Leadership styles

Leadership is ultimately about influence. As a business leader, you will have your own methods of influencing your workforce in order to achieve healthy growth, sustainability, and profit for your company. Over the years, you will have developed your own particular leadership style, depending on your skills and personality.

Inevitably, that means that there are almost as many different styles of leadership as there are leaders, – but studies have identified a number of key traits that belong to certain types of leadership. Examining these and deciding which ones resonate is a useful exercise as you seek to develop your leadership skills.

As leadership is closely related to power, and the type of leader you are depends on how you gain and exercise power, I’ve taken this into account in compiling this guide to leadership styles. Each style is defined by the kind of power it is based on, according to a three-part model of power in the workplace. 

In this theoretical framework, workplace power is exercised: through a hierarchy, through individual expertise, or through earning the respect of your colleagues. As we consider the leadership styles related to these different types of power, we’ll weigh the pros and cons for each style. Finally, we’ll decide which category of power produces the most positive forms of leadership.

Hierarchical power and leadership

“Affirmation without discipline is the beginning of delusion.” – Jim Rohn, entrepreneur

Hierarchical power is power that increases the closer you are to the top of the hierarchy, or organisational framework, in a company. The higher up you go, the more decision-making power you have and the more people have to follow your instructions.

This type of power does not depend on any particular personal qualities beyond those that enable you to progress to the next level – that might be confidence, assertiveness, or even having the right connections. The important thing is not that people respect you, but that they respect your position.

Let’s look at three different leadership styles that involve hierarchical power: Autocratic, Transactional, and Bureaucratic.


An autocratic leader keeps a tight hold on every aspect of an organisation’s management. Key decisions are all made by the individual leader who then instructs their subordinates to carry out their instructions promptly. 

Pros: Quick decision making and strong discipline in stressful or dangerous situations, such as when a general commands his troops.  

Cons: Little room for flexibility or creative thinking amongst team members; notorious for increasing employee turnover.


A transactional leader makes use of a strict framework of performance-related reward and punishment. The leader makes it clear to employees that if they meet their targets they will receive certain privileges and if they fail they will face disciplinary measures.

Pros: Clear incentives/disincentives to motivate employees; everyone knows what to expect.

Cons: People are motivated in different ways; one individual might work better in hope of achieving a bonus, whilst another might prefer words of encouragement.


A bureaucratic leader thrives in an atmosphere of rules, regulations, and paperwork, where they sit at the top of a defined hierarchy. They will initiate complex procedures and expect them to be followed to the letter.

Pros: Excellent organisation, such as would be required in an administrative or legal environment. 

Cons: A tendency to stifle innovation and creativity; not well suited to a fast-paced workplace with constant change.

Hierarchical power and the leaders who wield it are often portrayed in negative terms: the autocratic leader depicted as a tyrant presiding over his cowering subjects. 

However, in certain circumstances there is strength in the clear rules, defined chain of command, and strict organisation that characterise this type of leadership. 

Indeed, when the chief police officer is responding to a major situation or the manager of the power plant is telling everyone to evacuate, a defined hierarchy may be the difference between life and death. 

For most businesses which are not facing this kind of problem on a daily basis, leadership that involves flexibility and collaboration may be more effective.

Expert power and leadership

“Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton was the one who asked why.” – Bernard Baruch, financier

Another way to earn power and influence in your organisation is by proving yourself as an expert at your job. Regardless of your status in the official hierarchy of the company, if you can demonstrate how valuable your expertise is you will make yourself indispensable to it.

In order to be good leaders, those with expert power need to be willing to use their expertise for the good of the company and share it with others on the team. In fact, this can be one way to combine expert power with respect power (for which, see the next section).

You can find this use of expert power in the following leadership styles: Strategic, Coaching and Data-oriented.


A strategic leader will use their superior skills to plan the future goals of the organisation and construct a framework that will allow the organisation to meet those goals. This kind of leader focuses on the “big picture” and inspires their workforce to do the same.

Pros: Able to look at the company as a whole and how all its departments work together; does not get bogged down in current problems.

Cons: Sometimes overlooks the finer details that are necessary for the strategy to play out on the ground; her focus on the “big picture” needs to be balanced out.


A coaching leader aims to pass on their skills and expertise to the “next generation” of employees. They will try to teach, inspire, and encourage particular individuals or groups within the organisation.

Pros: Effective for boosting the calibre of the workforce; works particularly well with younger or less experienced team members.

Cons: Can become domineering or dictatorial, giving orders rather than working collaboratively.


A data-oriented leader makes it their business to know all the latest facts and figures about the company, and they measure its performance in terms of data. 

Pros: Team given plenty of freedom – as long as the numbers are right at the end of the day.

Cons: Can neglect the human element of the workplace and fail to build strong relationships.

So we’ve seen that experts can make strong leaders, as long as they are open to sharing their knowledge and tolerant of their colleagues’ human fallibilities. It’s also worth noting that if you have a team of experts, this can be the ideal scenario for another kind of leadership to thrive: so-called Laissez-faire leadership. Let’s take a closer look at this style.


A laissez-faire leader epitomises the “hands off” management approach. They will delegate the majority of decision making to their workforce, giving the workforce almost complete freedom to decide how they work.

Pros: Works well when team members are extremely experienced and highly skilled at their jobs, requiring minimal supervision.

Cons: Consistently found to be the most unsatisfying and frustrating type of leadership from the employee’s perspective, who generally benefits from some guidance and oversight.

Undoubtedly, good leadership requires a level of skill, knowledge, and experience. But the best leaders are those whose employees follow them gladly, with confidence: that is, those who earn power through respect.

Respect power and leadership

“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader; a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.” – Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the USA

Respect-based power is quite distinct from the previous two kinds of power we have examined. Unlike hierarchical power, respect power is not formal or dependent on the structure of the organisation; instead it is personal, flowing from the qualities of the individual and how they are perceived by their colleagues. 

However, in contrast to expert power, respect power is not purely built upon the knowledge or skills of the person, but developed through positive relationships with the people around them. The leader who wields respect power seeks to bring out the best in others – not just to shine as an individual.

When we gain respect power, that means we have earned the trust and esteem of our followers – and they know that we respect them in turn. It takes time and patience to inspire respect, but it is worth the effort to achieve this most enduring type of influence. This is the way to nurture a workforce of engaged, hard-working, fulfilled employees. 

Here are six leadership styles that can build respect power:


Also known as participative or shared leadership, democratic leadership involves delegating decision-making powers so the whole team is able to make a meaningful contribution. The democratic leader usually makes the final decision, but everyone’s input is taken into account.

Pros: Effective for empowering individual team members and inspiring creative problem-solving; employees feel valued.

Cons: Decision-making can take longer, which may be a disadvantage when there are tight deadlines to be met.


A charismatic leader will have a very strong personality, able to charm and motivate through the power of their words and presence. Such a leader is able to grow respect that can border on devotion, influencing their followers to share their beliefs and act on them.

Pros: Able to bring people together in times of crisis, uniting them behind a shared positive vision for the organisation; excellent at building personal relationships.

Cons: If a company is too dependent on one charismatic leader, when that person leaves it may be a challenge to maintain the unity they created.


A transformational leader aims to lead an organisation towards improvement, challenging the status quo and bringing in new, more effective systems and procedures. The leader does not do this on their own but through getting the best performance out of their workforce, unlocking each person’s potential.

Pros: Stimulates the intellect and imagination of followers; focused on the future and taking the company to new heights.

Cons: May leave more traditionally minded employees disillusioned; prone to overlook finer details when thinking about the big picture (similarly to the Strategic leader).


A cross-cultural leader is able to overcome the barriers between cultures in order to lead a multinational or ethnically diverse company. This may involve excellent language skills or may simply rely on a heightened ability to empathise – to see from a different person’s perspective.

Pros: Able to facilitate positive working relationships between different cultures and across geographical distances.

Cons: A type of leadership that thrives under very specific circumstances.


A team-focused leader is concerned with building the best possible team to tackle the task in hand. They will study the strengths and weaknesses of individual employees and how people interact, in order to put together a group that can collaborate effectively.

Pros: Helps employees work together to produce great results for the organisation; often wants to build relationships through after-work activities and social events.

Cons: Ineffective in situations where teams are required to constantly change, because of the logistics of the business.


A servant leader is focused on the needs of their team members, seeking to help them thrive as people as well as employees. The leader concentrates on nurturing strong relationships and encourages group decision-making, rather than imposing their view from above.

Pros: Fosters fulfilment and boosts morale amongst employees; tolerance and acceptance also improves diversity in the company.

Cons: Risk of reduced authority by giving too much leeway to team members; losing sight of business objectives.

Reaching decisions in a collaborative way, building strong relationships, spreading an inspiring vision of the company’s future: all these are essential components of respect power. Whilst all the leadership styles in this section have their strengths and weaknesses, each style boasts the ability to empower individual team members. With respect power, your influence as a leader does not depend on taking power away from others; rather, your power grows as you delegate, include, and inspire.


Leadership and power go hand-in-hand, and the kind of leader you are depends on the kind of power you exercise.

Hierarchical power has its place in strong leadership, for situations where quick decision making and a clear chain of command are imperative. Likewise, expert power can equip leaders with exceptional skills and talents that they can use for the good of the organisation. But all leaders, no matter their individual style, should aim to develop respect power. Respect is the route to lasting positive influence.

Reading through the different leadership styles, you may have found several that apply to you, or even some aspects of one and some of another. Perhaps you find yourself acting as a coaching leader in some circumstances and a democratic leader in others (in fact, situational leadership means just that!).