Agency Growth

Identifying a Leadership Style that Works for You — and Your Business

In 1840, historian Thomas Carlyle wrote his revolutionary Great Man Theory, which declared that powerful leaders are simply born with a set of intrinsic values that make them particularly well-suited to leadership roles.

Yet increasing amounts of evidence show that the best leaders are not born, but rather made — they learn how to lead by identifying a leadership style that helps them leverage their own skills and guide their employees in the right direction.

To help you identify the leadership style that best suits your unique strengths and weaknesses, we’ve analyzed the five most common styles of leadership:

  1. Authoritarian: Power and control are the pillars of an authoritarian leadership style, in which the leader tells employees what to do and how to do it — with little to no input from team members. This removes any employee autonomy and often results in team members feeling disengaged from their work and resentful of their boss, which contributes to high turnover rates. This leadership style, used by powerful figures including Bill Gates and Vladimir Putin, is particularly well-suited to certain industries like manufacturing or the military, where decisions have to be made quickly and efficiently.
  2. Servant: In stark contrast to the Authoritarian Leader, a Servant Leader prioritizes the needs and personal growth of employees above their own selfish ambitions. Servant Leaders seek to create a workplace environment that empowers individuals to cultivate their own unique skills to achieve optimal performance, thereby benefiting the organization as a whole. Incredibly successful companies like Starbucks and Southwest Airlines credit Servant Leadership with increasing employee engagement and workplace morale, boosting productivity, and lowering turnover rates. However, Servant Leaders must be careful not to allow this hyper-focus on team members to supersede the value of business development and the work itself.
  3. Bureaucratic: Halfway between the Authoritarian Leader and the Servant Leader on the spectrum of control and power, a Bureaucratic Leader values employee input, but ultimately has the last word on all decisions. This can make team members feel heard and appreciated without feeling pressured to make decisions. Perhaps the most famous Bureaucratic Leader was Winston Churchill, who relied on a clear chain of command to lead the United Kingdom as Prime Minister. This style of leadership is most appropriate for highly-regulated industries that use a hierarchical structure and rigid rules to accomplish tasks.
  4. Transformational: Inspirational leaders in both the public and private sectors create organizational change using four core principles of Transformational Leadership: individualized consideration, inspirational motivation, idealized influence, and intellectual stimulation. They work hard to instill purpose and drive in all team members in order to propel growth and create lasting change for the business and its employees, resulting in increased employee satisfaction and well-being.
  5. Laissez-Faire: Perhaps the most “hands-off” approach to leadership, a Laissez-Faire Leader allows employees to have nearly full control, guiding decisions and daily workplace operations. Employees must be self-motivated in order to progress and move the business forward. The Laissez-Faire leadership model is not without flaws, though: when a leader is absent, the hierarchy of the decision-making process is lost and no one is able to define business objectives, resulting in missed growth opportunities and loss of revenue.

History shows us that the best leaders do not fit a “one-size-fits-all” model, but rather possess a level of self-awareness that allows them to leverage their strengths and weaknesses to lead their organization productively. Although Servant Leadership has proven to be the most effective way to improve employee satisfaction and drive growth, it’s up to each and every leader to determine the leadership style best suited to the nature of the business and its employees.