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10 Leadership Styles And Their Pros And Cons

Think back on the leader you admire most. What exactly is it about their leadership style that you like? And are these traits that you could emulate yourself? 

These are great questions to ask yourself, and understanding the various leadership styles that are out there can help you come to a more conclusive answer. To help, we provided a snapshot of the 10 most common leadership styles below.

These leadership styles are organized as a continuum from the most rigid, structured style to the most flexible, unstructured style. We also assigned a rating to indicate Torch’s level of recommendation for each leadership style, with 1 being least likely to recommend and 5 being most likely to recommend.


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1. Autocratic Leadership

Autocratic leadership is defined by a top-down approach when it comes to all decision-making, procedures, and policies within an organization. An autocratic leader focuses less on collecting input from team members and tends to make executive decisions that others are expected to follow.

Pros

  • Can be efficient, especially when it comes to decision making 
  • Keeps teams cohesive and consistent since one person is taking charge
  • May make everyone’s individual roles clearer since they’ll be delegated specific duties and won’t be encouraged to step outside of that role

Cons

  • Can stifle creativity, collaboration, and innovation
  • Doesn’t lead to diversity in thought
  • May lead to disengaged individuals and teams who feel like they don’t have a voice 
  • Doesn’t allow any room for mentorship or professional growth

Recommendation rating: 1 out of 5 (least likely to recommend) 

2. Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership is defined by control, organization, and short-term planning. Leaders who adopt this style rely on a system of rewards and punishment to motivate their followers. As you can see, there are many similarities between transactional leadership and autocratic leadership. The main difference is that transactional leadership, as the name implies, involves a clear exchange between the leader and the team members. For instance, in exchange for compliance and high performance, an employee might be rewarded with a promotion.

Pros

  • Can be an efficient way to reach short-term goals
  • Clearly defines expected behavior from team members due to system of reward and punishment
  • Provides structure and stability 

Cons

  • Limits creativity, growth, and initiative
  • May not be impactful on people who aren’t driven by extrinsic motivation
  • Can be discouraging for those who are looking for professional and personal development opportunities 

Recommendation rating: 2 out of 5 (less likely to recommend) 

3. Bureaucratic Leadership

Bureaucratic leadership relies on a clear chain of command, strict regulations, and conformation by its followers. As the name implies, this is a leadership style that’s commonly found in government entities, as well as military and public organizations.

Pros

  • Stable in terms of job security and outcomes
  • Removes favoritism from the equation
  • Very clear roles, responsibilities, and expectations
  • A highly visible set of processes and regulations 

Cons

  • Inefficient since everything has to go through a chain of command
  • Doesn’t encourage an individual’s personal or professional growth
  • Stifles creativity, innovation, and free thinking
  • Doesn’t foster collaboration or relationship building within teams
  • Can make it difficult to respond to change 

Recommendation rating: 2 out of 5 (less likely to recommend) 

4. Charismatic Leadership

Charismatic leadership is defined by a leader who uses their communication skills, persuasiveness, and charm to influence others. Charismatic leaders, given their ability to connect with people on a deep level, are especially valuable within organizations that are facing a crisis or are struggling to move forward.

Pros

  • Highly inspirational and motivating
  • Encourages a sense of camaraderie, collaboration, and union
  • Makes followers feel heard and understood
  • Creates movement toward positive change 

Cons

  • Can become more focused on themselves than their people
  • Has the potential to become self serving
  • Frequently viewed as shallow or disingenuous

Recommendation rating: 3 out of 5 (might recommend) 

5. Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders create a vision based on identified needs and guide their teams toward that unified goal through inspiration and motivation. The main difference between transformational leadership and the other styles we’ve covered so far is that this one is focused on changing the systems and processes that aren’t working – unlike transactional leadership or bureaucratic leadership, which don’t aim to change the status quo. 

Pros

  • Motivating for the team
  • Conducive to building strong relationships and encouraging collaboration
  • Gives team members autonomy to do their jobs
  • Can lead to more creativity, growth, and empathy on teams

Cons

  • May not be the best fit for specific organizations (i.e. bureaucratic)
  • Can cause feelings of instability while disrupting the status quo
  • Lots of pressure on the leader, who needs to lead by example 

Recommendation rating: 5 out of 5 (most likely to recommend) 

6. Coaching Leadership

Coaching leadership is a style defined by collaboration, support, and guidance. Coaching leaders are focused on bringing out the best in their teams by guiding them through goals and obstacles. 

Pros

  • Encourages two-way communication and collaboration
  • Involves lots of constructive feedback
  • Facilitates the personal and professional development of individuals
  • Focuses on being supportive, not judgmental 
  • Creates opportunities for growth and creative thinking 

Cons

  • Resource intensive since it requires a lot of time and energy
  • Doesn’t always lead to the fastest, most efficient results 
  • May not be the ideal choice for high-pressure or strictly results-driven companies

Recommendation rating: 5 out of 5 (most likely to recommend) 

7. Democratic Leadership

Democratic leadership, which is also commonly known as participative leadership, is about letting multiple people participate in the decision-making process. This type of leadership can be seen in a wide range of contexts, from businesses to schools to governments.

Pros

  • Encourages collaboration 
  • Inclusive of a variety of opinions and ways of thinking
  • Leads to higher group engagement and productivity
  • Can result in more creative solutions
  • The outcome is supported by the majority

Cons

  • The minority opinion is overridden
  • The involvement of multiple people can lead to more communication gaps and confusion
  • Can take a longer time to come to a decision 
  • An unskilled or untrained group can result in more decision making 

Recommendation rating: 4 out of 5 (likely to recommend) 

8. Collaborative Leadership

Collaborative leadership is focused on encouraging people to work together across functional and organizational boundaries. The purpose of this leadership style is to encourage collaboration with other teams and departments to accomplish shared goals. 

Pros

  • Can lead to more creative, innovative ways of thinking
  • More opportunities for diversity 
  • Can strengthen cross-team relationships 
  • Builds trust within an organization 

Cons

  • May lead to ambiguity in roles and responsibilities
  • Can create cross-team conflict
  • Potential power struggle between leaders 

Recommendation rating: 4 out of 5 (most likely to recommend) 

9. Servant Leadership

Servant leadership puts the needs, growth, and wellbeing of followers first. In other words, these types of leaders adopt a serve-first mindset and prioritize their organization, employees, and community above themselves.

Pros

  • Focuses on the development and growth of others
  • Can lead to improved performance, innovation, and collaboration
  • Creates a safe environment where people aren’t afraid to fail
  • Reduces turnover and disengagement
  • Increases trust with leaders 

Cons

  • Servant leaders can become more easily burnt out
  • Resource intensive
  • Difficult to train other leaders in the serve-first mindset
  • Can take longer to see results or reach goals 
  • Has the potential to be perceived as ‘weak’ 

Recommendation rating: 4 out of 5 (likely to recommend) 

10. Laissez-Faire Leadership

Laissez-faire leadership takes a hands-off approach to leadership and gives others the freedom to make decisions. While leaders still provide their teams with the resources and tools they need to succeed, they remain largely uninvolved in the day-to-day work. This is a leadership style you’ll commonly find in creative settings, such as advertising agencies or startups, due to its encouragement of independent thinking. 

Pros

  • Empowers individuals to practice their leadership skills
  • Can lead to increased creativity and innovation
  • Less fear of failure 
  • Encourages trust between team members and leader
  • Instill a sense of independence

Cons

  • Can result in low productivity 
  • Conflict amongst team members is common 
  • May lead to confusion about roles and responsibilities
  • Won’t be effective with an unskilled or unmotivated team 

Recommendation rating: 3 out of 5 (might recommend) 

We hope this overview of the most common leadership styles was helpful. If you’re curious to learn more or want to take a deeper dive into a leadership style that resonated with you, be sure to check out our ebook, 10 Leadership Styles You Should Know. We provide everything from personalized recommendations for each leadership style to situational examples of what all these approaches look like in action.