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Updated 29 Sep 2020

6 Leadership styles you need to be the ultimate leader

To enable your staff to perform at their peak, here are six leadership styles you can use to become a more astute business person. 

Nicole Crampton, 15 October 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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There are numerous styles of leadership to consider when running your own business; some will work with your team, and some won’t. Each type of leadership needs to correspond to the type of person your employee is.

If you have a shy, introverted staff member, it won’t work to possess a domineering leadership style. It is up to you to examine the following leadership styles, its pros and cons and determine whether this is your leadership style.

Is your leadership style conducive to all of your employees or do you need to adapt to reach a particular team member, or even your entire team? Bear in mind, your leadership style should be promoting cohesion. 

Here are a few of the leadership styles displayed in the workplace. You could combine leadership styles, but you’ll have to be cognisant of pros and cons for each style you adopt: 

1. The pacesetting leader 

Pacesetting -leader-

This type of leader expects and exudes both excellence and self-direction. If you’re this type of person, you’ll understand that being in the trenches and getting your hands dirty is a natural part of your day-to-day activities.

If you could summarise this leadership style into one phrase, it would be: ‘Do as I do, now’.  This style involves a drive to achieve initiatives, and a determination to attain results. Ensure not to use this style too frequently, though, as it can overwhelm your team and restrict innovation if you’re telling them what to do all the time. Aim to strike a balance. 

Related: What leadership style are you and will it get results?

Pros and cons 


  1. Pacesetters set high standards for themselves and for those they are leading.
  2. This type of leader can quickly identify who isn’t pulling their weight. They will encourage poor performers to rise to the occasion.
  3. They are intolerant of poor performers and demand more from them, and if improvements are not imminent, this leader will let the employee go. 


  1. A potential challenge would be that not everyone on the team is going to share the same motivating forces as the pacesetting leader.
  2. Pacesetters don’t normally have the time to give their staff positive feedback.
  3. This type of leader is obsessive about doing things better and faster, never satisfied with the status quo, and they will ask the same of all their staff.
  4. This leadership style tends to extinguish cohesive team climates. Employees often feel overwhelmed by the pacesetter’s demands for excellence, and morale drops.
  5. If the staff members are not in their ideal jobs, asking them to rise to the occasion isn’t going to elicit the response the pacesetter is hoping for. 
  6. People working for pacesetters often feel treated like subordinates and not colleagues or associates.

Characteristic checklist 

If you haven’t identified this person in your office, whether it’s yourself or others, here are a few characteristics specific to the pacesetting leader:

  1. Highly driven and success orientated.
  2. The pacesetting leader will lead by example.
  3. They won’t ask their team to do something they wouldn’t do themselves.
  4. These leaders have no reluctance to jump into a task, and take over if they feel the pace of progress is too slow.
  5. These leaders tend to struggle with aligning their high standards to a common goal.
  6. Pacesetters tend to have trouble trusting their followers.
  7. Their self-esteem rests on being smarter, faster and more thorough than everyone else.

Before you completely dismiss this leadership style as ineffective, first analyse the members in your team. If they are highly motivated, with strong technical skills, a pacesetter leadership style can be quite effective because it is compatible with these employees’ style of work. 

2. The authoritative leader 

Authoritative -leader-

Authoritative leadership, also known as autocratic or coercive leadership, is a management style characterised by individual control over all decisions, with little input from the team members. This leader uses their own ideas and judgements to makes choices. They rarely accept input from colleagues or associates. An authoritative leader will command absolute autocratic control over their staff.

Like the other leadership styles, the authoritative leadership style also has some pros and cons. 

Pros and cons 


  1. This leadership style can be beneficial when decisions need to be made quickly, without consulting a large group of people.
  2. If the leader is the most knowledgeable person in the group, the authoritative style can lead to fast and effective decisions.
  3. This type of leader can take charge, assign tasks and establish a solid deadline. This assists in keeping projects on track and staff members organised.
  4. In stressful situations, it is relieving when one person takes charge and others follow orders. 


  1. Those that abuse this style of leadership are often viewed as bossy, controlling and dictatorial, which can lead to resentment among the team.
  2. Employees may dislike that they can’t contribute ideas or solutions to the company.
  3. This leadership style often results in a shortage of creative solutions, which can hinder your team’s performance.
  4. Authoritative leaders tend to overlook their team members’ knowledge and expertise.
  5. These leaders can hurt morale by making their team feel like they aren’t contributing. Staff can ultimately feel dissatisfied and stifled under this leadership style. 

Characteristic checklist

If you haven’t yet identified this person in your office, whether it’s yourself or others, here are a few characteristics specific to an authoritative leader: 

  1. Accepts little or no input from any team member.
  2. Leader makes all the decisions.
  3. The group leader dictates all the work methods and processes.
  4. Staff members are typically not trusted with decisions or important tasks. 

While this style does have some pitfalls, leaders can learn to use elements of this leadership style wisely. As an example, an authoritative leader can take charge when they are the most knowledgeable or when they have information their employees don’t have access to. This style works best when balanced with other leadership approaches, such as the democratic style, which can lead to greater group performance. 

3. The democratic leader 

Democratic -leader-

A democratic leader is someone who exhibits self-governing characteristics. This is a leader who allows everyone to have an equal vote in the workplace. This person will allow for more participation in the decision-making process. 

When your work place is ready for democratic leaders, it can be an enjoyable working environment where staff believe their opinions matter. This creates a workforce committed to achieving their goals and objectives.

However, not every style is effective in every work environment; you’ll need to find the right style to apply to any given set of circumstances. Many would assume you could apply the democratic style to any group of employees. But, there are significant pros and cons to using this leadership approach.

Pros and cons


  1. Employees are more committed because they feel they have an equal say in the company’s decision-making processes.
  2. Democratic leadership style creates a collaborative environment, ideal for problem-solving and decision-making. 


  1. The democratic leader tends to depend on the knowledge of their staff members. This style will be ineffective if your workforce is inexperienced.
  2. Collaboration is a key element to the democratic style, and collaborative efforts take a significant amount of time. If the business need is urgent, this approach might be inefficient.

Characteristic checklist 

If you haven’t yet identified this person in your office, whether it’s yourself or others, here are a few characteristics specific to a democratic leader: 

  1. A democratic leader will encourage their team to share ideas and opinions, even though the leader retains the final say over decisions.
  2. Members of the project feel engaged in the process.
  3. Creativity is both encouraged and rewarded.
  4. Democratic leaders tend to be: honest, intelligent, courageous, creative, competent and fair.
  5. Strong democratic leaders tend to inspire trust in their staff.
  6. They are sincere and base their decisions on their morals and values.
  7. Good leaders tend to seek diverse opinions.

A democratic leadership style has its pros and cons, but is good to utilise when working in a team or when collaborating with others. Be aware that your team might not have all the answers and you will need to go in search of them yourself. It will also help to remember that the best leadership style is one that is a compilation of all leadership styles used at an appropriate time. 

Related: The best lessons in leadership - from school principal Dian Cockcroft

4. The Laissez-faire leader

Delegative -leadership

Laissez-faire leadership is also known as delegative leadership. Leaders adopting this style tend to hand-off tasks and allow team members to make the decisions. Research has shown that this leadership style results in the lowest productivity amongst staff members. 

Some leaders will take advantage of this style, as a way to avoid personal responsibilities for the group’s failings. The leader can then blame the group when the project isn’t accomplished or doesn’t meet expectations. 

Pros and cons 


  1. Laissez-faire leadership can be effective in a situation where the team members are highly skilled, motivated and capable of working on their own.
  2. Staff members tend to accomplish tasks with very little guidance.
  3. If team members have more knowledge than the leader, the laissez-faire leadership style can be beneficial to the project.
  4. The autonomy of this leadership style can be freeing to some employees and help them to feel more satisfied with their work.
  5. Many laissez-faire leaders aren’t completely hands-off and still remain available to their team for consultation and feedback. 


  1. If employees don’t have the knowledge or experience they need to complete the project, it is not an ideal situation for a laissez-faire leadership style.
  2. Projects can go off-track if the team members are bad at setting their own deadlines or managing their own projects.
  3. Staff members don’t receive enough guidance or feedback from their leader.
  4. In certain situations, the laissez-faire style can lead to poorly defined roles within the department.
  5. Laissez-faire leaders are often seen as uninvolved and withdrawn; this can lead to a shortage of cohesion within the department.
  6. If staff members pick up on the unconcerned nature of their leader, they may sometimes express less care in their own work. 

Characteristic checklist 

If you haven’t yet identified this person in your office, whether it’s yourself or others, here are a few characteristics specific to a Laissez-faire leader:

  1. Very little guidance from the leader
  2. Complete freedom for staff members to make their own decisions.
  3. The leader provides the tools and resources needed, but little else.
  4. Staff members are expected to solve challenges on their own.
  5. The power is handed over to the team, but the leader will take responsibility for positive decisions and actions. 

You should only employ this leadership style when dealing with a highly knowledgeable and motivated team. A manager can also use this leadership style when dealing with highly trained individuals with in-depth technical knowledge. Attempting to use this style on inexperienced staff members can cause a drop in productivity amongst your team.

5.The coaching leader

Coaching -leader

If your business’ intellectual capital is low, or if you’re looking for someone willing to share their knowledge with you, then it’s critical to find someone employing the coaching leadership style. Coaching leaders assist others in advancing their skills, building bench strength, and provide career guidance.

This leadership style develops people for the future. If you could sum up this leadership style in a phrase it would be: ‘Try this’. The coaching leadership style is most effective when the leader wants to help teammates build long-term personal strengths. This leadership style is least effective when staff members are defiant or unwilling to change or learn, or if the leader lacks the proficiency to teach their team.

Pros and cons

Psychologist, and science journalist Daniel Goleman’s research in the Harvard Business Review says that the coaching leadership style is the method that’s least used in the workplace. This is because many managers feel they don’t have time to help others, which is unfortunate because an investment in upskilling employees often provides strong returns. 


  1. This coaching style is significantly effective at improving results.
  2. Coaching leaders create a positive workplace atmosphere.
  3. Staff members know exactly what is expected of them, and they understand the strategy of the company.
  4. This is a guaranteed way to build up your employees’ intellectual capacity.
  5. This leadership style can inspire fierce loyalty, along with driven and satisfied employees.
  6. In the long-term, this leadership style can enable you to develop highly competent staff who are capable of multiple roles. 


  1. This leadership style takes time and patience to master.
  2. The leader makes an up-front investment hoping to reap the rewards later on.
  3. Employees can be unwilling or incapable of learning.
  4. Leaders can have poor teaching skills, which makes it frustrating and difficult for those trying to learn. 

Characteristic checklist

If you haven’t yet identified this person in your office, whether it’s yourself or others, here are a few characteristics specific to a coaching leader:

  1. This leader is able to tie together professional aspirations and personal goals.
  2. A coaching leader will help staff members see the bigger picture and how everything fits together.
  3. They are inherently good at developing a long-term plan to reach long-term goals.
  4. This type of leader provides abundant feedback on performance.
  5. Coaching leaders are also able to delegate, giving their team members assignments that are challenging.
  6. They won’t hold someone’s hand through a difficult time, but they will equip them with the knowledge to weather the storm.

A coaching leader has a genuine interest in helping others succeed. They accomplish this, by focusing on the development of their team, while using their keen sense of empathy and their own self-awareness. 

Related: Don't let the good ones go

6. The affiliative leader

Affiliative -leader

This leader is a master at establishing positive relationships. There is a genuine bond between the leader and their team members. This makes the team loyal, communicative and trustful of their leader, all of which helps to create a positive company climate. 

The affiliative leader gives their staff member’s positive feedback, which helps to keep all the staff on course. This style of leadership is helpful if your business needs harmony, a morale boost or to smooth over any mistrust.

Pros and cons

While working for this type of leader does sound promising, this leadership style does have its limits. If you or your mangers only exhibit this type of leadership style, mediocre results may follow. It is advisable to combine this leadership style with one that focuses on achieving business results


  1. This leadership style creates a positive company climate
  2. These leaders provide their team with plenty of positive feedback.
  3. They are quick to recognise the efforts of others and provide rewards for a job well done.
  4. This leadership method builds a sense of belonging among team members.


  1. An affiliative style in not something a leader will want to practice all the time.
  2. This leader refrains from dealing with under-performing team members, which can lead to rapid deterioration of team performance.
  3. An affiliative leader may give their team the impression that mediocre is good enough.
  4. With their entirely positive feedback, they could possibly motivate their followers down the wrong path.

As is the case with many leadership styles, you or your managers will need to master several leadership skills. An effective leader will be able to practice multiple styles, and know when it’s appropriate to stop or start using a particular style.

Characteristic checklist

If you haven’t yet identified this person in your office, whether it’s yourself or others, here are a few characteristics specific to an affiliative leader:

  1. Creates emotional bonds
  2. Upbeat personality
  3. Takes co-workers out to lunch
  4. Remembers all of your special events
  5. Always encouraging their direct team. 

Every leadership style should be combined with others; you will need a combination of styles to effectively communicate with all of your staff and keep their performance up.

When its deadline time, you need to be a pacesetting leader, and once the deadline has passed you can take your staff to lunch as an affiliative leader. Each style has an important role in managing your staff and their engagement, and productivity level.

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About the author

Nicole Crampton

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