6 leadership styles: pros and cons of each

Jeffrey Fermin
May 24, 2022

As a leader, you can use different approaches to guide your team. In fact, research shows that the most successful leaders are flexible and adaptable, and tend to use multiple styles depending on the situation.

Before reading this, you should know that there is no one style of leadership that is better than the others. Instead, the best leaders are those who are able to adapt their style to the specific needs of their team.

Here are six of the most common leadership styles:

1. Commanding leadership

The leader is someone who holds all the power and authority, and directs the team. This type of leadership style can be useful for new teams that need to be brought together quickly, or for an emergency situation when you don’t have time to consult with your team on every decision.

Commands are clear and direct, with no room for debate. The leader expects immediate compliance from their employees without questions or hesitation.

Pros and cons of commanding leadership:

The pros of commanding leadership:

  • Can be useful for new teams that need to be brought together quickly.
  • Useful in emergency situations when you don’t have time to consult with your team on every decision.

Useful in emergency situations when you don’t have time to consult with your team on every decision.

The cons of commanding leadership: 

Key takeaway: Use commanding leadership when you need to make quick decisions or in an emergency situation.

2. Participative (or democratic) leadership

The participative leadership style is a type of management in which the leader is open to employee input and encourages their involvement in decision-making. This method increases employee motivation and commitment to the decision. Participative leaders are able to delegate tasks, assign responsibilities, and make decisions that are more likely to be accepted by employees because they have had a role in making them.

Effective Participative Leaders:

  • Encourage participation from everyone on the team; listen carefully before speaking
  • Give everyone an opportunity to offer ideas or solutions
  • Provide opportunities for employees to learn new skills through training sessions or mentorship

Pros and cons of participative (democratic) leadership:

The pros of participative leadership: 

  • Encourages employee involvement and motivation
  • Builds team commitment to decisions
  • Can delegate tasks effectively

The cons of participative leadership:

  • May lead to decision paralysis if too many people are involved
  • Can be time-consuming
  • May result in decisions that are not the best for the company as a whole

Key takeaway:  Use participative leadership when you need to make group decisions or when you want to increase employee motivation and commitment.

3. Delegative (or laissez-faire) leadership

Delegative leadership is a style in which you give your employees a lot of autonomy and trust them to make decisions on their own. You set goals for the team, but allow them to figure out how to meet those goals. This means that they are empowered and responsible for their tasks, but also accountable if something goes wrong.

Delegating may sound like it has negative connotations—like you're giving up control over your employees' work—but it's actually the best way to promote employee engagement and collaboration while still maintaining some semblance of control over the company as a whole. It's also great because delegating gives employees an opportunity to grow in their positions, learn new skills, improve performance quality levels and identify problem areas within processes or systems before they become major issues later down the road (or even worse).

If you'd like to learn more about delegative leadership, check out our interview with Kalifa Oliver, where she talks more about people listening, employee engagement, and more.

If you're interested in adopting this leadership style for yourself or your team at work but aren't sure where to start or what steps need taken first then check out our article titled How To Be A Delegator: Tips For Successful Leadership Development Programs Today!

Pros and cons of delegative leadership:

The pros of delegative leadership: 

  • Promotes employee engagement and collaboration
  • Gives employees an opportunity to learn new skills and grow in their positions
  • Can help identify problems within processes or systems before they become major issues
  • Allows for a more hands-off approach from the leader

The cons of delegative leadership:

  • Employees may feel like they have too much responsibility and could become overwhelmed
  • There is less control over the work being done by employees
  • If something goes wrong, the leader may be held accountable even though they didn't make the decision themselves
  • Employees may take advantage of the freedom and not work as hard as they would if the leader was more involved

Key takeaway: Use delegative leadership when you want to promote collaboration and when you want to give employees an opportunity to grow in their positions.

4. Transactional leadership

Let's start with the carrot and stick approach. This is one of the most common leadership styles, but it's a little more complicated than simply giving rewards or punishments. To use this management style effectively, you must first understand what motivates your employees. Do they want to be recognized for their hard work? Do they need more compensation? Are you using incentives like bonuses and raises to get them to work harder? Once you know what drives each member of your team, then you can start using transactional leadership by rewarding those who do well with money or other perks.

On the flip side, if an employee is not performing at their highest level, use transactional leadership by letting them know that their poor performance will result in negative consequences such as getting written up or losing some vacation time off if they don't improve immediately.

Pros and cons of transactional leadership:

The pros of transactional leadership: 

  • Transactional leadership is often very effective in getting employees to meet specific goals.
  • It can be a good way to motivate employees by offering rewards for meeting objectives.
  • This style of leadership is often very structured and easy to understand, which can make it simpler to train new managers.

The cons of transactional leadership:

  • Transactional leadership can sometimes result in a lot of pressure on employees to perform well or face negative consequences.
  • This style of management may not be as effective in fostering creativity or innovation since it focuses more on following rules and procedures rather than encouraging out-of-the-box thinking.
  • Employees who are constantly being rewarded or punished may eventually become resentful of their manager if they feel like they're being treated more like a child than an adult.

Key takeaway:  Use transactional leadership when you want to motivate employees with rewards or punishments that are linked to their performance.

5. Transformational leadership

Transformational leadership is all about setting the example. When it comes to transforming your team, you need to know what you want and be able to communicate that vision in a way that makes sense for them.

You want to make sure your team understands this vision by encouraging them to ask questions and helping them understand how it applies in their work. This can be done by using analogies or metaphors from everyday life, which will allow them to see how what they do at work fits into the larger picture of what's going on around them outside of their job description (and maybe even their company).

As an example: if they're working on an internal project with other teams or businesses across different departments within your organization, taking time out of each meeting between these groups could allow everyone involved—including yourself—to discuss how things are going so far and whether there are any issues with where we've been heading thus far (or where we should go next).

Delegating tasks like this among members within each group will give everyone more perspective on both sides' goals as well as inspire creativity when working together because people may come up with ideas during these conversations that were never thought about before!

Pros and cons of transformational leadership:

The pros of transformational leadership: 

  • It encourages creativity and out-of-the-box thinking
  • Builds trust and rapport within the team
  • Allows for open communication between members

The cons of transformational leadership:

  • It can be time consuming
  • People may not be receptive to change
  • Not everyone is suited for this type of leadership style

Key takeaway:  Transformational leadership is all about setting the example and communicating the vision to your team in a way that makes sense for them.

6. Servant leadership

Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to serve. Servant leaders focus on the growth and well-being of people, not just on tasks and results.

Servant leaders have this core belief: “The best way for me to create value for others is by helping them get what they want, even if it's not what I want.”

Servant leaders are also more likely than other types of leaders to be authentic with their followers. They're more likely to put themselves on equal footing with others in terms of access to information and decision-making power (and they may share some credit for success or blame for failure).

Pros and cons of servant leadership:

The pros of transformational leadership: 

  • Promotes creativity and innovation
  • Encourages employees to think outside the box
  • Develops a strong sense of team spirit
  • Increases employee morale and motivation
  • Focuses on the growth and development of employees

The cons of servant leadership:

  • May be difficult to implement in large organizations
  • Not all employees will respond positively to this style of leadership
  • There may be some resistance from traditionalists who prefer a more hierarchical approach to leadership.

Key takeaway:  Servant leadership is all about focusing on the growth and well-being of people, not just on tasks and results.

What kind of leader do you want to be?

In summary, there are six leadership styles that you can use to motivate your team. Each is appropriate in different situations, but all of them require empathy and communication skills.

Your job as a leader is to understand where your team members are coming from and help them grow professionally. By using these styles appropriately, you’ll be able to get the most out of every member on your staff and create a supportive environment for everyone!

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