The 4 Types of Leadership You Should Know

The 4 Types of Leadership You Should Know

What is a Leadership Style? 

Your leadership style defines how you relate to the team you lead.

We define leadership as getting things done through our interactions with team members. Your leadership style is how you relate to your team members, individually and as a group. The style you exhibit as a leader has an immense effect on the results produced by the team.

As we so often see, a sports analogy is useful in demonstrating this effect. Here’s the story of Bayern Munich, a German soccer team whose new leader led them to a championship. A horrible 2019-20 season ended with a crushing defeat. The management released their head coach and replaced him with one of his subordinates. 

Seemingly a small change! Hansi Flick, the new coach, would follow that with other minor adjustments in staff and player roster. The big change, not so visible, was in leadership style. Flick converted the players’ mindsets from losing to winning – and they won! Big time!

Big, highly visible changes, like replacing half the players or staff, get headlines! Small, low-visibility changes, accompanied by a new leadership style, can be the catalyst for big changes in results. Leadership style makes the BIG difference!

Read the story to see how this works. 

There are many examples of similar turnarounds in business.

What are the 4 Types of Leadership Styles? 

We’ll define and discuss the 4 fundamental types of leadership styles in this article. 

Very few leaders exhibit a pure form of only one type. Most leaders have a combination of two or more of these styles. 

Autocratic or Authoritarian Leadership

An autocratic leader keeps power and decision-making to himself. His or hers is a command-and-control organization. People perform their duties mostly as a result of fear of punishment rather than a sense of personal satisfaction or pride in results. In some cases, such a leader may offer benefits for achieving certain results. 

The motivation always comes from something outside the individual, not from their internal sense of accomplishment. They usually do what's necessary to curry favor or avoid the leader’s disfavor and no more.

In this type of organization, producers feel stifled and frustrated. Team performance normalizes at a low level, as the most productive people leave and the least motivated stay and do the minimum necessary.

Democratic or Participative Leadership


Participative style leaders decentralize authority. They encourage input from their team members.

Everyone on the team feels like part of something larger than themselves. They feel important in the team results, giving them a sense of pride in those results.

Democratic or participative leadership results in improved morale. With this style of management, absenteeism and employee turnover are reduced.

Results improve because everyone enjoys the feeling of being productive. Costs are reduced since absenteeism and turnover are among the biggest factors in employment costs.

Laissez-faire or Free-rein Leadership

In this leadership style, the leader essentially abdicates the role of directing activity. They act more as umpires than directors of the team's goals.

While some autonomy is a good thing, the team members must have a clear sense of what they're there to accomplish.

A good question to ask people is, “Why are we here?”. If the team members' answers differ from each other, you don't have a team; you have a group of people working independently. On a team, each member supports progress toward a common goal.

Paternalistic Leadership

In this style, the leader assumes the role of “Papa knows best.” The relationship is similar to that of a head-of-family and their children. They provide a comfortable working space and good benefits, but the team members are to follow the leader's direction. 

In some Asian cultures, this can actually work pretty well. In western cultures, more independent-thinking mature adult workers may resent the paternalistic attitude of the leader.

The Importance of Developing a Leadership Style

So…which of the 4 types of leadership skills do you use?

The label you put on your type of leadership style is not important. What is important is that you understand your relationship with your team members. 

The foregoing identifies important aspects of that relationship. Of course, results speak for themselves. Frank, face-to-face discussions with individuals and the team as a group will give you further insight into your degree of success in motivating the team. Ideally, they have a healthy sense of self-direction and autonomy in finding their own best methods to contribute to the team's goals. At the same time, they clearly understand what those goals are.

Note: Archived issues of The Unity Community are available here. Search that page for keywords representing your particular interest. Most articles offer suggestions for ways of improving business and personal relationships. Keep in mind that business is done by…people. Every business concern is essentially an inter-personal concern. 

A “Shot in the Arm” Every Day!

Eric Lofholm, my friend, mentor and sales coach, hosts a 15-minute motivational call every business day. (For a short time, he switched to doing the call weekly, and it seems nobody liked it.)  The call is at 7:45 AM Pacific time. Register for it here. You'll find instructions on how to join the call on Facebook, Zoom, by phone, or on a recording. 

Let's Talk!

What's your leadership style? Do you have a clear sense of how your team members view their relationships with you? Would you like to share your experience(s) with leadership? I’d love to hear from you. Reply to this message or click here if you'd like to chat on the phone.

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What's good about it?

What would make it even more valuable for you? 

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Your thoughts, suggestions and comments are always welcome. Reply to this message, or go here if you'd like to chat on the phone or Zoom. 

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