Choosing the Right Leadership Styles in Management

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

To be an effective leader, you must possess a management approach that aligns with your own personality, your team, and your organizational objectives. Whether you’re hiring for a top position or gunning for one yourself, it’s important to understand common leadership styles, how they affect day-to-day management of your organization, and what you can do to make the most of your attributes today to develop into a stronger leader tomorrow.  Follow this article to learn more about choosing the right leadership styles in management.


Identify 3 Different Leadership Styles

In the 1930s, researchers pinpointed three major styles of leadership: authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire. Each has its benefits and detractions. Here are the basics of the archetypes:


  • Authoritarian: Command-and-control approach means the leader makes decisions with little input from those being managed; this style can lead to domineering, controlling leadership, but also can lead to swift decisions when time is of the essence.
  • Democratic: Participatory approach means the leader invites input from other members, but holds ultimate responsibility for decisions; this style can lead to higher engagement and group satisfaction, but also can lead to lower productivity.
  • Laissez-faire: Delegatory approach means the leader offers little guidance, leaving decisions to the group; this style can lead to high productivity when the team is comprised of self-motivated experts, but also can lead to blame, lack of progress, and poorly defined roles.


Consider these three the genotypes of leadership from which a range of interesting phenotypes have surfaced over the decades. As we explore different characteristics of leadership styles, the goal is not to establish perfect conformity to a single type or to mimic the style you think is most effective, but to understand your primary expression of leadership and how to take action to balance your dominant style with your “recessive” management skills. Most of us would benefit from triggering some changes to become better leaders. No matter your primary leadership style, attributes of others can be borrowed or burnished to suit your needs.


A manager practicing his leadership style in a company meeting.

Modernize Your Leadership Identity with 5 More Styles

Studying leadership is fascinating and provides a framework for training future leaders, but it is likely you don’t see yourself (or your ideal job candidate) in the three basic genotypes above. So, let’s expand our view with additional leadership styles based on what Harvard Business Review and psychologist Susanne Cook-Greuter call “action logic,” how leaders react when (and this is key) their power or safety is challenged.



Your leadership expression might be the diplomat if you are loyal to your team, eager to please your bosses, and extremely avoidant of conflict. You are focused on controlling your own behavior rather than your team’s and prefer zero friction as you interact. According to research, diplomats are a fantastic match for junior management positions because they’re steady, don’t rock the boat, and find it difficult to give negative feedback, making them friendly, polite, and well-suited to a support role rather than crisis-managing or inspirational leadership role. Sociability and diplomacy are great qualities, but they only get you so far as a leader.


  • Action plan: If you’re a diplomat, develop greater comfort with conflict, build resilience, and learn to deliver (and receive) negative feedback as constructive rather than destructive. Doing so can transform your natural ability to get along well with others to help you rise above middle manager for a spot in the C suite.



Your leadership expression might be the expert if you work hard to perfect your knowledge and expertise rather than controlling behaviors or external factors. You strive to be the pro in your field, with high expectations of yourself and others. To gain buy-in for your ideas, you focus on metrics and logic rather than charisma or command. According to research, experts are the largest category of leader, but not the most effective. They make great accountants, analysts, engineers, and researchers, but they are not comfortable collaborating, and they drag their feet about making decisions until they are certain they have dissected every fact.


  • Action plan: If you’re an expert, nurture your emotional intelligence skills and practice greater flexibility to mold your high-level thinking into a more effective, decisive leadership style.



Your leadership expression might be the individualist if you tend to ignore rules that you believe are false constructs or inapplicable to the situation or you simply prefer your own good judgment. You are self-aware, creative, motivated by personal goals, dramatic, unorthodox, and authentic above all else. If anyone has referred to you as a maverick or a wild card, it could be a compliment of your unconventional style or it could be a suggestion that ignoring processes and principles makes you an unlikely candidate for promotion. Most CEOs are not too enthused to promote uncoachable teammates who play by their own rules. However, in the right creative environment, the individualist can lead with a flourish and inspire colleagues and clients.


  • Action plan: If you’re an individualist who bristles against constraints, nurture your skills as a team player by asking for creative, collaborative assignments and by learning to be more open to early and frequent feedback that could prevent you from taking a project too far from its objective or its guidelines. A stable, mature mentor also can provide excellent guidance when your honesty gets the better of you in a meeting.



Your leadership expression might be the opportunist if you are more interested in personal success than collective wins. Opportunists tend to be mistrusting and manipulative, but they also are competitive, risk-taking, and driven, so a results-focused startup with a cutthroat culture can be the right environment for an opportunist. Researchers found only 5 percent of leaders fall into this category because they tend to be bullies rather than leaders and tend to be young executives whose mindset derails promotion. The other possibility is an opportunist who evolves into a more mature leadership style to attain an executive role.


  • Action plan: Opportunists who truly want to transform must seek personal skills that make them more empathic, disciplined, and service-minded. Practice humility by volunteering for teams that value collaboration and consideration; seek a mentor with the qualities you know you need, such as patience and temperance.



Your leadership expression might be the strategist if you’re clear-eyed about expectations and the environment around you, but also adept at creating transformations of those expectations and environment. You know what makes your operation tick. You’re self-aware and other-aware, competent at handling your team’s resistance to change, and skilled at critically evaluating what could be improved. You are ethical, principled, and interested in both personal success and organizational success. Researchers found strategists account for just 4 percent of leaders, but they are effective agents of change and tend to transform their organization’s key metrics, such as profitability, market share, or reputation.


  • Action plan: Strategists are generally not working to hone their interpersonal skills or their effectiveness as leaders, because they’re already on that path. To fulfill your strategist potential, however, you can explore building alliances and practicing continual inquiry into processes and the guiding principles at your organization, while peer mentoring to build a stronger and more sustainable community of leaders who challenge practices and assumptions.


Female manager leading a meeting practicing her leadership style in management.

Develop Your Leadership Style

An effective leader does not approach management with a prescription, applying a healthy dose of a predetermined response to a set of circumstances. Leadership is as dynamic as the environment in which it grows. It can be learned, supported, improved, and transformed. USF’s Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education is here to help you and your teammates do just that with expert instruction in corporate leadership, project management, process improvement, hospitality leadership, and human resources.


Find out how to discover your personality traits that influence your leadership style with the Birkman Method of self-assessment:


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