ATD Blog

The Dynamics of 8 Different Styles of Leadership

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Through using past business experiences, learning activities, and personal self-discoveries, all leaders have developed their own capabilities, behaviors, and personalities to lead. They all have different styles of leadership, different ways of demonstrating passion and commitment, and diverse ways of driving their personal presence within an organization. Their skills and characteristics are clearly situational and may vary based on the challenges that they are facing daily. Yet, several styles and performance leadership competencies are common across all leaders. And truly successful leaders have learned to be flexible and balance their primary leadership style with secondary styles.

Insights Into 8 Leadership Styles

Leadership styles can be grouped into eight different categories, all built on a leader’s imagination, creativity, strategies, confidence, and personal boundaries. And, the characteristics of being a dynamic and effective leader are based on their individual strengths, ambition, persistence, and behavioral courage. Leaders have preferred leadership styles, yet are able to move to a different style based on the situation and challenges. So, the selected style is driven by acquired attributes and comfort, and by the real world that the leader is operating within, specific to their organization. 

Pacesetting, Autocratic Style

These leaders have high standards for themselves and others, and a focus on high-speed achievement. They are very achievement-oriented, action-driven, and focused primarily on results. Their support teams need to be self-motivated, self-directed, and skilled. Innovation may be squelched, especially when the leader seeks little input from others. The vision could be unclear at times as a result of the leader’s closed-mindedness and need only for one-way communication. The task-oriented autocrat can destroy commitment and erode the trust of followers. Yet, this leader is also a pacesetter who can be a nice, decent individual, even though quick results take precedence over morale. 

Democratic, Participative Style

These democratic leaders collaborate on decisions, and focus on inspiring commitment to action. They are consensus builders that gain genuine participation along with engaging discussions. They encourage everyone to practice consultative participation and to own their decision consequences. Relationships are enhanced by the democratic leader by gaining input and opinions from all team members. Rapid actions may not always be an outcome, yet the collaborative and supportive behaviors help build inspiration and drive commitment. 

People-Focused, Affiliative Style


These leaders value harmony and emotions, and have a strong focus on people and relationships. They establish positive relationships based on loyalty and trust, as well as open sharing of ideas and valued feedback. People come first for these leaders, enhancing emotional bonds and strong feelings of belonging. Team harmony, a high level of tolerance, and true empathy all help drive performance and a people-focused work environment. 

Authoritative, Command and Control Style

These leaders are task-oriented and enthusiastic about a common vision, and have a strong focus on policies and procedures. They can display autocratic leadership, yet are always enthusiastic about a common vision and specific goals. They can be seen as extremely controlling on decision making and even somewhat dictatorial in nature. These leaders are clearly more tell-oriented and inflexible, and a driver of their own ideas and choices. Team members may not believe their leader fully trusts them, and their creativity can get stifled. Poor listening and leadership dominance defines this command and control style. Unfortunately, there can be a division between autocratic leaders and their followers. 

Excellence Focused, Coercive Style

These leaders are demanding and top-down, and focus on driving solutions during crisis periods. They are also tell-oriented and expect immediate compliance with defined expectations. Success is critical to these leaders, yet they often alienate those with contrary opinions. A lack of flexibility and a strong focus on perfection can make these coercive leaders rule by fear. 

Innovative, Transformational Style


These leaders drive creativity and a dynamic vision, and focus on unlocking tangible values as the foundation for the organization. They are very forward-looking, addressing challenges and taking risks. There is a high commitment and level of optimism to creative ideas and pursuing them with purpose. Improving changes within the organization and management helps improve relationships and products. 

Charismatic, Persuasive Influencer Style

These leaders are passionate about success, and focus on encouraging risk-taking that can affect outcomes. These leaders are strong influencers of team members and have high levels of energy and enthusiasm for their roles. By walking-the-talk with integrity and honesty, they are modeling strong behaviors of commitment. Charismatic leaders motivate and inspire, building positive cultures and outstanding work environments. There is a high level of morale along with ownership and accountability. These leaders have the charm and persuasiveness to build unwavering commitment to positive change and transformational actions. 

Coaching, Development-Oriented Style

These leaders are self-aware and full of empathy, and focus on developing employees and colleagues for the future. They are very learning and development–oriented, implementing changes and helping individuals grow and learn. They recognize talent and cultivate new skills. As coaching leaders, they are good active listeners and able to encourage different approaches to problem solving. Development leaders build strong and engaging teams, based on a foundation of self-awareness. 

Leadership is a dynamic process. All engagements, connections, and relationships are based on the challenges and specific situations that a leader needs to address. But primary leadership styles are the drivers, with secondary styles serving as backup. Above all, effective leadership is always based on critical competencies and capabilities—the ability to manage change, build relationships, inspire others, maintain agility, and build decisive strategic perspectives. 

About the Author

Paul Fein is an organizational development consultant and certified life coach. As the the managing leader and director of The IDD Leadership Group, he a develops custom-created management development programs. Connect with Paul on LinkedIn. 

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