Leadership Styles

Leadership styles don’t always match a leader’s personality. An effective leader will use whatever style is demanded according to the situation. Because of this need for flexibility, it’s important that HR develop the awareness and application of each style among the leadership team.

What Is a Leadership Style?

Many people who lead do so in a way that matches their character. Among the types of leadership styles, you will recognize certain personality types. 

Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and expert on emotional intelligence, was interested in how different sorts of people handle leadership roles. He discovered six basic leadership styles and discussed them in his book, Primal Leadership. Although some experts have defined other styles, Goleman’s ideas are well known and have been adopted by influential organizations like the World Economic Forum.

Goleman asserts that truly effective leaders can adopt and combine different styles according to need. The challenge is to take advantage of the strengths of each style and avoid its weaknesses.  


A visionary is one who wants people to identify with the leader’s ideas. They tend to explain in an inspirational manner what they are trying to achieve, but then step back and let the team use initiative to figure out their part in the plan. 

The visionary approach is ideal for situations during periods of change and in particular for startup companies. It requires that the team figure out how to implement what the leader wants, and so is very different from the commanding style (see below).  

To develop the visionary style, L&D courses can include:

  • Empathy  
  • Communication, especially verbal skills
  • Self-awareness


Like a visionary, a coach believes that employees should find their own way; but in this case, the coach wants workers to be inspired about themselves. The coach hopes to translate an employee’s professional goals into their current task. To accomplish this, a coach will have extensive contact with individual workers to discuss their values and goals in life.

The coaching style makes sense for a manager in a small team or a CEO who wants to motivate other executives. It helps particularly when people seem to be losing focus or have doubt in their abilities. The coaching approach takes time, and so is better for situations when there is little urgency.  

Relevant training courses include those that enable a person to act as an internal mentor or adopt the style of a business coach. Another related skill is the practice of Management by Walking Around


The affiliative leader sees their mission as promoting good team relationships. This style is important whenever there is interpersonal conflict between people or groups. It also works well during stress periods, and it makes a good alternative to the slower coaching approach. An affiliative leader takes the time to listen to both sides and pays particular attention to emotions. HR can support the affiliative style through courses that deal with:


As the name suggests, a democratic leader runs an operation according to the will of the majority. The democratic mindset is all about collaboration, input, and open-mindedness. In some way, they act as a coach by leading teams towards finding answers on their own, but are less concerned about feelings. A democratic leadership style is suited for teams that have a lot of experience and a professional bearing (as opposed to groups that are new and/or experience interpersonal conflict). 

The skills that best support the democratic style include problem solving, active listening, and group communication. 


A pacesetter truly leads by example. Their priorities are goals and high performance, and they personally demonstrate how to get things done. But they expect the team to keep the same pace and intensity that they do. A pacesetting leader will even take on part of the tasks to ensure that things are done properly and on time. However, this type of leader can be harsh towards those who cannot keep up, and they put pressure on others to be as diligent as they are. Pacesetting makes sense for situations when top notch results are urgently required, but doesn’t work for extended periods, as it can lead to stress.  

To build the pacesetting style, HR can provide courses in assertiveness and encourage leaders to use high-performance management techniques. Organizational development practices are also of use here.   


Also known as an autocrat, the commanding leader’s main motivation is to control what goes on in their department. They want fast action and no arguments. Aside from those in the military and law enforcement, people are not very accepting of an overbearing leader, but this style can be effective if done properly. 

Specifically, the leader needs to explain why they are using that manner, which is usually because the business is under extreme pressure. It can also be applied when employees are slow to understand their tasks and time has been wasted. Once the crisis is over, however, a good commander will acknowledge everyone’s effort. 

HR can develop this leadership style through courses in crisis management, decision-making, and problem solving. 

Growing Leaders with GrowthSpace

Leadership development is a priority for every organization. But providing top-notch training for both hard and soft skills can be a challenge for companies that want efficient, personalized L&D at scale. 

With GrowthSpace, organizations can handle almost any development demand, all the way from senior executives to entry-level employees. Through a unique and award-winning technology, GrowthSpace delivers global access to hundreds of coaches, mentors, and trainers. Then, through a single platform, GrowthSpace enables HR to administer, monitor, and assess L&D courses.

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