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6 Common Leadership Styles — and How to Decide Which to Use When

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Rebecca Knight for Harvard Business Review. To read the complete article, check out others, sign up for email alerts, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

Illustration Credit:  Carol Yepes/Getty Images 

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Much has been written about common leadership styles and how to identify the right style for you, whether it’s transactional or transformational, bureaucratic or laissez-faire. But according to Daniel Goleman, a psychologist best known for his work on emotional intelligence, “Being a great leader means recognizing that different circumstances may call for different approaches.”

Drawing on research and experience, Goleman has identified six distinct leadership styles that managers can adapt, depending on the situations and the needs of their team members. He first introduced these styles in his 2000 Harvard Business Review article, “Leadership That Gets Results,” and they have since been widely recognized as an essential framework for effective leadership. The six leadership styles include:

  • Coercive leadership style, which entails demanding immediate compliance.
  • Authoritative leadership style, which is about mobilizing people toward a vision.
  • Pacesetting leadership style, which involves expecting excellence and self-direction.
  • Affiliative leadership style, which centers around building emotional bonds.
  • Democratic leadership style, which involves creating consensus.
  • Coaching leadership style, which focuses on developing people for the future.

Though the world has changed over the past two decades, these leadership styles remain relevant. Mastering them will help you navigate the complexities of different situations, boost morale, and drive your team’s long-term growth.

With that in mind, here’s a closer look at [two] of the six leadership styles — and when to use them — updated for today’s business landscape.

The Six Types of Leadership Styles

1. Coercive leadership style

Of all the leadership styles, coercive is the least effective in most situations, according to Goleman. It’s not difficult to understand why. This style is characterized by top-down decision making, an authoritarian approach, and a demanding, do-what-I-say attitude, he says. While this style may yield short-term results, it has a corrosive long-term impact on the company culture, leading to high employee turnover and a disillusioned, disengaged workforce.

When to use the coercive leadership style

This command-and-control leadership style may work in certain crisis situations where swift, decisive action and a clear chain of command are needed: a corporate takeover or in an emergency room, for instance. In most cases, though, this approach is likely to be detrimental, says Goleman.

2. Authoritative leadership style

The authoritative leadership style, not to be confused with authoritarian leadership, involves motivating your team members by connecting their work to a larger organizational strategy, helping them understand how their day-to-day tasks contribute to a greater purpose. It’s about setting clear guidelines; not micromanaging. It’s also about trusting your staff members to work towards the shared vision with autonomy and creativity, which creates high employee engagement and increased job satisfaction. If coercive is the worst kind of leadership, authoritative shines as the most effective and inspiring style.

When to use the authoritative leadership style

This leadership style is beneficial in lots of situations, and it’s particularly useful during times of change or uncertainty. It can also be integrated into daily operations by reminding your team members of your company’s mission in an organic way. For example, a pharmaceutical executive might say, “Our work will benefit many patients,” while an insurance leader might say, “We’re helping people secure their future.” These reminders make the organization’s goals and mission tangible and meaningful for the team.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Rebecca Knight is a journalist who writes about all things related to the changing nature of careers and the workplace. Her essays and reported stories have been featured in The Boston Globe, Business Insider, The New York Times, BBC, and The Christian Science Monitor. She was shortlisted as a Reuters Institute Fellow at Oxford University in 2023. Earlier in her career, she spent a decade as an editor and reporter at the Financial Times in New York, London, and Boston.


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