Which Leadership Style is Best?

What does it mean to be a good leader?

As you ponder this question, you may find yourself reflecting on the leaders you have encountered along your path. You may start to develop a mental list of the qualities and attributes that made those leaders effective. The characteristics you identify through this mental process are a good indicator of the leadership styles that you find more appealing or believe to be effective. As you walk along your leadership path, you may ask yourself at some point, “What leadership style is best?”

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Before we answer that question, it is important that we cover ten of the common leadership styles and how those various styles impact organizations.

10 Leadership Styles

  1. Coach
  2. Visionary
  3. Servant
  4. Autocratic
  5. Laissez-faire or hands off
  6. Democratic
  7. Pacesetter
  8. Transformational
  9. Transactional
  10. Bureaucratic


The coach is a leader who is most interested in the success of the individuals who make up an organization or a team. A coach will recognize the strengths, weaknesses, needs, and motivations of individuals. The coach then uses that information to establish goals and assist individuals in continuous growth and improvement.

Coaching leaders are likely to spend a lot of one-on-one time with direct reports providing mentoring and coaching.  During this time, coaching leaders will identify goals at the individual level and support their employees in reaching them.


The visionary leader has the ability to conceive mental images of the what the future could hold and communicate that vision to others. The leader that adopts a visionary leadership style motivates their team by opening their minds to all of the incredible possibilities and challenging them to consider new ideas and ways of thinking. The visionary leader has a knack for inspiring employees which drives progress effectively.

Visionary leaders also ensure the vision becomes reality by developing clear goals and a plan of action to achieve them. They are strong in strategic planning and can rally their teams to buy into the plan.


A servant leader, also referred to a service-focused leader, puts the people within the organization first. Servant leaders believe that when team members feel personally and professionally fulfilled, they are more effective and productive. By placing employee satisfaction at the forefront, servant leaders achieve higher levels of respect and loyalty from their teams.

A servant leader is likely to ask employees what they need to be able to find success in their roles and prioritize providing the support, tools, and resources necessary. Employees who work with servant leaders are highly engaged in their work. 


Autocratic leaders are also called authoritarian leaders. These leaders rarely rely on input from their team and instead make decisions alone or only involve a small group of people. An autocratic leader expects employees to follow directions without question. Such leaders leave little room for employees to be involved in determining the direction of the organization or decisions.

Autocratic leadership is not a popular style as it can stifle creativity and employee’s sense of ownership over their work and the organization’s achievement. However, sometimes this leadership style is highly effective in industries that require strict compliance with policy or guidelines.


The laissez-faire leader is the least controlling leadership style.  This type of leader is hands off, and reliant on the expertise of their team for decision making and progress towards goals. A laissez-faire leadership style can be highly effective when employees are self-motivated, have a high level of experience, and are well trained.

Laissez-faire leaders often rely heavily on trust and competence. However, unchecked, this leadership style can stifle an organization when employees need guidance or structure to stay motivated.


Democratic leadership is one of the most popular leadership styles because it involves input from the entire team and fosters employees’ sense of ownership in their work. A democratic leader will encourage employees at all levels to exercise authority in the workplace and practice leadership regardless of their role within an organization.

The strength of a democratic leader is the desire for honest and productive feedback and willingness to be receptive to feedback that may be contrary to the leader’s wants and beliefs. By welcoming new ideas and perspectives, the democratic leader fosters a culture of innovation and creativity that ultimately supports organizational success.


Pacesetter leaders can get results and get them fast. This leadership type is highly effective and helpful in fast-paced environments which a high level of energy is necessary. Pacesetter leaders prioritize performance of themselves and others and are fixated on getting things done better and faster every time. 

Although improved performance may sound fantastic, often pacesetter leaders will forgo activities that keep a team well connected in the name of efficiency. They are slow to praise and quick to criticize and can often leave employees feeling burnt out and unsatisfied in their roles.

Bruna Marinuzzi explains that pacesetters will often not trust others to do the job as effective as they could themselves and therefore, they will take over when things don’t move as quickly as expected. 


Are you the type of person that strongly dislikes the phrase, “We have always done it this way”? You may prefer a transformational leadership style. Transformational leaders are a mix of the best qualities that make up a visionary, coaching, and democratic leaders. Leaders that choose a transformational leadership style have a clear vision of the future and can articulate the steps needed to get there. Through the process they involve all employees in shaping the vision of the future and respect the individual contributions and needs of team members.

Transformational leaders are more likely to take risks and foster creative methods to solving problems or improving common practices. This type of leadership style has been shown to have a positive impact on employee well-being.


The transactional leadership style is common today. In this case, leaders use incentives, often monetary, to generate results. The focus is on performance like the pacesetter, but transactional leaders also use mentorship and training to help their team towards achieving goals so that team members can receive the associated rewards.

While rewards do impact employee motivation and behavior, it fails to promote long-term change, respect, buy-in to the mission and vision, or creativity.


Bureaucratic leaders do everything by the book. This style of leadership may welcome input of their team, but leaders with this leadership style are more likely to reject any ideas that are not compatible with current policy and practices. Bureaucratic leaders are fixated on structure and hierarchy. Therefore, collaboration and creativity are not a priority.

Like autocratic leaders, this leadership style is most effective for highly regulated industries such as finance, healthcare, or government.

So, which leadership style is best?

All leadership styles serve a purpose depending on the situation, type of organization or industry, and the personalities of the leadership and employees involved. The best approach is to become familiar with all leadership styles and understand the applications of each style. You will likely have a default style of leadership that you naturally exhibit or turn to. However, it is important that you are flexible in how you lead others.

To understand when to employ each type of leadership style it is essential to develop your ability to diagnose needs, communicate effectively, and be flexible in how you make decisions and interact with others.

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