get down to business. You are already familiar with the team, you’re comfortable with the work, and the opportunity to make some big changes is knocking at your door. It’s all innovation and teamwork from now on, right?

Wrong. 

As a leader, you’re going to encounter countless situations that require diplomacy, empathy, and the ability to stick to your guns when you know something is right. You’ll also deal with discipline, questions of values, and balancing productivity with play. Your job isn’t going to be an easy one, but understanding the 3 key leadership styles can help you make the decisions a little bit easier. 

These leadership styles are not meant to be a title or personality that you adopt. Every great leader should be able to balance all of them dynamically, knowing when each one will help or hurt a situation. While that might sound difficult for a brand new leader, demonstrating adaptability and flexibility will take your team much further. 

Let’s look at a brief summary of these styles, along with examples of when each would come into play:

Autocratic

This is considered the “old school” model of leading, in which one person at the top gives instructions, or directives, that everyone else follows. There’s little discussion between the autocratic leader and their team. Instead, decisions are made and carried out in a top-down method. Autocratic leaders are in-charge, authoritative, and follow protocol to the T. 

When would such a strict leadership style come in handy? While training new people on the team. When someone isn’t sure what the guidelines, rules, and expectations are, they need clear instructions to get started. Often, there’s a lot of comfort for the new team member in having explicit instructions, and a sense of purpose for the leader in readdressing the overall goals for the team. Once the new person is well-versed in what they must do, there’s more room to explore what they can do. 

Democratic 

The democratic leader still has a hand in the decision-making, but they are happy to consider what others have to think as a valuable part of the process. Democratic leaders invite and encourage innovation, while holding their team members to standards that support productivity. Their main goal is to ensure that the ideas of their team are combined in such a way that will eventually lead to success, and maintaining the responsibility of making that success happen. 

Your democratic leadership style should emerge when it’s time to brainstorm ideas, or when you’re making a decision that’s going to have a large effect size. For example, if you are considering rearranging some job duties in the upcoming quarter, you’d be far better off leading a discussion on everyone’s thoughts, talents, and interests than making those decisions on your thoughts alone. This style is not as useful, though, when a quick decision is necessary. 

Laissez-faire 

French for “leave alone,” laissez-faire leaders are less bosses and more facilitators. They ensure that their team has the time, resources, and space that they need to express their creativity, but they typically don’t interfere unless specifically asked to do so by one of their crew. A laissez-faire leader has to put a lot of time, trust, and commitment into building up a self-sustaining work ethic before they can let things tick along their own, but once that has been established, you’re going to see a lot of innovation coming from that team, even if their deadlines are a little more flexible than most. 

This form of leadership is effective in situations where you’re looking for “the next big thing” to emerge from your team. Whether that’s a way to revamp your existing models or a completely new product all together, giving people the space to play around with ideas is going to produce a higher level of creativity. At Google, they allow employees to use 20% of their work hours to work on “passion projects,” or their own pursuits outside of their direct job expectations. From that came Gmail, Google News, and countless other everyday necessities that wouldn’t exist without leadership that supported side projects. Of course, in an industry with strict standards and deadlines, it’s a little more difficult to implement a laissez-faire leadership style. 

Which of the Leadership Styles Do You Feel Most Comfortable With?

As you read through these leadership styles, did one in particular stick out to you? Are you considering how to implement one style more and another style less? Sit down and chat with us about it. We can help you pinpoint who you are as a leader, including your strengths, weaknesses, and where to go from here. 

Catalyst Group ECR is ready to help!

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