How to Pick the Best Types of Leadership for You

Your Leadership Style Is Based on Your Needs and the Needs of Your Boss and Team

Your leadership styles are dependant on the people you manage and their experience and need for direction.
••• andrsr/E+/Getty Images  

How does a leader act? You may have an idea, but there are many different types of leadership, so when you are ready to lead, you don’t have to look like the other leaders you know. You can look like you. You can pick the best types of leadership that work for you. That’s a big relief when you already have a ton on your plate in your new leadership role.

Daniel Goleman’s "Harvard Business Review Study, Leadership That Gets Results" identified six types of leadership styles. Here they are:

  1. The pacesetting leader: This leader says “Do as I do, now.” Many people think this is what a leader looks like. The downside is that if you’re always doing what the boss says, there isn’t much room for your innovation.
  2. The authoritative leader: This leader says “Come with me.” Goleman found this leadership type is best when there is a need for a new vision. For instance, if the company is dealing with change. These leaders inspire workers towards that new vision.
  3. The affiliative leader: This leader says “People come first.” When a company is going through a tough time, this style can serve you well in relationships. But Goleman cautions that too much focus on nurturing leadership can result in weakened performance.
  4. The coaching leader: This leader says “Try this.” When developing a leadership pipeline, this type of leader shines. This is someone who looks for personal strengths and helps develop them. However, this leadership style won’t work if the team doesn’t want to learn.
  5. The coercive leader: This leader says “Do what I tell you.” Goleman says this is a last resort leadership style because it alienates team members. If there is an actual emergency, this approach works great, though. Otherwise, stay away.
  6. The democratic leader: This leader says, “What do you think?” This works great when you need new ideas—which is often. But it fails miserably in an emergency.

You can see that different occasions exist when each type of leadership style is effective. Which style is best for you? These are questions you need to ask yourself to see.

What Is Your Natural Leadership Style?

It’s easiest, of course, to embrace a leadership style that fits your personality. If you’re naturally a coalition builder, a democratic or affiliative leadership role may fit you the best. If you’re naturally a bossy jerk, a coercive leadership style may appeal to you. This is the style that may naturally attract you—but don't think that just because it’s your nature to lead one way that’s how you should lead.

What Does Your Team Need?

This is more important than your own natural leadership style. How will your team respond to each style? What do you need to accomplish the work? If you need to implement a tedious plan that senior leadership laid out before and there is no room for change, then pacesetting might be best.

But if you’ve had a rough year and changes need to happen, democratic leadership might be your best bet. Your team may respond positively to your attempts to involve them in the planning and decision making. Actually, sit down and think through what your team needs from your leadership style. 

What Does Your Boss Want?

This is especially important if you are new to this role. Why did she hire you? Was she looking for you to continue where the last manager left off or did she hire you because she thought you’d take the team in a different direction? It’s important that you know so that you can select your best leadership style.

You can, of course, make changes (unless your boss is a coercive leader), but your awareness of your boss’s expectations can help you focus on what you need to do.

Is Your Current Style Working?

If your employees are happy and engaged, you’re meeting or exceeding goals, and your bosses are happy with your performance, great. If any of those are not true, however, check your leadership style. You may need to change your fundamental leadership styles.

Of course, a mismatched leadership style isn’t the only area you can fix, but it’s a good place to start. Why? It’s always easier to change your own behavior than to get others to change their behavior.

Can You Get Help to Change Your Style?

Sometimes it is as easy as saying, “you know, it doesn’t work when I give detailed instructions and make everyone do exactly what I want, I’m going to allow more freedom.” But often it’s not quite that simple.

First, you need to recognize how you are managing and then you need to figure out how you need to manage. You should reach out for help and support from your boss or your Human Resources department. If possible, executive coaching can make a huge difference in helping you navigate these difficult leadership style approaches and choices.

The types of leadership really do make a difference. Make sure that you are using the one that works best for your situation, and you’ll see work relationships and output improve—even if they were great when you started your journey to pick your best types of leadership styles.


Suzanne Lucas is a freelance journalist specializing in Human Resources. Suzanne's work has been featured on notes publications including Forbes, CBS, Business Insider and Yahoo.