The 6 styles of leadership: where do you fit?

6 min read  |   8 February, 2024   By Laura Sands

A diverse group of 6 employees of different ages, genders and ethnicities stand against a wall in a line, smiling.

Have you ever stopped to examine your style of leadership?

Strong leaders - like guides, mentors and teachers - have the power to strongly influence and change our lives. Leadership skills affect the success of our teams and the businesses we run.

Like other management skills, leadership is a platform we can learn from and grow with.

At its simplest, 'leadership' focuses on developing your team. In contrast, ‘management' is involved with the coordination and delivery of tasks.

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

In this post, we examine the 6 most common leadership styles as recognised by the HR industry. Where do you think you fit?

  1. Coercive leadership

  2. Authoritative leadership

  3. Affiliative leadership

  4. Democratic leadership

  5. Pacesetting leadership

  6. Coaching leadership

One of the most recognised leadership studies to date was called 'Leadership that gets results,' led by Daniel Goleman. 

The study suggested that the most effective method of leadership was a collection of distinct styles of leadership, applying them at the right time. 


The 6 styles of leadership

1. Coercive leadership style | The boss

“Do what I say” is the coercive leader's favoured management motto. Like a sergeant 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 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. Authoritative leadership style | The visionary

The visionary leader, or authoritative leadership style 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.

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


3. Affiliative leadership style | The carer

An affiliative style of leadership 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 styles.

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 flip side, this leader can struggle to understand how to improve poor performance and may be more hesitant to provide advice.


4. Democratic leadership style | The listener

“So, what do you think?” is a phrase you can expect to hear from leaders 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, a democratic leadership style relies heavily on the views and opinions of their team.

These leaders are typically able to incorporate the broad spectrum of ideas, 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.

5. Pace-setting leadership style | The hustler

With the highest of expectations, this style of leadership wants tasks completed yesterday. “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. 


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6. Coaching leadership style | The mentor

With an eye on the long-term, the coaching style of leadership focuses on developing others. 

With a strong sense of encouragement 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. Adjusting yet pushing the bar for consistent growth, while empowering their mentees 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.

What's your leadership style?

Each of us naturally leans towards one or two styles of leadership. The trick is not to view them as fixed. That’s because research shows that leaders who sit in-between leadership styles deliver 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.

Ultimately, it comes back to knowing your team, their strengths, preferred communication methods and challenges- not forgetting nurturing your culture, values and vision. Learn how to lead them and you’ll see strong results.


Author: Laura Sands

Laura is a writer who enjoys getting into the detail of subjects and sharing that knowledge with snappy, interesting content. When not typing away, she enjoys walks in the woods and curling up with a good book and mug of something hot.

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