Leaders are everywhere: in schools, in office buildings, on the field, in the chapel, in the classroom, online. Anywhere there is a group of people, you’ll likely find a leader among them. Despite their prevalence, though, recognizing a great leader can be difficult. That’s because each one has their own leadership style, skills, and methods that they use to guide people towards a common goal.
So, what is leadership?
Below we’ll discuss the definition and importance of leadership, as well as the many different forms it can take and what you can do to become a better leader.
What leadership is and why it matters
Leadership is the process of directing a group of people to accomplish a goal that they could not otherwise accomplish as individuals.
For a true leader, it’s not about the power but about the possibilities. Effective leaders don’t have to be loved, feared, popular, admired, or memorable — but they do have to understand the people on their team and use that understanding to achieve a goal. Here’s why leadership is important.
Effective leaders can:
- Help teams achieve objectives
- Inspire others and build morale
- Help people open up and engage with a group
- Boost productivity, creativity, innovation, and efficiency
- Provide opportunities for team members to learn and grow
8 different leadership styles
Leadership styles vary from situation to situation. Some are easier to implement than others, some are more effective, and some are more likely to lead to high turnover. Here are eight of the most common leadership styles and when you might see them.
1. Autocratic leadership
Also known as authoritarian leadership, autocratic leaders exercise complete control over their team, making all the decisions without relying on input or feedback from their employees. This is the “my way or the highway” approach to leadership. Autocratic leaders often create a very structured environment with clear rules, efficient workers, and often a high-turnover rate.
Autocratic leaders are most effective in situations that require tight control and leave little room for error. You’ll often see autocratic leaders operating in the military, during medical situations, or high-stress or dangerous events.
2. Democratic leadership
One of the most popular leadership styles, democratic leadership relies on input from the team to make the best decisions. While a democratic leader is still there to offer support and guidance and make any final decisions, this style encourages collaboration, employee input, and feedback on all ends, allowing the team a more active role in the proceedings.
You can find democratic leadership styles everywhere, in entities ranging from schools to governments, in part because it’s so effective! Democratic leadership is a great morale booster and is more likely to result in engagement, innovation, creativity, and commitment than almost any other leadership style.
3. Transformational leadership
Transformational leaders focus on encouraging teams to grow and develop. They often lead by example (these folks are some of the most motivational and inspiring people out there) and push employees to do more and do it better, while also transforming obsolete and ineffective practices and processes to improve the way teams and companies do things — for example, by replacing traditional office work with remote or hybrid work opportunities.
Transformational leaders are often found in growing companies, especially those in fast-paced or changing industries such as the tech industry.
4. Transactional leadership
Transactional leaders use rewards and punishments to motivate their teams to meet their goals. This style benefits from outlining clear goals as well as the benefits of meeting these goals. However, because transactional leaders rely on external motivation, this style of leadership is best for short-term goals and won’t usually be effective in the long run.
Some examples of transactional leadership include a sales team that gets a bonus for making a certain number of sales or celebrating with an awesome virtual office party or offsite when the team meets their goal. This type of leadership is also effective in emergency or crisis situations where it’s important to meet a well-defined goal as quickly as possible.
5. Laissez-faire leadership
It’s easy to mistake laissez-faire leaders for democratic leaders, as both leadership styles rely heavily on input from the team. However, laissez-faire leaders don’t just ask for feedback or delegate effectively — they let employees do what they want with minimal guidance. This hands-off style can be effective when team members work well alone and know what they’re doing, but it can be catastrophic if used in the wrong situation.
Laissez-faire leadership is best used with highly skilled teams who need the freedom to be creative. Think entertainment, marketing, advertising, etc., or in certain situations where the group knows more about the situation than the leader.
6. Servant leadership
Servant leadership has caught on as one of the most effective leadership styles around. The idea is that effective leaders should be focused on serving their people and communities. And by doing so, they will be able to achieve their goals. Servant leaders are well known for being empathetic, self-aware, understanding, and compassionate, and for guiding happy, productive, and effective teams.
Servant leaders are effective in almost any situation — but you’ll almost always find them working in non-profit organizations.
7. Charismatic leadership
Charismatic leaders often find themselves in their position because they are communicative, persuasive, and influential. These extroverts are often emotionally intelligent, passionate, and have strong communication skills. This attracts people to them and makes it easy to influence, inspire, and guide employees. However, it can also lead to toxic productivity when overzealous leaders expect their team members to overextend themselves to maintain the same enthusiasm that the leader has.
You’ll often find charismatic leaders working in organizations that are dedicated to a social cause.
8. Situational leadership
What happens when different people or events call for a shift in leadership style? Situational leadership. Situational leaders are flexible, quick on their feet, and are able to understand when the situation calls for a certain leadership style. These leaders adapt to each unique event or task so that they can better meet their goals and objectives.
You’re most likely to find situational leaders in organizations where the environment is constantly changing, or in companies that are experiencing growth or needing to improve efficiency and productivity through change.
Characteristics of effective leaders
True leaders aren’t necessarily defined by a formal title. Despite the famous saying otherwise, leadership is not a trait that people are naturally born with. Leadership is a skill, and like any other skill — from communicating effectively to making realistic barnyard animal sounds — it can be learned. So, what kind of traits do you need to develop to be a better leader?
Vision and strategic thinking
To be a great leader, you’ll need to have a vision of a better future, then turn that vision into goals that your team can achieve.
Empathy and emotional intelligence
As a leader, you should also actively work to empower your employees. You can do this by outlining clear goals and guidelines for success, letting your team solve problems on their own, building a diverse and inclusive team culture, and seeking out feedback from your team. Great leaders also know that it’s important to treat their team members as people first, which is why they often place great importance on workplace wellness, inclusion, and equity.
Adaptability and resilience
Effective leaders need to know how to roll with the punches because they’re guaranteed to come. Even the best plans aren’t safe from unforeseen issues; leaders need to be flexible and adaptable so that they can continue to lead their team successfully, even during stressful changes in plans.
Decisiveness and problem-solving
Leaders must be able to navigate situations when they arise, and they must be able to do so in a prompt manner. When problems occur, a true leader will be able to identify and evaluate the situation as well as several possible solutions so that they can keep their team moving forward.
Integrity and ethical behavior
Leaders don’t just need to have integrity and behave ethically; their team needs to be able to see it. That’s because when teams perceive these traits, they are more likely to trust their leader, commit to their team, and develop the same values.
Leadership vs. management
Not too long ago, leadership and management used to be interchangeable, especially in the business world. Back then, leadership positions were more often given to people who had the technical experience needed to meet a goal, rather than the people experience needed to ensure that teams function optimally.
These days, not all managers are leaders, and not all leaders are managers. So, what makes the two different? Let’s break it down.
- Try hard to inspire their team.
- Encourage innovation.
- Aren’t afraid to transform processes, practices, ideas, etc., to meet goals and help their team. These people are more likely to implement new technology like virtual offices.
- Achieve goals by understanding their team and guiding employees towards success.
- More concerned with the “what” and “why” of the problem.
- Try hard to meet organizational goals and objectives.
- Are often appointed, and therefore must work within the structure of the organization. These people are more likely to do things by the book.
- Achieve goals through coordinating people, activities, and processes.
- More concerned with the “how” and the “when” of a problem.
- Relies on control to get the task down.
When you’re a leader in a management position, you’ve got to consider both elements. You’ll need to give your team the space to grow and develop while also working towards company goals and within organizational structures. You’ll have to concern yourself with the managerial duties of running a team while also doing your best to get to know your employees as people, too.
One of the best ways to do this? Learn to recognize when your team needs a leader and when they need a manager. If a task requires more creativity and innovation, it’s okay to step back and give your people space to discover, grow, and create. If something is time-sensitive or if you’re the authority on the matter, you may need to step into a managerial position for a time.
It’s a tall order, but it’s possible! With strong leadership skills and a commitment to doing your best, you can truly make your workplace better for everyone and still meet the goals that you’re striving for.
Developing your leadership style
Do you know what your current leadership style is? There are plenty of ways to find out online — but what if you don’t like your current style or you feel like there’s some room for improvement?
Like any skill, leadership can be nurtured and developed. If you want to strengthen your style and become a better leader, here are three tips to help you along the way.
1. Assess your strengths and weaknesses
Start by making a list of what you do well and what you need to work on. You may turn to outside sources (like trusted friends, colleagues, or even online personality tests) for help, but only after you’ve spent some time considering things yourself. Remember to be specific.
2. Be willing to adapt
Perhaps your leadership style leans more towards democratic, but there are times when your team will need you to step up and use your decision-making skills to take charge. That’s fine! Situational leaders understand that different events call for different leadership styles.
As you grow more comfortable as a leader, you’ll be able to better understand when you need to step in and when you need to step back. Become comfortable with flexibility. Learn from past decisions (What leadership style worked? What didn’t?). Work hard to become more aware of your team and your situation.
3. Mimic effective leaders
There’s nothing wrong with mirroring another leader’s positive traits, as long as you do so authentically. Mimicking positive traits can lead you to develop and perfect them yourself. The key, though, is that you don’t just mimic another leader’s style/skills/traits; instead, you make them your own.
Apply your vision and values to become the kind of leader that can influence people and change things for the better.
Fostering a positive leadership culture
As a leader, one of your most important jobs is to create a positive work environment where team members feel welcome and at home. This kind of space is required if you want employees to enjoy their job and feel respected. It’s also a great way to boost innovation, creativity, and communication in the workplace. So, what does a positive leadership culture look like?
It encourages collaboration and teamwork. When you get to know your employees and give them opportunities to get to know each other, you create a stronger and more cohesive team. People who feel comfortable with one another find it easier to communicate, collaborate, and create together. A little team building can go a long way in promoting a healthy and positive team culture.
It promotes diversity and inclusion. A focus on diversity and inclusion will forever change the way your team works. Time and time again, we’ve seen diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams — because these groups have a wider range of skills and experiences, are more innovative and creative, and are just happier in general! If you want to build team morale and set your team up for success, prioritize diversity, inclusion, and equity.
It nurtures talent and growth. Why are servant leaders and transformational leaders so successful? It’s partly due to the emphasis these leaders place on their employees’ future. A positive leadership environment doesn’t just help people with today’s problems; it sets them up for future success, whether as part of your team or part of another.
Offer your team the chance to make and learn from their own decisions, promote team members who are ready for it, and provide resources, training, and tools for employees who want to improve themselves.
Measuring leadership success
So, how can you tell if all of your hard work is paying off? Effective leadership can be difficult to measure in the moment, but there are a few KPIs that you can use to gauge how your team responds to your style. They are:
- Employee retention or turnover rates
- Employee satisfaction scores and employee feedback
- Time and monetary investments into your team
- One-on-one team member meeting frequency
Effective leaders are more likely to see high retention rates and honest feedback and are more willing to spend time getting to know their team members. Because that’s what good leadership is — investing time and effort to ensure that your team has what they need to be the best they can be. And that’s why the true measure of a good leader doesn’t come from the numbers, but rather from the positive impact their leadership has on their team, organization, and community.
Great leaders make great teams
Whether you’re a servant leader or a democratic one, an expert on situational leadership, or just beginning your journey, you know that becoming an effective leader is a difficult but worthwhile job. There are skills to develop, mistakes to learn from, and employee surveys to sift through — but all of that effort will be worth it in the end.
As you continue to grow and develop as a leader, you’ll be able to meet goals, inspire others, and create positive impacts within organizations and communities. Doesn’t that seem like something worth working for? So, keep pushing forward and refining your leadership skills so that one day, you’ll be able to look back and marvel at how far you’ve come.
Leading a remote or hybrid team? We’ve got a space for that
Leading a team online (whether remote or hybrid) can look a little different. The key to managing and leading virtual teams is to prioritize communication — and Kumospace can make that easier for you.
Whether you’re setting up some one-on-one meetings or quick catch-up chats with your people, or you’re getting everyone together for team-building games, Kumospace is the place to do it! Our virtual event rooms and meeting spaces can help bring your team together, even when you’re far apart.
Check us out to learn more about our company or get in touch with our team to set up your space today.
What is leadership?
Leadership is an action and a skill that people can use to achieve goals that would otherwise be out of reach for one person.
How does leadership work?
Leadership is all about discovering what motivates your team and using that knowledge to inspire them to achieve a common goal.
What is servant leadership?
A servant leader is someone who puts the needs of people and communities ahead of his or her own goals. This leadership style is known for making employees feel seen and helping them develop their own leadership skills.
What is transformational leadership?
A transformational leadership approach is all about inspiring people to go above and beyond in creating a positive change or in reaching a valuable goal.
What is thought leadership?
Thought leaders are people who use their knowledge, expertise, and unique outlook to provide guidance and inspiration to those around them. Thought leadership is characterized by insightful views on a certain subject, relevant and informed predictions for the future, and a history of credible experience.
Which leadership style is the most effective for my business?
Different situations may call for different leadership styles. In general, however, democratic leadership is one of the most popular and effective leadership approaches. This style gives employees more opportunities for providing feedback, exercising authority, and growing in the workplace. Additionally, turning to team members for input and being open to feedback can make projects more effective and efficient, increase innovation, and lead to successful outcomes.