In the words of best-selling author, Daniel Goleman, there are six styles of leadership

Whether predestined or unexpectedly circumstantial, strong leaders - like guides, mentors and teachers - have the power to strongly influence and change our lives. 

The good news is that leadership is not an elitist sport. It, like all the management skills we explore here, provides another platform to learn and grow from. six styles of Leadership 6 styles Breathe pixabay

If the term 'management' concerns coordination and delivery of tasks, then 'leadership' focuses on developing your team.

This includes everything from team dynamics and communication, company culture, vision and strategy to learning what inspires - then drives - both individual and business growth.


Let's take the six most common leadership styles as recognised by the HR industry today and see where you fit. 

The six styles of leadership

  1. Boss
  2. Visionary
  3. Carer
  4. Democrat
  5. Hustler
  6. Mentor

Harvard Business Review recently published one of the most recognised leadership studies to date, led by Daniel Goleman. Showcasing results from three-year study of over 3000 middle managers, it divides leadership styles into 6 distinct types.

1. The boss | Coercive leadership

“Do what I say” is the coercive leader's favoured management motto. Like a sargeant leading his troops onto the battlefield, this leader is armed with bucket-loads of initiative and balanced with self-control. 

A style that’s often synonymous with the armed forces, coercive leaders tend to:

  • demand immediate compliance,
  • react well during crisis,
  • kickstart change/motivate; as well as 
  • confront problematic employees.

Remember that this style of leadership can prove destructive for more creative members and projects. Whereas followers feel safe and guided, more able employees may lose motivation and are likely to highly resent micromanagement.

Our advice? Think about implementing a flexible working scheme or adopting more of a growth mindset to build trust and earn respect from your people. 

2. Visionary | Authoritative leadership

The visionary leader, or authoritative leadership as it's known to Goleman, is our more creative, eccentric and maverick teacher. They take a “come with me” approach, as they lead the business into their vision of what success could look like.

visioary leadership-minStuffed with self-confidence and enough emotional intelligence to offer sincere empathy to others, this leader oozes charisma and enjoys expressing their ideas with clarity and passion.

(Think Hugh Jackman from the Showman with his tails and tophat, singing his values and vision to his cast and followers... )

3. Carer | Affiliative  leadership

We’re entering touchy-feely territory here. The affiliative leader puts people first, concentrating on creating a harmonious working environment and building emotional bonds. The affiliative leadership style requires lots of empathy and the ability to build relationships through a range of communication

This tact proves particularly helpful during stressful circumstances, and if applied well, can help to motivate employees to continue through the tough times. It can also be used to heal rifts in a team or to establish new teams. On the flipside, this leader can struggle to understand how to improve poor performance and may be more hesitant to provide advice.

4. Listener | Democratic leadership

“So, what do you think?” is a phrase you can expect to hear from a leader demonstrating the democratic leadership style of management. They work hard to develop consensus through participation, using their skills of collaboration and excellent communication to lead their team.

From polls to surveys, to feedback to questionnaires, the democratic leader relies heavily on the views and opinions of their team.

This means that they are typically able to incorporate the broad spectrum of deas, views and input from valuable employees, leaders and stakeholders to their advantage. So, in a nutshell, great for managing change and an agile workforce

Top tip: Structure meetings by setting out rules and boundaries. Record these somewhere accessible, like your company documents section on Breathe. We'll even send you a notification once your team have read it and are up to speed. 

Drowning in paperwork? Try our award-winning people management software for 14 days. No credit cards, no contracts, no fuss. 

5. Hustler | Pacesetting leadership

With the highest of expectations, this leader wants tasks complete and quick sharp! “Do as I do and do it now", is their motto.

This approach is well-suited to highly competent and motivated teams, working to tight deadlines. Perhaps not the best-suited to everyday environments and less- pressured settings.

The drive to succeed and strong initiative of this leadership style is certainly admirable. However, tread with caution. Because of their own incredible passion and discipline, this type of leader could intimidate and unknowingly pressure employees. Remember to walk a mile in their shoes and avoid micromanagement when considering individuals' workloads. 

6. Mentor | Coaching leadership

With an eye on the long-term, the coaching leadership style of management focuses on developing others. They're like the Italian mother who's worth is measured in weight of spaghetti consumed. “Try this.” "Go on, try some more..." With a strong sense of self and focus on the individual, this leadership style works on the premise that each step is progress. 

And that's how it works to bring out the best in people. Lowering yet pushing the bar for consistent growth, while empowering them to learn the skills that will drive the business forward. 

Great coaches understand their team and accept that they, just like their people, are constantly learning.  

Giving back time - trial

Why strong leadership matters

A strong leader helps shape the team they’re guiding by communicating, understanding and driving the culture in which they operate.

  • Do you dream of a friendly, harmonious and focused team? Impossible without a leader who supports this environment.
  • What about an overly competitive workforce with high staff turnover? Again, the leader drives this and can help alleviate these problems.

Great leadership adapts according to the team and the environment. In times of growth and leadership, we could say: 'you reap what you sow'.

Look at the leaders who celebrate success and small victories. And the ones who recognise opportunities to help their people develop. They obviously received the memo on why it's important to broaden skillsets

IF... you're looking for inspirational leadership

Where do you fit?

We naturally lean towards one or two leadership styles. The trick is not to view them as fixed. That’s because research shows that leaders who sat in-between leadership styles delivered the best results.

Flexing between leadership styles makes sense - when no two days in business are the same; you can’t expect to work the same and achieve different results. Try to use different techniques and traits from the leadership styles you identify most with, making sure you adapt to the specific situation. 

This comes back to knowing your team, their strengths, preferred communication methods and challenges. Oh, and nurturing your culture, values and vision. Learn how to lead them and you’ll see strong results.

Daniel Coleman's study concluded that most successful leaders used authoritative, affiliative, democratic and coaching leadership styles and methods. That's not to say that the bossy or hustler leadership style is all bad. 

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