One size does not fit all when it comes to how you lead your team. Yes, we all have a default leadership style, but you have to learn the other styles to be most effective as a manager.

There is no right or wrong leadership style. Every leader has their own unique voice and individual approach to people and projects. However, it is important to realize that different styles may work best at different times, and to achieve different purposes.

While being genuine is an essential part of leadership, you must learn to adapt your leadership style as the business environment, team members and goals change around you. Any leader, even a highly collaborative one, uses a range of different styles at different times - even, perhaps, in the course of a single day.

The different leadership styles fall into five basic categories:

  • Authoritative - also called autocratic
  • Coaching
  • Coercive - also called transactional
  • Democratic
  • Pacesetting


Authoritative leadership: Authoritative, or autocratic, leadership works best when a team needs strong direction. This type of leadership identifies the challenges ahead and focuses the team on a common goal, yet allows individuals to decide how their efforts will get the desired end result. Authoritative leadership doesn't work if the team members are more expert than the leader because you can't be authoritative on a subject in which you lack deep knowledge and experience.

Use authoritarian leadership sparingly in situations where there is little time for group decision-making or where the leader is the most knowledgeable member of the group.

Coaching leadership: This style of leadership is most effective when employees are receptive to change and learn. The coach does just what the name implies: Helps employees grow and learn. This leadership style focuses on the long-term personal development as well as job-related skills. Coaching is least effective when an employee is defiant or if the leader lacks proficiency in what they're trying to teach.

Coaching leadership is best applied when performance or results need improvement. When using this style, your goals should be to help others to advance their skills, build bench strength and provide a lot of guidance.

Coercive leadership: Coercive leadership is also called transactional leadership, and is the most directive of the leadership styles. Think of it as the "do what I tell you right now" style. Coercive leadership should be used sparingly because it stifles creativity and enthusiasm. However, this style works well if there is an immediate crisis, a teammate is out of control, or the organization requires an immediate overhaul. A manager might also employ this style when a business unit is not operating profitably due to wasteful practices.

Democratic leadership: It's easy to understand what democratic leaders do: They let their team have input in decisions and share their ideas. Democratic leadership works when the team needs to feel ownership in the plan or goal. Everyone is given a seat at the table, and discussion is relatively free-flowing. This leader will synthesize all the available information into the best possible decision. Since this style is time-consuming, it should be avoided if a deadline is imminent or employees don't have the expertise or experience to offer helpful advice.

Democratic leadership is best applied when situations change frequently. This style offers a great deal of flexibility to adapt to better ways of doing things, but it can be somewhat time-consuming to make a decision in this structure.

Pacesetting leadership: Think of this style as lead-by-example leadership. Pacesetting leaders set high expectations and demand quick results. It works if the team is already motivated and skilled at their jobs. Used too much, pacesetting leaders risk burning out their team and depressing innovation. It also doesn't work when training or coaching is needed.

This leadership style is best applied when a business or department needs quick results from a group that is already highly motivated and competent. There is no time to learn on the job or teach someone a skill with this leadership style.


How to choose a leadership style

To determine which leadership style fits a given situation, analyze the strengths of your team and yourself, the results that are needed, then flex your leadership style to meet the end goal. For that reason, being conscious of both your own style as a leader and those of others you hire as leaders can be crucial to keeping your organization on the right track.

Of course, changing your leadership style to fit different teams, employees and situations isn't that easy to do. Spend some time thinking about what you think your default style is, and consult a trusted colleague or mentor to ask if they agree. Ask yourself: How do I behave under stress?

Do I ask others for opinions or do I tell everyone what to do?

Which leadership style is most comfortable for me?

From there, it will take more time to discover what best motivates your people in various circumstances. These exercises will help you create your own leadership style, one that is authentic, balanced, adaptable, visionary and best motivates your employees so that you all achieve great things.


Want more tips on becoming a leader your employees won't soon forget? Download our free e-book, How to Develop a Top-notch Workforce That Will Accelerate Your Business.