Leadership Styles

What kind of leader do I want to be?

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

Abraham Lincoln


Cleverer people than me have spent their entire working lives defining different leadership types, and I find labels only useful in so far as they help me think about what I might be doing from habit, and whether I want to change; so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel.  I’m not planning to advocate any one particular style, just give you an opportunity to explore where your strengths lie and how you can make the most of them – whatever works for you, in any situation.

Here are some established styles, and a brief definition for each, for discussion and thought.  Remember: these are behavioural models, not personality types!Thomas Jefferson

I hope our wisdom will grow with our power; and teach us; that the less we use our power the greater it will be.

Thomas Jefferson

Task Orientated 

Interested in getting the job done.

Roles not people.

Structure and planning, monitoring.

People – relationship orientated  /Affiliative 

Supportive and developing of staff, emphasises teamwork and creativity.  Looks for connections and networks.  Good at healing rifts and getting followers through stress; can be poor at giving negative feedback, backs off from confrontation.


Contractual obligation – expects staff to do as they are told.  Offers incentives for success, blames and punishes failure regardless of resources.

Expects compliance.  Unlikely to get anyone to go ‘the extra mile’.

Assumes motivation to work is at most basic level.

Transformational/ visionary  

Shared vision, lots of energy put into communication, known to everyone, delegate well and support staff, wanting them to succeed and be transformed themselves.

Seen as committed, trustworthy and person of integrity; charismatic without narcissism.

Ineffective and frustrated where no transformation required, can get carried away by their beliefs which may be unfounded or inaccurate.

Can be exhausting to follow.

Need support on detail.


By the book.

Ideal where there are safety or probity issues.

Stifles creativity.


Leaves followers to get on with it which works well with experienced and skilled self-motivated staff, but can lead to staff being left adrift not knowing what they should be doing.

Difficult when consistency of approach is required.


Reassuring, gives clear directions.  Expects compliance not agreement.  Excellent in a crisis.

Can seem distant and uninvolved.


Not necessarily the formal leader.

Driven by own values to make the world a better place for their followers and the disadvantaged.  Serving by leading.

Takes responsibility for followers, and nurtures them through trust, growth and enabling environments.

Ideal for public sector and charity roles.

Assumes the follower wants to change, and assumes they know what is the right change for others.


Extreme transactional leadership.  Absolute power.

No consultation.

May result in discontented followers.


Invites contributions to decision-making, but reserves ultimate decisions to self.

Develops skills and autonomy in followers.

Focussed on quality rather than speed.

Can be difficult if there are a lot of different opinions to be satisfied.

Can be discredited by sham consultations.


Enthusiastic transformational leader, who relies on personal charm.

Persuasive, good at reading a group and effectively using their own body language.  Inspires confidence and feelings of being special in their followers, which can be unfounded

Prepared to take risks, but intolerant of challenge.

Can be exciting to work for, but becomes essential to the organisation, which makes succession difficult.

Can get to believe their own hype.


Emphasises thought and action over hyperbole.

Combines will-power with humility.

Puts the well-being of others before their own, and give credit to others for successes while taking responsibility for failures themselves.

Values driven.

Can get to a point where their need for harmony and mutual respect gets in the way of dealing with conflict

Pace setting 

Builds challenge, expects excellence, leads by example.

Identifies weaknesses and demands more.

Prepared to muck in in a crisis.

Not good at explaining what they want, tend to go for short-term results.

Can burn out on their own enthusiasm.


Good at delegating challenging assignments.

Demonstrate faith in followers, leading to high levels of loyalty.

Can look like micro-managing.


Depends on the skills and experience of the team, the type of work, the organisations environment, and the leader’s preferred natural style.

There will be occasions where you may need to employ any one or all of the identified styles.

If you are comfortable with who you are, you can be comfortable using any of them.

Think about the skills that you recognise that you use:

How well have they served you?

Which would you like to be better at?

Which do you believe you’d never use?

Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could.

Abigail Adams


Don’t get hung up on it, observe when you are using a particular style, and whether it is serving you as well as you would like.  If it isn’t, try something different.

Authority without wisdom is like a heavy axe without an edge, fitter to bruise than polish.

Anne Bradstreet


Think about the leaders you know, have worked for, or know of from politics, sport, history…

Which leadership style do you think they used most often?

Would they have been more/less successful in their chosen field with a different style?

Copyright Cherry Potts,  Revolution-Evolution 2011

About Cherry Potts

Cherry Potts is a publisher/editor. fiction writer and teacher, event organiser, photographer, book designer, NLP master practitioner, life coach and trainer. She sings for fun. Through Arachne Press she publishes fiction and non fiction and runs spoken word events and cross-arts workshops for writers at interesting venues. Always interested in new opportunites to perform, write or explore writing.
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