10 Organizational Leadership Styles — Study Starters

by | May 3, 2021 | Inner Man, Leadership

10 Organizational Leadership Styles — Study Starters

by | May 3, 2021 | Inner Man, Leadership

Whether you’re a natural-born leader or you’re growing into a management opportunity, whether you’re a fearless innovator or a somebody who simply must take the reigns out of a sense of duty, whether you’re an entrepreneurial thinker or a steady hand in periods of sustained growth, your organizational leadership style will have a direct impact on the culture, morale, and indeed, on the success of your organization.

Fortunately, there’s a style of business leadership to match nearly every personality type and every kind of organization. To lead effectively, you’ll need to find a style of leadership compatible with both your personality and your organization.

On a related note, if you’re trying to ace an exam on organizational leadership, formulate a final essay topic for a business class, or write a cover letter that accurately highlights your strengths, it should help to know and understand a few of the top leadership styles. Below are 10 of the most commonly seen styles in business today.

Familiarize yourself, ace your exam, and become a brilliant leader. (Warning: Paths to brilliance may vary.)


1. Transformational Leadership

A transformational leader is one who navigates an organization toward improvement by changing existing thoughts, procedures, and culture. Leading through example, inspiration, and engagement, the transformational leader will seek ways to get the best performance and potential out of each team member. It takes courage to be a transformational leader, one who challenges old ways of doing things in favor of better, more efficient, and more intuitive strategies.

What are the top qualities of a transformational leader?

  • Innovative
  • Empathetic
  • Motivational

When would you want a transformational leader?

Your corporation was once on the cutting edge of the electronic communication game, but suddenly, nobody wants to buy your fax machines. How did you get so out of touch? Time to bring in a dynamic leader with the capacity to change the focus, strategy, and techniques that once made your company successful but today make it look like a dinosaur.

2. Democratic Leadership

Also sometimes called participative leadership, democratic leadership requires collaborative energy, delegation of responsibilities, and group-level decision making. This demands a leader who knows how to cultivate participation, empower team members, and work directly alongside organizational members at every level. With democratic leadership, while organizational hierarchy may still exist, influence, power and the ability to contribute to decisions may be widely distributed across tiers and departments. This means the right leader will know when to act, when to authorize, how to mediate conflict, and how best to synthesize the talents of team members.

What are the top qualities of a democratic leader?

  • Actively Engaged
  • Supportive
  • Accountable

When would you want a democratic leader?

You’ve got a team of talented Major League Baseball players, a mixed squad of experienced veterans and gifted prospects, each earning more than a million dollars a year to swing a bat at a ball. Some of these guys have championship rings, one or two might even be headed to the Hall of Fame. They aren’t looking for a manager to boss them around. Some of the today’most successful baseball managers have taken a more democratic approach to the game, giving their players the opportunity to contribute to key decisions, to nurture their talents along individual paths, and to assume their own key leadership roles on and off the field. This more collegial approach to leadership is increasingly finding support — in contrast to the iron-fisted, chair-throwing, drop-and-give-me-50 coaches of the old days.

3. Autocratic Leadership

An autocratic leader holds singular authority in an organization. This is a common leadership style in which all key decisions go through a top figure and in which most members of the organization answer to a hierarchy that leads up to this figure. While autocratic leadership is rarely very popular with employees, it’s the preferred strategy in organizations where employees perform streamlined functions, where control is more critical to success than creativity, and where there is scant threshold for error. The autocratic leader prefers to take charge, and while he or she may be receptive to input and feedback, this individual will make all final decisions according to personal discretion.

What are the top qualities of an autocratic leader?

  • Disciplined
  • Decisive
  • Confident

When would you want an autocratic leader?

You run a regional chain of supermarkets with a slim profit-margin. While you do a good volume of business, factors such as food spoilage, breakage, and theft are cutting into your revenue. You need somebody to come in and right the ship, which means ensuring employees are effectively rotating stock, reducing habits that result in breakage, and taking steps to mitigate shoplifting. Because you largely employ a staff that works for low wages, has limited professional training, and is prone to high turnover, good results require constant oversight. You need a leader that keeps a watchful eye on management, employee behavior, and outcomes in each location as well as one with the authority to intervene where results are less than desired.

4. Laissez-Faire Leadership

Laissez-faire leadership is a style in which organizational leaders take a hands off approach to decision-making and task-completion. This style of leadership gives organizational members a wide latitude when it comes to managing projects, solving problems, and resolving disagreements. In most instances, leadership simply provides a clear set of expectations, the resources needed for job completion, and accountability to the public, shareholders, or any other outside interests. This style of leadership can be effective in select contexts, but it can be challenging to motivate employees or establish accountability when implemented in the wrong setting.

What are the top qualities of a laissez-faire leader?

  • Open-minded
  • Trusting
  • Communicative

When would you want a laissez-faire leader?

You preside over a team of experienced product developers tasked with the challenge of inventing an innovative, biometric refrigerator alarm for stubborn dieters. You may know how to manage the big picture stuff, but these experts all know more about biometrics, refrigerators, and alarms than you ever will. In a setting like this, where most organizational members are skilled, creative, highly-motivated. and capable of working independently, a laissez-faire style of leadership can offer the freedom needed for creative thinking and experimentation.

5. Bureaucratic Leadership

Bureaucratic leadership refers to organizational leadership through a highly formalized set of processes, procedures, and structures. Here, rules, policies, and hierarchies form a clear set of expectations as well as an explicit chain of command. At each level of a bureaucracy, organizational members are beholden both to their immediate superiors and to a larger ecosystem of rules and procedures. Bureaucratic leaders lead by channeling established rules, enforcing existing structures, and presiding over specific segments of the hierarchy.

What are the top qualities of a bureaucratic leader?

  • Organized
  • Consistent
  • Focused

When would you want a bureaucratic leader?

You run a company that processes insurance claims for individuals affected by weevil infestations, but of course, there are more than 60,000 kinds of weevil, and insurance providers require a different form for each one of them. This means your organization must process a dizzying array of forms, deal with an enormous number of people every day, and navigate a complex array of regulatory minutiae. The only way your organization can do this effectively is through a clearly delineated hierarchy, strict procedural norms, and rigid enforcement of the rules that ensure forms are processed correctly, information is verified accurately, and individual matters are addressed only when all proper steps have been taken.

6. Servant Leadership

Servant leadership refers to a decentralized style in which a leader satisfies the needs of stakeholders first. An approach to leadership formed in contrast to the drive for power or material acquisition, this style places the leader on the front lines of day to day operation. From this vantage, the leader works directly with organizational members at every level to make decisions. Servant leaders empower employees, interact directly with clients, and recognize their organization’s role as part of a community.

What are the top qualities of a servant leader?

  • Receptive
  • Persuasive
  • Encouraging

When would you want a servant leader?

You run a small but growing brokerage company. Your organization is comprised of smart, talented, and experienced financial advisors and stockbrokers. The top priority for your company is to help your customers achieve success. That success translates into success for your employees, your company, and your public reputation. This is a scenario in which a decentralized approach to leadership and customer-first orientation can yield the best results. Here, servant leadership will work alongside those talented advisors and brokers to ensure customers and other key stakeholders get results.


7. Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership succeeds best in a context of order, structure, and rigid hierarchy. While it may sound similar in name to transformational leadership, it’s almost exactly the opposite. Here, roles are clearly and strictly defined. The job of leadership is to ensure individuals perform their roles correctly and effectively, and that group performance produces positive outcomes. Often, a clear system of penalties and rewards for performance is in place, including pay bonuses and opportunities for upward mobility. A good transactional leader will use those rewards and penalties to identify strengths and weed out weaknesses among personnel. Transactional leaders may prize the status quo. Where change is needed, a transactional leader will typically implement it within existing systems and structures rather than through major structural transformation.

What are the top qualities of a transactional leader?

  • Regimented
  • Focused
  • Efficient

When would you want a transactional leader?

You’re a military general presiding over multiple interdependent units. The stakes of your mission are high, the organization is complex, and the chain of command is of critical importance. At every level, leaders both above and below you in the hierarchy must take a transactional approach of strict rules enforcement, with the command chain implemented explicitly, and with instructions given and followed from the top down. Discipline and conformity are critical in this context.

8. Situational Leadership

Situational leadership refers less to one specific style of leadership and more to the idea of leadership as an inherently adaptable responsibility. Situational leadership remains highly flexible at all times, capable of adjusting strategies, procedures, and vision according to an organization’s circumstances, demands, and even to a shifting culture. The situational leader possesses the agility to adapt strategy to changing dynamics. This calls for a leader with the emotional intelligence to recognize organizational needs and the skill to act on those needs. The result is a leader who guides an organization through transformation, collaborates at the team-level with personnel and, where necessary, takes decisive, unilateral action.

What are the top qualities of a situational leader?

  • Nimble
  • Adaptable
  • Versatile

When would you want a situational leader?

Your small chain of coffee shops verges on the next leap forward. After a few years of steady growth, you’re investing considerable capital into a handful of new locations and menu items. You expect a period of transformation, followed by another steady period of rapid growth, and eventually, a sustainable phase of modest and incremental growth. At that point, your company may even go public, but it’s hard to know for certain. To weather this journey with steady leadership, you’ll want a situational leader, one with the instincts and adaptability to lead according to each phase’s demands.

9. Cross-Cultural Leadership

Cross-cultural leadership acknowledges the increasingly global nature of business. The level of collaboration, competition, and partnership across international borders have spiked due to web technology and the deconstruction of global trade barriers. Cross-cultural leaders recognize that every country has different business norms, leadership practices, and cultural realities. This type of leader knows how to navigate these differences to unite culturally-diverse partners, achieve unified goals, and create pathways to common ground. The cross-cultural leader understands that diversity is a virtue and a resource rather than an obstacle.

What are the top qualities of a cross-cultural leader?

  • Inclusive
  • Respectful
  • Versatile

When would you want a cross-cultural leader?

You’re starting a blockchain consulting group comprised of technical gurus, financial experts, and marketing professionals. Your dream team of consultants consists of former business partners and colleagues working in major financial centers all over the world. You hope to unite this diverse group to serve a common set of goals while giving each team member the freedom to contribute unique talents. Your ability to help this team find common ground while ensuring each participant feels respected and comfortable will depend on how well you manage a culturally diverse set of customs, practices, mannerisms, and expectations.

10. Charismatic Leadership

Charismatic leadership depends significantly on the compelling personality of the leader. This type of leader will inspire others through commitment, conviction, and positive example. Charismatic leaders will usually possess strong communication skills, the capacity for exceptional personal empathy, and the strength of personality to positively define company culture. The truly charismatic leader effectively creates a sense of shared purpose, nurtures the passions of organizational members, and unites personnel behind a single vision. This style of leadership is often particularly valuable in times of crisis.

What are the top qualities of a charismatic leader?

  • Inspiring
  • Influential
  • Personally invested

When would you want a charismatic leader?

After years of mismanagement and even a small dose of executive corruption, your accounting firm “cleaned house.” Old leaders and managers were fired in a cloud of scandal, leaving the confidence of employees shaken and the firm’s public reputation stained. A charismatic leader has been hired to preside over the company as it repairs its image and restores the trust of its employees. This leader brings passion and commitment as well as the ability to appeal to the personal interests and emotional instincts of employees, who are wary of their company’s integrity. This leader will be critical to bringing the firm back from the dead.

These leadership styles offer a good panorama of organizational management, from iron-fisted rule, to hands-off oversight, to something that falls between the two. This should be a good starting point if you’re writing an essay, taking an exam, or even refining the leadership style that suits you best as you advance within an organization.


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