20 Leadership Style Examples

leadership styles examples and definition

A leadership style is a behavioral pattern displayed by a leader. It reflects their assumptions regarding employees and workplaces.

Some leaders are very charismatic and good at inspiring their teams to work hard and be creative. Other leaders are more like Generals in a military that are very directive and in control at all times. Each of these leadership styles have pros and cons, as outlined below.

Leadership Styles Examples

1. The Autocratic Leader

The autocratic leader is a strong, traditional leader with absolute power over the people they lead.

For example, an autocratic leder might set departmental meetings on every Monday and Friday at 8 a.m. The lists of tasks to be completed will be given to the team on Mondays and the manager checks the progress of each on Fridays. The manager explains the requirements of each task clearly with instructions on exactly how they want things done.

Being late to meetings is unacceptable and not making sufficient progress on tasks is noted in quarterly performance reviews. The team fully understands that negative marks on a performance review will lead to extra assignments and being denied promotional opportunities.

There is a high turnover rate in the department. This is due partially because two bad performance reviews in a row means the employment contract will be terminated.

The other reason is that team members lose interest in the job and often look for other employment, sometimes actually going to one of the company’s competitors. The autocratic leader hasn’t provided enough freedom to grow for their employees.

2. The Laissez-faire Leader

Laissez-faire means laid-back and allowing people to do whatever they want. This sort of leader doesn’t have much control and allows employees to govern themselves a lot of the time.

For example, it may have been more than a month since the last departmental meeting in the laissez-faire leader’s workplace. Several members of the team are confused about how the project is supposed to be carried out. No one knows when the first milestone deadline is and how much of the project needs to be completed at that time. 

The manager is very easy-going and fun to be around. When they do have meetings, he always brings donuts for everyone and the team gets together for drinks at least once a month. They have a great time and everyone on the team gets along really well.

The work produced might not be great, and of course, there are always a few blunders. Mistakes will happen on any project, no matter how hard people try. No one is perfect.

3. Visionary Leadership

For the visionary leader, team meetings are very inspirational. The manager is charismatic and brings a lot of energy to every meeting.

The visionary leader gives everyone an assignment and understands exactly what they need to accomplish, and how their task fits with the company’s long-term strategic objectives.

Sometimes the department is given very difficult projects to carry out, but they always meet those challenges. When one person is having a particularly hard time with some aspect of a task, they can always rely on a little help from other team members.

Everybody really works well together and team cohesion is off the charts good. Sometimes the team can feel a bit overwhelmed because of tight deadlines, but the manager is very good at keeping everyone motivated and knows when to let off the gas a little to let people catch their breath. 

There is a rumor going around the office that the manager will be promoted soon. That has a lot of people worried because without them at the helm, the team will feel a bit lost. The visionary leader holds things together by themselves through their charismatic personality!

4. Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders are the types of leaders who will turn a workplace culture around and instigate new and inspiring ways of doing things. Consider the following example.

A long-standing and traditional company has been losing ground to younger and more innovative competition for several years. Executives at the top are not on the same page regarding strategic planning and decision-making takes forever.

While the competition is able to innovate and bring new products to market rapidly, it has been nearly two years since the company has expanded its product line. There is a clear need for change at the top.

So, a consulting firm was hired and several possible CEOs were interviewed. Eventually one was hired. They immediately implemented a different management structure that was flat with less centralized decision-making.

To enable the company to be more innovative, they created an independent R&D department and increased the budget significantly. Spending more money in a time of lower profits was met with stern resistance from several executives.

Ultimately, the newly hired CEO left for a start-up that now leads the sector.  

5. Participative/Democratic Leadership

A democratic leader values the opinions of their team members and will often take votes on issues. This leader may allow the team to set the direction of projects even if it isn’t exactly how the leader would have done things.

The manager has a very unique approach to team meetings. They list a few of the solicited agenda items on the board, and then go around the room asking for input from the team. 

They talk very little at that time, neither giving approval or disapproval to anyone’s remarks. After a specific issue has been discussed thoroughly, options are narrowed down and eventually the team decides on a course of action.

This approach works very well with this team. Just about everyone on the team has a lot of experience and is highly motivated.

Because the team has been together for a while and endured challenging times, team cohesion is quite high. Everyone likes working in this department because they feel that their experience is respected and valued by the company.

6. The Leader as Servant

Servant leadership refers to a leader whose mission is to serve the people they lead. Think Jesus Christ or Nelson Mandela.

The servant leader in a workplace department is a very giving person. They often take on tasks from others on the team to help meet a deadline, even though their plate is already full. 

The team has noticed many times that the leader stays late at the office and their car can be seen in the parking lot on many Saturdays and Sundays.

The devotion to the department by the manager is really inspiring. The people on the team see that kind of dedication coming from a manager and it makes them work harder as well.

Every year the manager has a one-on-one meeting with each person in the department to discuss their career aspirations. Over the years, several people have been promoted to much better positions. Sometimes they were promoted to a position that is even higher than the manager.

Although everyone appreciates the hard work from the manager, some perceive this as a weakness. They know that the manager will step in and help out, so, they take advantage of the situation occasionally and hand work off to their leader.

7. Bureaucratic Leadership Style

In bureaucracies (like government offices), we need leaders who can manage the day-to-day tasks, be reliable, and not shake the boat. They’re good at managing but not innovating.

Every meeting is started with the manager reading from a list of project goals provided by the department head. The instructions are detailed and the deadlines are firm. If anyone has a question, the manager will write it down and consult with the department head.

Although the department is not known for innovation, they have a reputation of being very reliable. They get the work done in a timely manner, and the quality is always acceptable. Most people on the team are happy with the stability and predictability of the job.

A few years ago, there was one person on the team that liked to do things their own way. They had a lot of suggestions and talked too much at meetings. Some of their ideas seemed interesting, but once suggested to upper management, nothing ever materialized. Eventually they became frustrated and left. Now they work at a start-up that is very competitive.  

8. Affiliative Leadership Style

The affiliate leader is focused on relationships above all. They want to ensure everyone is comfortable and happy and there is harmony in the workplace.

Team meetings go very smoothly. Everyone gets along well with each other and if there is ever an issue, the manager steps in and defuses the situation quickly. At least once a year the manager arranges for a great team-building excursion in the mountains at a secluded camp. At the end of that week, everyone feels refreshed and motivated. It is always a great experience.

Because everyone likes the manager’s style, no one on the team has left the company in five years. Their department always scores in the top three in the company on employee satisfaction and morale.

Of course, nothing is perfect. Occasionally a project deadline will be missed, or an important report will be returned because, as top management says, it “needs more work”. These are minor issues compared to the big picture, so no one on the team is overly concerned.

9. Pacesetting Leadership

The pacesetting leader sets high standards and keeps an eye on everyone to make sure they meet important KPIs and milestones. People need to be high performers or they fall behind.

At every meeting, the team sits around a conference table and the manager projects a spreadsheet on the board from their laptop. It shows the status of each task, the deadline, and the person assigned to that task.

It’s very useful to the team so that everyone knows what is happening on the project and what needs to be done next. Members are part of a high-performance team comprised of some of the company’s best employees. They are assigned the most pressing and challenging projects the company needs to be accomplished.

Although the manager lets the team function independently, they do keep a close eye on progress. If it seems that someone is lagging behind, the manager will be quick to step-in and take charge of that particular task. This can be a bit embarrassing to the team member, but the project is way more important than anyone’s feelings.

10. The Coach

The coaching leadership style is all about supporting everyone one-to-one and getting the best out of each person.

For this type of leader, team meetings are short; the main goal is to let everyone know where a project stands. The manager prefers to meet with each member of the team separately. This allows them to understand that member’s situation better and offer very focused advice.

In the beginning, the team did not understand this approach very well. It was a bit unusual and often involved a lot of direct communication, some of it critical. However, after a while, most people realized that the advice was not so much criticism, as it was information on how to make the project better. It also helped establish a personal connection between the manager and the team, and now a strong sense of trust has developed.

Although projects in this department take a little bit longer to complete, more higher-level executives get their start here than in anywhere else in the company. The manager does a great job developing talent.

11. Transactional Leadership

Transactional leaders rely on rewards and punishments to get things done and don’t make much of an effort to build relationships.

Staff meetings are an exercise in speed. The meetings are fast-paced, focused, and task-oriented. The manager goes around to each staff member and asks a series of questions, followed by a series of directives on how to complete the task correctly. There is a lot of oversight and one-way communication.

There is also a clear reward system for doing good work or underperforming. If a staff member needs motivation, it comes in the form of stern looks and public criticism. It can be embarrassing. On the other hand, doing well receives a lot of public praise and rewards in the form of bonuses or company perks.

The department has a reputation for producing results quickly and efficiently. The staff rarely misses a deadline but also rarely produce anything exceptional or innovative.

12. The Adaptive Leadership Style

Adaptive leaders are always looking for ways to innovate. They find inefficiencies and adapt the processes to try to stay at the forefront of very competitive and digitized industries.

Meetings at the executive level are like attending a lecture from a futurist hyped up on three cups of coffee. There are a lot of grand references to the modern era “coming soon” and creating breakthrough products that will change markets forever.

The leader is inspiring and will listen to anyone at any time. No idea is a bad idea and there is something to be learned from both success and failure. However, time is of the essence and change needs to happen yesterday, before it’s too late.

As the adaptive leader explains, those that are hesitant lose to those who are not. The industry is highly competitive, ruthless, and many companies have already failed because they were unwilling to take risks.

At some point, the adaptive futurist leader became frustrated with the lack of support from top executives and left for a start-up that will lead the sector in five years.

13. The Situational Leadership Style

Situational leaders don’t have one way to lead. They adapt their leadership style depending on the situation, project, workplace, and team.

For the situational leader, the dynamics of each meeting changes depending on the project and the people on the team. When the project is relatively easy and involves tasks that are routine and already familiar with the team, the manager takes a hands-off approach.

This leader trusts the team to get the job done, so there is not much need for direct supervision or coaching.

On the other hand, when the manager meets with one of their other teams, the meeting does completely differently. The manager spends a lot of time giving the team very detailed instructions on how they want the project handled. There isn’t a lot of give-and-take. The manager knows what they want and follows up on progress frequently.

Finding one manager that is capable of switching their style so easily and effortlessly to match the situation is unusual. Most managers have one style and that is basically how they operate.

Situational leadership is related to the contingency theory of leadership.

14. The Great Man Style

The great man theory of leadership argues that some people are born to be great leaders. This type of leader steps in and takes on a hero role.

Consider the following example.

The project was way behind schedule. Several key deadlines passed and it seemed as failure was guaranteed. The team was feeling quite depleted. Some left. Meetings were disorganized and there was a lot of grumbling about the bossy indebtedness of the project manager, who lacked experience and confidence.

Apparently, word got back to top management. The new project leader was from another department. The first meeting however, was a real change of pace.

The great man leader came in and took charge in a completely confident but not arrogant way. They started with a great speech about how things are not as dire as they seem. A new schedule was distributed that was organized and streamlined. It was like a breath of fresh air.

The new leader told everyone to just take a step back, breathe deeply, and take Friday off. On Monday everyone returned feeling refreshed and energized. In the end, the project was a huge success and the leader got the promotion she deserved.

15. Directing Leadership

The directing leadership style involves a lot of telling people what to do and how to do it, but very little freedom for the employee.

For example, this type of leader might believe they know the best way to do things and they’re not going to change their mind. They have a fixed mindset and a fixed focus on their own goals.

In this workplace, some employees appreciate knowing exactly what to do and how to do it. The expectations are clear and there are well-written standard operating procedures.

However, many employees feel disempowered. They don’t have any freedom to pursue their own projects so they don’t feel any sense of obligation of affection for their workplace. There are few deep relationships in the workplace and few opportunities for career progression.

16. Paternalistic Leadership

The paternalistic leader is a strong figurehead who makes sure everyone knows they are in power. Loyalty is highly valued, and those who are loyal are rewarded.

This type of leader will often treat the employees as family. If a loyal and trustworthy employee is in need, the paternalistic leader may step in and provide extra support like paying for their healthcare fees.

But they may also control what you can do out of a sense it’s for your own good, restricting workplace autonomy – as per the definition of paternalism.

This leadership style is perhaps best exemplified by mafia bosses who treat the team like a family, but harshly punish betrayal. Narcissistic and corrupt leaders also often situate themselves as paternalistic leaders.

17. Maternal Leadership

Like paternalistic leadership, the maternalistic leader is a strong figurehead. However, whereas the paternalistic leader encourages loyalty to the leader, the maternalistic leader demands loyalty to the ‘family’ team.

In the paternalistic style, loyalty is prized more than performance. Loyalty is everything. For the maternalistic leader, loyalty remains important, but it is loyalty to each other that matters. This workplace is all about cooperation, sticking together, and becoming the best and strongest team possible.

18. Authoritative Leadership

Not to be confused with the authoritarian or autocratic leader, the authoritative leader both sets high standards and has high emotional intelligence. They care for the team.

This type of leadership comes from parenting styles. An authoritative parent expects the best from their children but also lets them know they are there for them no matter what. Contrast this to an authoritarian leader who has high expectations but is cold and emotionless.

In parenting psychology, the authoritative parent is seen as the ideal type.

In the workplace, an authoritative leader will have high expectations but will also be responsive to the emotional needs of employees. If employees need help and support, the leader will step in to make sure the team has everything they need to achieve the best of their abilities.

19. Strategic Leadership

Strategic leaders are always looking for new strategies to improve and innovate. They think in terms of short and medium-term strategies that can give them an edge over competitors.

Strategic leaders are similar to transformational leaders but don’t necessarily want to totally transform things that are already working. The focus for the strategic leader is first and foremost making small and incremental improvements, not necessarily making big changes.

In a workplace with a strategic leader, you can expect that the leader will always be open to new ideas from the team. Anything that seems to be practical and can achieve incremental gains will be embraced.

20. Charismatic Leadership

Charismatic leaders are loved not for their underlying beliefs or sense of direction for the team but because they are beloved personalities.

This type of leader often succeeds in politics where leadership is largely a popularity contest. They can give excellent speeches, inspire people, and are very likable. They’re extroverts who shake hands, kiss babies, and charm people in one-to-one situations.

However, many charismatic leaders fail when it comes to execution. They’re usually better at inspiring than doing the day-to-day work that’s required to achieve success.

See more Leadership Concepts here

Best Leadership Styles in the 21st Century

In the beginning of the industrial manufacturing economy, jobs were regimented and industries were stable. This situation required a leadership style that was very good at setting goals, giving directions, and keeping schedules.

Loyalty to a company was not a concern because most employees were grateful to have a job and there were few employment options.

However, in the 21st century, industries have become much more complex and workers more demanding.

Companies are constantly faced with challenges and therefore need to adapt quickly and be innovative. This requires leaders that have excellent people skills, experts in strategic planning and skilled problem-solvers. 


A manager’s leadership style can easily be identified by how they conduct meetings. Those that are people-focused will seek input from the team, use a tone that is respectful, and are very good at instilling a sense of teamwork and cohesion.

The more task-oriented leader is directive, always monitoring progress of the staff, and has little concern for conflicts as long as they don’t interfere with meeting project milestones.

Some managers really want their individual team members to excel and achieve their career goals. Other managers may have no idea about anyone’s career aspirations and may consider such concerns as distracting to the company’s goals.


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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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