There are nearly as many types of leadership styles as there are individual leaders. Leadership styles refer to the way in which managers, executives, and other professional leaders choose to conduct business.

These styles have a significant impact across the workplace, team morale, and company culture. Understanding which style aligns most closely with you is essential to maximizing its effectiveness and your potential as a leader. 

Why You Need a Leadership Style

One of the things effective leaders have in common is a signature leadership style. Developing your signature style is an important part of developing yourself as a leader. It helps those around you know what to expect from you, understand how you work best, and reduce frustration.  

Leadership Style Types

There is no one “best” way to be a leader. Each individual — as well as their teams, organizations, and companies — requires a customized approach.

However, there are several broad categories of common leadership styles that many managers and executives will likely fall under. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses and has a variety of nuances.

This section includes many — but not all — leadership styles in management, and some may have overlapping attributes. While this is not a fully comprehensive list, you will likely identify yourself among these traits.

Autocratic leadership style

An autocratic leadership style focuses strongly on input and decision-making from the person in charge. There is usually a clear separation between the leader and employees, and the workplace is typically highly structured and rigid. 

Autocratic leaders display traits like self-confidence, motivation and drive, clarity, consistency, and dependability. 


  • Decision-making is quick and efficient as it is done by one person with limited outside discussion
  • High-pressure or stressful situations are handled by strong and directive leadership
  • A clear chain of command or oversight
  • Relieves responsibility of complex decision-making from employees


  • Discourages team discussion and can often overlook others’ perspectives
  • Limits creativity
  • Removes options for agency and collaboration
  • Can lead to resentment from employees as they may not feel their contributions are appreciated

An autocratic leadership style is most effective in environments that require a significant level of structure with relatively high stakes and consequences, such as the military or crisis response. 

To avoid resentment and dissatisfaction amongst employees, autocratic leaders should take care to strike a balance between high levels of productivity and relationship building with their team members. 

Keep in mind that leading with a firm hand does not have to mean disconnecting from those around you. Establishing focused goals also includes motivating employees, acknowledging accomplishments, and building trust. 

Bureaucratic leadership style

A bureaucratic leadership style is primarily characterized by hierarchy. Bureaucratic leadership clearly defines duties and responsibilities for each position, establishes a specific chain of command, and often has set rules and processes in place. 

Bureaucratic leaders are detail-oriented, disciplined and organized, hard-working, and often passionate about their area of specialization.


  • Clear understanding of roles, rules, and regulations
  • Eliminates confusion or ambiguity in day-to-day work
  • Fair employee treatment
  • Offers transparency of processes


  • Discourages creativity and innovation
  • Inflexible and difficult to change
  • Can create “traffic jams” as the decision-making process has to go through a set pathway
  • Teams are typically siloed, limiting collaboration and communication

A bureaucratic leadership style is best suited for large workplaces and organizations that require complex systems such as hospitals, construction sites, government or public offices, and intelligence or security. 

As a bureaucratic leader, it can feel easy to fall into impersonal behavior or micromanagement. However, it is still important to treat employees as individuals and encourage them to take initiative — whether in their current role or if you have observed growth and think they are ready for the next step.

Coaching leadership style

A coaching leadership style takes a personalized approach to leadership. Someone with this style focuses on improving employees as individuals by focusing on their unique strengths and weaknesses. They invite feedback, communicate with team members, and enjoy establishing mentoring relationships. 

Coaching leaders tend to be compassionate, encouraging, supportive, future-minded, and emotionally intelligent.


  • Close connections with colleagues and employees
  • Open lines of communication
  • A supportive work environment
  • Encouragement to think freely


  • Significant time and energy investment
  • Change can happen at a reduced pace
  • Requires a compatible team fit (which is not always guaranteed)
  • Lack of coaching skills

Coaching leaders possess emotional intelligence and work to cultivate growth amongst their employees, with a focus on long-term success. They have strong communication skills and are dedicated to both individual and group outcomes. This is a particularly effective leadership style amongst close-knit teams who share a common goal, best suited for a work environment that allows for personalized attention.

To avoid becoming stretched too thin, coaching leaders should set meetings and check-ins with a specific purpose, establish SMART goals to stay on track, be prepared and organized, and adapt as needed.

Democratic leadership style

The democratic leadership style emphasizes shared decision-making amongst team members. Each person is encouraged to participate and bring their unique talents and knowledge together. 

Democratic leaders are highly team-oriented, flexible and adaptable, and communicative. They value cohesion and engagement and will often reward out-of-the-box thinking.


  • Team members tend to feel valued, with higher job satisfaction and commitment
  • Cultivates a positive work environment
  • Higher levels of engagement
  • Built-in inclusivity, as every team member is expected to be equally involved


  • A slower decision-making process
  • Lack of decisive action from leadership
  • Can lead to inefficiency and confusion if not managed properly
  • Inequality of outcome as not every option can be chosen

Democratic leaders thrive in collaborative, creative environments that allow for flexibility. In addition to valuing others’ input, democratic leaders should also have the confidence to step in and take action to prevent delays.

Laissez-faire leadership style

Laissez-faire translates to “let it happen,” which encapsulates this leadership style. Laissez-faire leadership is largely hands-off, allowing team members to work autonomously. Employees are expected to make their own decisions and solve problems without extensive oversight. 

Laissez-faire leaders are comfortable taking accountability, good at delegating, and trust their teams to accomplish tasks day-to-day.


  • Encourages personal growth, confidence, and innovation
  • Limits pressure on employees
  • Collaborative decision-making amongst team members
  • Employees feel empowered to work independently


  • Can lead to conflict without intervention from leadership
  • Confusion about roles and responsibilities
  • Potential lack of motivation and poor time management
  • Employees may feel isolated

Laissez-faire leadership style is most effective with an expert, trustworthy team that possesses strong time management skills. To prevent employees from feeling isolated, laissez-faire leaders should make it clear that guidance and support is available. They should also be observant and take initiative when conflict arises. 

To further engage employees, laissez-faire leaders can seek feedback, provide clear direction and goals, and create regular checkpoints to gauge progress.

Pacesetter leadership style

Leaders who are pacesetters opt to lead by example. They value results and take initiative to pursue goals. They also tend to have high standards, seek challenges, and thrive under pressure.


  • Addresses issues quickly
  • Achieves goals rapidly
  • Values competency
  • Leaders are highly involved and take on tasks alongside employees


  • Minimized trust can lead to micromanagement
  • Can lead to employee stress
  • Can reduce engagement due to lack of employee input
  • Misalignment between leadership and employees

To be a good leader, pacesetters should reward accomplishments to maintain employee motivation and engagement. This style should also be used sparingly and with caution; leaders should take care not to steamroll their team, offer readily available resources, and communicate regularly to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Servant leadership style

Servant leadership style prioritizes well being and harmony amongst team members. A servant leader values listening to others, empathy, and foresight, seeking to build community and resolve conflicts. 


  • Encourages a shared vision
  • Cultivates a supportive work environment
  • Empowers employees to be their best selves
  • Leaders can earn respect amongst their peers, colleagues, and employees


  • Can slow down the decision-making process, which is inefficient in high-stakes situations
  • Leaders can overcommit their time and energy
  • May require a significant culture shift if the workplace is not already familiar with this leadership style
  • Moral standards may be individualized to the leader rather than reached by consensus

This style encourages leaders to lead by example, putting in the same amount of effort as their employees. They also encourage growth and engagement, highlight the importance of the work being done, and care about their team members as people, not just employees. 

Visionary leadership style

Visionary leadership is all about having a long-term goal for the future and working toward that goal with others. Start-ups or large corporations are often headed by visionary leaders who have specific business outcomes in mind.

Visionary leaders are optimistic, strategic, forward-thinking, motivational, and capable of forming long-term plans.


  • Accomplishes target goals
  • Inspires others, including employees and shareholders
  • Offers clear pathways to achieve outcomes
  • Strong communication with others


  • Details may get lost
  • Passion for the goal may outweigh others’ input
  • Current issues may be overlooked in favor of pursuing the long-term goal
  • Motivation may wane if the leader moves on

Creating a unified vision for any organization requires comprehensive communication, setting clear targets along the way, and maintaining enthusiasm and motivation amongst team members.

Can You Pick Your Leadership Style or is it Predetermined?

While you may have been able to identify your personality with the traits listed in each section above, leadership styles are not predetermined. You may lean more toward one style than another, or your workplace may suit one specific style. 

However, we are always growing and changing. It’s important to be open to adapting your style if it better serves you and your team.

As a leader, you have the responsibility to dedicate yourself to developing your skills, professional relationships, and personal and career goals.

How to Choose Your Leadership Style

Whether you’re a new manager, recently earned a promotion, transitioned to a leadership position, or simply need a refresh, choosing your leadership style can offer clarity. 

Consider the following:

  • Are you better at establishing goals or building relationships?
  • Do you prefer structure or creativity, with less-defined rules or processes? 
  • Are long-term or short-term outcomes easier for you to achieve? 

Asking yourself these questions may help guide you in the right direction and allow you to self-reflect on your experiences.

What Is Your Leadership Style?

In addition to identifying your priorities, there are several ways you can find and practice the leadership style that is most effective for you. 

  • Test out styles over short periods of time. Observe how workplace morale, relationships, and productivity shift with each style. 
  • Seek mentorship or guidance from a trusted peer or another leader you admire. 
  • Ask for feedback from team members. Your team and employees will likely have opinions about what works best for them and their own efficiency at work. 
  • If your current leadership style doesn’t feel quite right, evaluate your personality traits and try adjusting to a style that aligns more closely with the characteristics you already have.
  • Try combining a couple of styles together and you may get the best of both worlds! 
  • Take a leadership style quiz

If you are looking to deepen your knowledge and training, Professional & Executive Development at Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education offers a variety of programs specifically designed to level up your leadership skills.