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The Alternative Board Blog

What are the 4 Most Common Leadership Styles?

Sep. 6, 2023 | Posted by Lee Polevoi

Depending on who you ask, there may be as many leadership styles as there are leaders in business, government, the entertainment industry, and so on. However, certain leadership traits are encountered most frequently in the workplace, and most CEOs, owners, and business leaders fall within this grouping.

The four most common styles are:

  • Autocratic
  • Democratic
  • Laissez-faire
  • Transformational

Each of these styles go by several different names, but it’s likely that you and your fellow leaders will recognize the qualities inherent in each. Let’s take a look:


Autocratic (or Authoritarian) Leadership

This style of leadership can be easily summed up in a sentence: What the leader says, gets done. In this approach, direction “comes from the top, a singular figure who … determines strategic, policies, procedures, and the direction of the organization,” notes the University of Arizona Global Campus. Autocratic leaders are “rarely interested in feedback, and they prefer to hold all of the power and be in charge.”

Certain conditions—a business-related crisis, for example—call for authoritarian leadership. Someone needs to step in and take control, to keep a bad situation from getting worse.

On the other hand, a company can find itself wholly reliant on the autocratic leader, thus stifling individual growth and the introduction of fresh perspectives and insights.


Democratic (or Participative) Leadership

A democratic leader seeks insights and feedback from others within the organization. Although these leaders remain the final decision-makers, the emphasis is on creativity and collaboration as methods by which business opportunities can be identified and problems resolved.

Under the right circumstances, democratic leadership can significantly boost employee morale (because team members are invited to take part and offer solutions). There’s more chance for individual employee growth when they are involved in a company’s “big picture” strategies.

At the same time, it’s important to watch out for too many cooks in the kitchen. Inviting collaborative input takes time. This can work against conditions in which a rapid decision is necessary, or where (due to lack of experience and/or training) there aren’t enough team members up to the task of helping guide leadership.


Want additional insight? Read 9 Tips for Motivating Your Employees now 



Laissez-faire (or Delegative) Leadership

A laissez-faire leader enables team members to actively complete assignments without recourse to endless questions or micromanagement. Decisions are left to employees, who work under a very light touch from leadership.

This approach works best “when the people being managed are highly skilled, knowledgeable about their jobs, and able to work well with little supervision,” notes Business Leadership Today, adding that it “can be particularly efficient in remote work environments.”

However, if team members lack motivation or experience, they will be less adaptable to ever-changing workplace conditions and quickly feel overwhelmed. And without proper guidance, employees may not feel qualified to make important decisions.


Visionary (or Transformational) Leadership

As we have noted before, “Above all else, transformational leaders stick to a simple inspiring vision … [and can] motivate their staff to buy into their vision and thus deliver on it.”

A visionary leader encourages the participation of others, provided the collaboration adheres to his or her strategic vision of the future. The good news is, these leaders inspire their teams to achieve important objectives, which in turn can translate into a stronger sense of engagement and loyalty.

With the vision as the key element in leadership, there are times when smaller (but significant) business operations can suffer. Too much emphasis on the future can short-change day-to-day decision-making and effort.

Most leaders will find themselves in one of these leadership categories. But there’s always room for growth. You can refine and improve your own leadership style by joining a peer advisory group, such as The Alternative Board, where leaders of all stripes gather and help one another succeed.



Read our 19 Reasons You Need a Business Owner Advisory Board


Written by Lee Polevoi

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