I was in a meeting the other day and was suddenly struck by a thought: Just because a person is at the top of an organization, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good leader. There are lots of people at the top who aren’t. This notion made me pause, and then I thought, “I wonder how I’m doing?”

There are all kinds of leaders and lots of different leadership styles. Some people get to the top of their company by working their butts off to be the best they can be every single day. Others reach the top by default – there was no one else to take over. The third and largest category is those who are somewhere in between, working every day to advance their careers, hoping that when the time is right, they might be awarded the next available promotion.

Most people are not born knowing how to be a leader. Leadership skills have to be learned. Many people who move through the ranks at work have an opportunity to learn these skills from their managers. Some are fortunate enough to work at a company that invests in the education of its employees, offering classes and seminars that teach them to be better managers. But many leaders have to develop these skills after attaining a management-level position. Sometimes that can be detrimental not only to them, but to their team members, as well – team members who may end up suffering from misguided direction, poor people skills, or just plain ignorance.

No two employees are created equal. A smart leader knows that there are many different ways to lead, and often, the approach that works with one person backfires with another. The leader who’s not aware of that runs the risk of alienating subordinates and pissing people off.

Let’s take a look at 8 common leadership styles. 

  1. Democratic leadership. Democratic leadership allows each member of the team to have a say in what’s going on. While every team member has a voice here, the leader makes the ultimate decision based on input from the team. This way of leading is often extremely effective.
  2. Autocratic leadership. This leadership style is rarely effective. It’s the inverse of the democratic style. With autocratic leadership, the boss makes all the decisions; team members are rarely consulted or allowed to express opinions. They’re expected to adhere to the boss’s decision and execute as directed, which leaves them feeling that they have little to no control over anything. This is an unsustainable leadership style that incents employees to look for jobs elsewhere. No one enjoys feeling that their voice doesn’t matter.
  3. Laissez-faire leadership. This leadership style is laid-back and casual. The French term, laissez-faire translates to “let them do,” and that’s what managers who employ this style do. They let the team do what they think is best. This style works well if you have a good team that’s self-directed. If you don’t, it can spell disaster.
  4. Strategic leadership. The leader who uses this leadership style sits at the intersection of a company’s operations and its growth opportunities. This leader often has a finger on the pulse of day-to-day projects while also keeping the team focused on meeting long-term company goals. This leadership style can be very effective because it supports multiple employee personalities.
  5. Transformational leadership. A transformational leader always strives to improve ways of doing things. While this style works well in some cases because it keeps the team moving forward, it can have a negative impact on employees who like to get into a groove and don’t like change. Transformational leadership is often effective in growth-oriented companies, but change for the sake of change usually irritates people. A transformational leader may need to coach team members who are resistant to change.
  6. Transactional leadership. Transactional leaders reward employees for doing certain things or hitting specific milestones. For example, when a sales team hits its target number for each month, an incentive is awarded. As long as goals and incentives are realistic and attainable, this style works well. If they aren’t, it has the opposite effect.
  7. Coach-style leadership. Similar to an athletic coach, this leadership style focuses on identifying strengths and weaknesses in employees, then coaching them on how to put the strengths to best use while finding ways to overcome or alleviate the weaknesses. This leadership style is often very effective because it ends up being tailored to each employee’s needs.
  8. Bureaucratic leadership. Rarely effective, bureaucratic leaders operate by the rules, even in situations where the rules may not make the most sense. These leaders don’t deviate from accepted practices and have a hard time seeing outside the box. This style shuts down employees’ creativity and innovative mindsets, leading to sluggish results and low morale.

It’s important to remember that nothing is set in stone. The best leaders employ many of these styles and know when to switch from one to the other to get the best results. They also understand the importance of assessing their own leadership style periodically to see where they stand, asking themselves if they’re managing their employees in the most effective manner. If not, they make changes.

Another thing to remember: You don’t have to be sitting in the C-suite to be a leader. Anyone can be a leader. It’s all in how you treat people. If you treat them right, they’ll respect you and want to work with you. That’s leadership.

If you aspire to a corner office, give these leadership styles some serious consideration – before you have a team to manage.

While you’re doing that, I’m going to go look in the mirror. It’s time for my annual review of my own leadership style. Hopefully I’m on the right path, but if not, I’ll make changes. I know my team will appreciate it, and we’ll all be stronger in the long run.

For more information on these leadership styles, including an assessment to help you figure out what kind of leader you are, check out this article on Hubspot: https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/leadership-styles.