Do you have a question about leadership styles or just want to learn more about them? Awesome, because you’ve come to the right page.
In this article, we’ve answered 25 questions about leadership styles that are commonly asked and searched for (or that we thought were important).
(And, if we missed your question, let us know in the comments below, and we’ll do our best to answer you!)
Table of Contents
A quick note: The leadership styles we focus on mostly are those most frequently discussed in articles online. There are other theories and viewpoints we mention, but since the ones from online are what people mostly think of when it comes to leadership styles, that’s what we will mostly focus on.
Caveat about leadership styles
In this article, we answer a lot of questions about leadership styles. However, it’s important that we clarify the validity of leadership styles as they are often presented. There are different versions or theories on styles, but one of the most pervasive ones is the one that you get when you search the internet for them.
It basically says you are “one style”, and you need to discover your style so you can be the best you. And you may need to “change” or “switch” your style, in certain circumstances, but you generally are your style.
The truth is, if you are in any one style, you will fail. In fact, most of the styles, all hold actions or principles that every leader should follow. It’s not about being a style but adjusting your actions based on need.
You adjust as situations change. You adjust based on the person. You use different tools depending on the need. It’s not about being a set “style”. It’s ultimately about following good principles of leadership.
1. What are leadership styles?
While there can be different definitions of leadership styles, leadership styles are basically the behaviors a leader uses to lead. There have been various studies conducted and theories produced about leadership styles throughout the years.
When you search online for leadership styles, what you often read about is one particular slant of leadership styles (which, unfortunately, is often inaccurate).
This slant focuses on various “styles” that you can be. It says that all styles are equal and that you are one particular style, and you need to find the style that is “you”.
It also adds you may need to switch styles in certain situations, but you are still the “you” style overall.
As mentioned, multiple aspects of this slant are false; however, there are principles of leadership we can learn from these styles.
Also Read – 4 Truths About Leadership Styles
Other theories focus on task behaviors and relationship behaviors. One of the most popularly used is the Leadership Grid®.
It rates your focus as a leader on tasks and results from 1-9 and your focus on relationships 1-9. Depending on your number for each determines your current style.
Note: Even with this theory, there wasn’t a clear-cut, “this is what a successful leader is” answer.
Another theory or version focuses on the four main needs or stages employees can be in and the four “styles” you can be to help meet those stages.
There are others too, but those are some of the main ones.
2. Are leadership styles accurate?
Yes and no.
Yes, you may have certain leanings or approaches that are more “natural” to you.
No, the overall idea that you are one style, that all styles are equal, and you “switch” now and then to other styles but are just one style that you should live is false.
And, do note, just because you lean a certain way or something is more natural to you doesn’t mean it’s good or right. It may be natural for you to be a jerk, but that definitely won’t help you be a good leader.
What is more important than your “style” are the principles of leadership that you follow.
3. Are leadership styles important?
Yes, knowing about leadership styles can be important because it can help you see your natural leanings. Knowing your natural leanings can be important because it shows you what you may be strong and weak in and in what areas you might need to improve.
If you see that you naturally delegate but push away from coaching, you know coaching is an area you may need some help in.
Also, if you look at the Leadership Grid® (see question 1), it can help you see where you are at on the spectrum and see where you might need to grow as well.
4. What is the best leadership style?
Here’s the truth: there is no best leadership style. In fact, if you only live one style, you are bound to failure or mediocrity as a leader.
Think of it this way: different situations call for different responses. If you always respond the same way, it’s not going to work. If you always use the same “style” in every situation, it’s not going to work.
Most of leadership styles contain behaviors or principles that you should be doing in general. Only doing one of them won’t work (and the idea of completely “switching styles” is silly).
Even with the Leadership Grid® (see question 1), there wasn’t a clear-cut answer on which style was the best all the time.
Also Read: Which Leadership Styles is Best?
5. Can leadership styles influence each other?
Yes, leadership styles can influence each other. If you are naturally diplomatic, you are also more likely to be more affirming and or more likely to be one who coaches or delegates.
It doesn’t mean you will, but it makes sense.
On the flip side, if you are more authoritarian, you are less likely to be affirming or coaching, or delegative.
But again, as we mention in other questions, it’s not about styles, but about principles. If you only live “one style”, you are going to fail as a leader.
6. Are all leadership styles equally good?
No, not all leadership styles are equally good, and it makes sense why. Let’s like at the authoritarian, or commanding, style.
While there are times you will need to be decisive or more “micromanaging” on certain people, generally, if that’s how you are all the time, you aren’t going to do well as a leader overall.
It’s the same with being transactional. In the long run, it doesn’t work well.
And, the truth is, any leadership style by itself will fail. You need to look at the principles in the different leadership styles and live them all, not just “one”.
7. Can leaders change their leadership style?
Absolutely, yes. Leaders can change their style – and they have to if they want to be an effective leader.
If you are only one style all the time, you are going to fail as a leader. You can’t just be one and ignore the others. You have to implement the tools from the others.
Just as if you were building a house, you need different tools for different situations, and you need to have access to all the tools and use them when needed.
And, just because you naturally lean a certain way doesn’t mean it’s a good leaning. Sometimes people lean certain ways out of ego or insecurity.
For example, just because someone is naturally a jerk doesn’t mean that’s “who they are” and should keep being that way.
To summarize: Yes, you can change your style. In fact, you should never just be one style but be implementing the tools from all of them.
8. Why are there different leadership styles?
Leadership styles came about when researchers were trying to find the best behaviors that make the best leader.
While a lot of research focuses on task and relationship behaviors, the common leadership style theory most promoted online focuses on specific behaviors (mostly), such as a person who is diplomatic and gathers input, a person who delegates, a person who coaches, a person who commands and micromanages, and so on.
While much of the research is valid and can help us see where we are at as leaders, what’s common today can be dangerous and sometimes misleading (for example you can’t just be one of those behaviors – they are all tools you need to use as a leader).
9. How many different leadership styles are there?
Depending on who you ask and where you read, there are 3, 7, or 9+ leadership styles. Different people consider different behaviors as a style, and there isn’t an “official” list of styles.
10. What are the different leadership styles?
Here are some common leadership styles:
- Authoritative/Autocratic/Commanding (sometimes these are separated or varied) – you give commands (generally without input), expect others to follow, and are often micromanaging.
- Democratic/Participative – You like to get input from others and/or have others be part of the decision-making process.
- Laissez-faire/Delegative – You like to/are good about delegating tasks.
- Pacesetting – You set high goals and high expectations for those goals with your team (often to the extreme).
- Coaching – You are good at coaching others.
- Affiliative – You are good with and are focused on building relationships.
- Bureaucratic – You are all about rules and people following rules.
- Visionary – You are good about casting vision for your team/company.
- Charismatic – You have great people skills and use them well.
- And more.
The following aren’t really leadership styles, but they are sometimes included when they are discussed online. We include them because of that, but when we discuss leadership styles in general, we generally are not including these in the fray.
- Transformational leadership – You have good emotional intelligence and are focused on growing and bettering your team while at the same time focusing on results and the good of the organization.
- Servant leadership – You serve your team in order to enable them to accomplish their tasks better (and because you care).
- Situational leadership – You adjust your style according to the need.
- Transactional leadership – Everything is a transaction between you and your team. They do something for you, you do something for them.
11. What’s wrong with how leadership styles are often presented today?
Leadership styles are often presented in the following:
- All styles are equal.
- You need to find your own style to be the “authentic” you.
- You then need to live your style.
- There may be time to “switch” between styles (go from one to another) depending on the situation, but generally, you are your style.
How is this wrong?
- Even if styles worked the way presented, not all would be equal.
- They aren’t exclusive – living only one style will cause failure in your leadership.
- Leadership is based on principles, not a specific “style”.
- You don’t just switch styles. The principles you can learn from styles are tools that you should be using as needed.
- Sometimes we lean toward certain styles because of insecurities or ego.
- Just because you naturally lean a certain way doesn’t mean it’s good. Just because someone leans toward being a jerk doesn’t mean they should be.
12. How do leadership styles affect employee and team performance?
Leadership styles can affect team performance in a variety of ways.
If someone is only being “one” style, then they are hurting their team. If a leader focuses only on coaching or delegating (or one of the others) and ignores the other aspects, that leader will fail their team and performance will drop.
However, if leaders use different styles (or rather, the principles from the styles) and adjust according to each situation, the team will be more effective and performance will increase.
Let’s dive a little deeper into it.
If someone “leans” toward being autocratic and doesn’t adjust their behaviors, then they are going to hurt team motivation and their influence will be low.
If someone is diplomatic to a fault and always has to get everyone’s input to help make the decision, team, and organizational performance will lower at times because of wasted time when a quick decision was needed.
Only focusing on one style brings harm. If you use the principles from each, you help your team.
If you provide coaching when needed, get input for decisions when appropriate, delegate tasks effectively, cast vision, build relationships, make quick decisions when needed, and so on, then your team is going to be effective and you will have increased team performance.
However, if you aren’t doing these when needed – if you don’t coach or never make the quick decisions or gather input or delegate – you are going to hurt your team and their performance.
13. How do leadership styles influence motivation?
An effective leader uses the principles they can learn from the different leadership styles and applies them according to the situation. If they do that, they are going to have higher motivation from their employees.
However, if they focus on one style, then they are going to hurt motivation in the long run, and some styles will hurt it more than others.
If you are autocratic, always telling others what to do without input and micromanaging, you will lower the motivation of your employees.
Part of human motivation comes from autonomy and purpose. If you remove the autonomy from people and give them no purpose for their work, their motivation will be much lower.
Building relationships with people, helping them grow to be better, and getting their input for decisions (affiliative, coaching, diplomatic), all those practices help build motivation in your employees.
However, if you coach but disregard the other parts, people will get frustrated and motivation will lower. If you always spend a lot of time getting input for every decision or having everyone decide on everything, the waste of time and the slow process can also demotivate you.
If you build relationships but don’t do your other leadership responsibilities, you will frustrate your team in that way as well.
It’s a balance. Using the different principles from the styles when appropriate is the best way to keep your team motivated. Focusing on one to a fault will in the long-run hurt motivation (and performance).
14. Which factors influence leadership styles?
There are multiple factors that influence one’s leaning toward a particular leadership style, including personality, ego, insecurity, and past experiences.
Personality’s influence on leadership styles
You may naturally lean toward a style because of your personality. If you are extroverted and gregarious and love talking to people, you may naturally lean toward being more affiliative and so on.
If you have a very Type A Personality, you may naturally lean more toward pace-setting or authoritarian.
It doesn’t mean that you will or that you do, but your personality can influence what you naturally lean toward.
Examine your personality and see if that’s part of why you lean a certain way.
Ego and insecurity’s influence on leadership styles
Your ego and/or insecurity can influence the leadership style that you naturally lean toward. If you are full of yourself, you aren’t likely to listen to others’ input, build relationships, or make decisions diplomatically.
If you are insecure, you may take an authoritarian route because of that. You may feel you have to tell everyone what to do to show you are in charge.
At the same time, you could be more diplomatic, for example, because of your insecurities. If you are insecure about being wrong or making bad decisions, you may want others to make that decision for you.
Take time to examine yourself and see if ego or insecurity has a factor in the way you lean.
Past experiences influence leadership style
Your past experiences can help influence which leadership style you lean toward.
If you had a boss who was incredibly authoritarian, you may lean toward being more diplomatic because of that. If they took forever to make a decision, then you may lean the opposite way.
If you had a boss who never seemed to care or invest in others, you may lean the opposite toward coaching or affiliative (or you may follow their footsteps).
You may have had a great experience coaching others or being coached, so you want to do that. Maybe you had a leader who was a great coach and delegator, and you try to model yourself after them.
You get the idea. Our past experiences from work or even childhood can have an effect on how we learn.
Important notes to make about what influences our leadership styles
One important note to make is that just because you lean a certain way doesn’t mean you should follow that leaning.
If you lean in a direction because of insecurity or ego, that leaning isn’t going to help you. If you lean a certain way that goes against good leadership principles, you need to adjust.
Just because you lean that way doesn’t mean you should follow that leaning. Follow good leadership principles.
And, remember, if you are only living one leadership style, it doesn’t matter what leadership style you are, you will fail.
15. Leadership styles vs leadership theories: What’s the difference?
Leadership styles are based on the theory that certain behaviors of leaders make great leaders. So, leadership style is a theory in itself.
Leadership theories have been developed over the years to try to explain why certain leaders are effective and others are not. They are looking for what makes a great leader so others can follow the same patterns.
Different theories focus on leadership traits, skills, behaviors, the interaction between leaders and followers, and so on.
In summary: Leadership theories try to explain what makes good leaders. Leadership styles is one of the theories focused on leader behavior.
16. Which leadership styles seek to empower employees?
Multiple leadership styles seek to empower employees. They include:
- Delegative – You empower employees by delegating tasks and projects to them to own and accomplish.
- Diplomatic – You empower employees by allowing them to be part of the decision-making process.
- Affiliative – In theory, when you are building those relationships with your employees, you are empowering them in their work as well.
- Coaching – You empower your employees by helping them become better workers and leaders.
Some of these aren’t really styles, but I am including them since some people do consider them as such.
- Situational – You empower employees because you delegate, build relationships, involve them in decisions, etc.
- Servant – You empower your employees by setting expectations then serving them, opening doors, and helping them to accomplish their goals and tasks.
- Transformational – You empower them by doing what we’ve been discussing: delegating, opening doors, coaching, and so on.
17. Can you have different leadership styles?
Yes, you can have different leadership styles. In fact, if you are only one style, you aren’t going to fair well as a leader.
Even if we only focus on what styles you may naturally lean toward, you can lean toward more than one. You may lean more toward coaching and delegating or being diplomatic and affiliative.
You may even lean toward more than two.
18. Can leadership styles be combined?
Yes, leadership styles can be combined. In fact, if you don’t combine them, you are not going to succeed as a leader.
As situations change, your response has to change. If you are always just one style, you are using the same tool to solve a different problem. It’s like trying to use a hammer to cut a piece of wood – it doesn’t work.
You should think of styles as principles you can follow, tools you can use, as the situation calls for them. And it may call for more than one tool at a time.
19. Are leadership styles and theories the same?
No. Leadership styles and leadership theories are not the same. Leadership theories are theories developed to try to explain what makes a good leader (and what doesn’t).
Leadership styles are just one of those theories. It is a behavior-based theory – that certain behaviors make a leader more successful.
20. What leadership styles are most effective?
This is a tough question because you will not succeed well if you only use one style, no matter the style (from what is typically labeled as a leadership style).
Being a situational leader, transformation leader, or servant leader is the most effective. A situational leader adjusts to the situation. Instead of being one style, they consider them as tools and use the tools from the different styles as the situation calls.
Servant leaders and transformational leaders are similar, and they focus on serving and empowering their staff to succeed. If you want to be successful, look at these especially.
21. What leadership styles are most ineffective?
As a caveat, we must repeat that any leadership style on its own is ineffective. Also, any leadership style done to the extreme or done incorrectly is ineffective as well.
If you are diplomatic to the max, you will end up hurting your organization and not helping. If you abdicate responsibility when you delegate, you will be ineffective.
Generally, an authoritarian style is ineffective. There are times that you might need to be more involved in a person’s work (such as when they are new) to make sure they understand what to do, and there may be times to make quick decisions and be commanding (such as during a crisis).
However, if you are always that way, you will not fare well as a leader.
Transactional leadership, if you consider that a “style”, is also ineffective. Treating everything as a transaction has been shown not to be motivating and will hinder instead of help.
Bureaucratic leadership is also ineffective. Too often this creates rules that hinder people’s work instead of help. Think of the general effectiveness of government institutions, and you will know what I mean.
22. Do leadership styles matter?
Yes and no.
We’ll start with why it doesn’t matter.
If you are focusing on finding “your” leadership style so that you can maximize it and be the best “you”, then no, it doesn’t matter, because you are going to fail as a leader.
As we discuss in other questions, the common interpretation of them is wrong. If you are only one of any style, whatever it is, you are going to fail.
The common styles you find when you search for them all point to different actions and principles of leadership that you should follow.
Now to the yes.
Yes, they matter in the following ways:
Knowing the “style”, or rather, the tendencies you learn toward is important so you can recognize that and adjust as needed.
If you find that you always give commands without listening, then recognizing that is important so you can adjust. If you always push people hard toward a goal, recognizing that can help you adjust as needed.
If you tend to always get everyone’s input, every time, it’s good to recognize that there are times that hurt instead of help, and you can adjust accordingly.
They also matter if you view it in other contexts and viewpoints of leadership styles.
One talks about adjusting your “style” to the need of your employee. If an employee is new and needs a lot of direction, you give that to them. If they are doing well and just need coaching as they go along, you give it to them. If they are able to handle tasks well with little oversight, then you do that as well.
It’s about adjusting your behavior to the needs of your employees. In that context, yes, leadership “styles”, or rather your tendencies, do matter.
23. When should you change your leadership style?
You should always change your leadership “style” based on the needs of the moment, the situation, and the person.
(Personally, I think calling it “styles” is silly, because we should always be adjusting our behaviors and actions based on the situation. The notion of “switching styles” does not make much sense to me. You match needs with specific actions or behavior. When building a house, a carpenter doesn’t switch to the “hammer style” when they start hammering and the “board-cutting style” when they cut boards. They just use the tools they need when they do so and do it.)
When a person needs a lot of direct input, such as when they are new, you give it to them. If they need coaching, you give it to them. If they need a push in the right direction, you give it to them.
When a situation is critical and you need to make a quick decision, you do so. You don’t spend hours trying to get “consensus”.
At other times, you may get people’s input and then decide.
You should always be delegating, but the level of oversight depends on the person’s needs.
As a leader, you should always be building relationships with your employees and showing them you care. You should show appreciation to them. How you do that will likely depend on the person.
It’s not really about “changing style”, it’s about adjusting your behavior and your actions based on the needs of the situation and the person.
24. What is the most popular leadership style?
One of the most popular leadership styles is the diplomatic style. The diplomatic style is where you involve others in decisions by getting their input or by making it a group decision.
One reason it has become more popular over the past years is that people have changed their viewpoints on leaders vs. employees. The authoritarian style used to be highly popular, and is still by some, but most see involving employees and others and treating them well as beneficial to an organization.
There are dangers with the diplomatic style (and with being any one “style” – something we cover here), but applying the principles of the diplomatic style is important in the right situations. (And do note, there are times to apply certain principles from the authoritarian style as well).
Another popular style is the servant leadership style (I personally don’t see servant leadership as a “style”, per se, but a mindset, but it’s often linked that way, so I include it).
Servant leadership is about serving your employees. It’s about putting the goals of the organization first over yourself and serving and enabling your employees to accomplish their goals to reach the ultimate goals of the company.
Transformational leadership is also another popular leadership “style”. In it, you are also focused on company goals as well as employee growth. Transformational leaders also have good emotional intelligence as they work with their employees, their growth, and the reaching of company goals.
Which one is the most popular?
That is hard to say. However, being a servant leader or transformational leader are admiral goals. Trying to be any one of the other leadership “styles” just because they are popular will likely lead you to failure as a leader.
25. Which leadership style shows equality?
It really depends on what you define as “equality”. Do you mean treating everyone the same? Do you mean giving everyone what they need to succeed?
Do you mean giving the same amount of time to everyone? Do you mean treating everyone as if they are a decision maker/leader?
It all depends on your definition. Should you always spend the same amount of time with everyone?
No. Some need more help than others. Some are more productive than others.
Many great leaders focus on spending most of their time on the highest producers or other similar factors. Is that wrong?
Is equality giving everyone the same opportunities? Even then, what do you mean by that?
If certain people work really hard, should they get other opportunities that those who don’t work as hard don’t? Is that unequal?
Or if you give everyone the same options and opportunities no matter what is that showing a lack of equality?
When it comes to leadership styles, one that is probably often considered as showing equality is the diplomatic style, as, with the diplomatic style, you gather input from others or involve all of them in making decisions.
There is nothing wrong with the principle of this, as there are times to do that. But doesn’t necessarily mean you are showing “equality”.
Being a servant leader or transformational leader would probably be the best bet for “equality” (even though they aren’t really “styles”), as you serve others and help them grow. But even then, if you are defining it as equal time, etc., then those likely fail that test as well.
Final Thoughts on Questions About Leadership Styles
There’s a lot of information and misinformation and confusion about leadership styles, and I hope this article helped you understand them better.
Now to you: What other questions do you have about leadership styles?
Please let us know in the comments section below.