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A Look at Different Leadership Styles

Imagine for a moment, shopping at The Leadership Store, where you will find a full range of leadership styles to try on. Just step into the fitting room and see which style suits your natural tendencies. If it seems to fit, take it home. Wear it for a few days, see how employees respond to it, and return it if you are unsatisfied. No questions asked.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “There is no Leadership Store. When I land a managerial role, I will have to go with my gut and live with the consequences. I know that leadership styles have been shown to be responsible for 30 percent of a company’s profitability. I also know my career may hinge on this decision. All I can do is hope for a positive outcome.”

Why put your career in jeopardy? In an online MBA program, you can leave little to chance as you safely explore leadership styles in case studies and try them on for size in practice scenarios. You can learn when they may work and when they may fail. You can gain the confidence you need to be adaptive and to choose appropriate blends of styles as leadership opportunities arise.

A Quick History

Psychologist Kurt Lewin defined three basic leadership styles in 1939:

  1. Autocratic — one person takes control.
  2. Democratic — groups make decisions.
  3. Laissez-faire — leaders provide no guidance.

In the 1970s, Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard introduced the concept of situational leadership. Their research suggested that effective leaders adapt their styles to situations. Building on this foundation, in 2000, psychologist Daniel Goleman derived the six leadership styles below from the components of emotional intelligence.


This leadership style uses nurturing and praise to create an atmosphere of harmony, where people come first. It is especially useful in stressful situations that require morale boosting and trust building. It is not recommended as an exclusive or continual style, but one that can be used as needed. Affiliative leadership avoids constructive criticism and eventually risks employee performance stagnation.


This military style relies on firm direction to unify employees in a common purpose. It is effective as an urgent pendulum shift away from complacency. The risks are that it frequently uses criticism and can seem egotistical, which can lower morale and job satisfaction. It is also impractical when subordinates have more expertise in certain areas than the leader. In this case, employees can feel they deserve more autonomy and respect.


A one-on-one style, coaching is about training and development, helping employees to identify weaknesses and providing a game plan for improvement. It works well in organizations that require intensive training, especially those with proprietary practices. It can be effective with workers who want opportunities for professional development, but it can be ineffective with workers who are well-trained for their roles and do not want to be micromanaged.


This commanding style of leadership insists on compliance and is usually reserved for crisis situations that require an immediate turnaround. In one-on-one applications, it can be used with severely underperforming employees who are not responding to coaching. Because it is dictatorial, it can alienate strong contributors and stifle creativity and flexibility.


The President’s Cabinet is usually a good example of this politically derived leadership style. Here, the leader asks for input and aims for consensus. The democratic style creates an atmosphere of equity and team unity. Success with this approach depends on the expertise and competence of employees. It is a poor choice for emergency situations that demand decisive action.


This style incorporates a different form of coercion, in which the leader sets the performance standards that subordinates are expected to reach. Common in sales, pacesetting creates pressure. It can be effective when employees are highly trained and motivated, and during periods when a spike is necessary. But it has also been shown to stifle innovation and undercut morale. Data shows that this style is toxic in most work environments.

Great leaders never define themselves by one of these leadership styles. They determine an appropriate blend of styles for each situation based on the education, experience and talents of their employees.

You can safely “shop” these styles and try them on for size in an online MBA program, where there is no risk of committing a leadership style faux pas.

Learn more about Boise State’s online MBA program.


Fast Company: 6 Leadership Styles, and When You Should Use Them

Business News Daily: What Kind of Leader Are You? Traits, Skills and Styles

The Wall Street Journal: Leadership Styles

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