5 of the Most Common Executive Leadership Styles

5 of the Most Common Executive Leadership Styles

No matter the industry, any executive leader can benefit from an awareness of his or her personal approach to leadership. Business leaders who reflect on their management style are better able to examine their strengths and weaknesses and adjust their leadership techniques to motivate employees, create a positive work culture, and drive results in business.

Any person looking to work in a C-level or executive position should examine the following five common leadership styles to help determine which method best suits his or her own professional approach to management.


  1. Servant

The idea at the heart of servant leadership flips the traditional manager-employee relationship, with the leader using his or her position of power to serve employees, rather than wielding it in self-interest. Servant leaders focus on the happiness of their staff, colleagues, and business partners. They aim to show respect and trust to their employees, believing that people who are treated this way feel a degree of gratitude that motivates them to work harder. These managers make sure that all employees have the tools they need to meet their goals and reinforce the idea that teamwork is key to all great accomplishments. When wielded incorrectly, servant leadership can cause executives to be seen as lacking in authority, but in the right environment, servant leaders often find that their style helps establish a positive work culture and high employee morale.


  1. Democratic

As with servant leaders, executives with a democratic leadership style also show deference to their employees, but these leaders do so by soliciting staff opinions when making big decisions for the company. Also known as participative leaders, the people who manage democratically tend to be down-to-earth and modest, using open discussions with their team members as a tool to help solve problems and make the best choices for the company. Democratic leaders recognize the talents of their employees and leverage collective wisdom as a benefit. The positive effects of this style include empowered staff members, more creativity, innovative solutions to complex problems, and the establishment of strong teams that work well together. When executed poorly, however, democratic leadership can delay decision-making and lead to low productivity.


  1. Autocratic

In direct contrast to the democratic leader, executives who depend on an autocratic leadership style rarely ask for or consider input from their subordinates, preferring to make all decisions based on their own knowledge and experience. They are commanding individuals who tightly control their staff and are direct with any criticisms that they have. They expect their teams to abide by rules that they set, which contributes to a workplace where errors are rare, and when made, are not tolerated.

Though common, this form of leadership can dampen employee morale, which in turn can have a significant effect on staff productivity. However, if the autocratic leader treats people fairly and has good communication skills, the positive effects of this style include better adherence to project deadlines, effective decision-making during times of crisis, and less stagnation in the workplace.


  1. Laissez-Faire

The executive who relies on laissez-faire leadership is best described as “hands-off.” He or she takes a relaxed approach to management, trusting team members to complete tasks correctly with little supervision. This is not to say that the laissez-faire leader is lazy or uninvolved: instead, he or she creates strong, connected teams comprised of talented individuals, produces all necessary resources and tools for the group, and then delegates power to these employees, ensuring that staff members have the freedom to use their own expertise as they see fit. A laissez-faire leader gives basic instructions and then expects to see results without much further involvement. In the wrong workplace, the laissez-faire leadership style can result in low productivity, poor time management, and failure to achieve goals. However, when employed by C-suite members with strong teams or in highly creative professional environments, this style can motivate employees to perform better and feel more empowered. Laissez-faire leadership can also lead to strong retention rates for high-value employees.


  1. Pacesetting

Pacesetting leaders have a style that is both high-intensity and highly principled. These executives have big expectations for their staff based on standards that they also commit themselves to uphold. They are results-driven and do not tolerate poor performers, but at the same time, they would never expect anything of their employees that they do not expect of themselves. They believe in the value of leading by example and are always working toward innovation, speed, and efficiency.

While this style of leadership can produce incredible results when applied to a staff of self-motivated individuals, when sustained over the long term, it can cause employees to burn out and cost the company its best talent. When used to lead an energetic, highly competent group, however, this style can be highly motivational and yield excellent work in a very short amount of time.

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