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10 Leadership Styles Compared: Embracing Servant Leadership

I don’t think it’s a stretch for me to say leadership styles play a crucial role in shaping organizational culture. There are tons of leadership ideologies out there, so figuring out the right one comes down to knowing their unique strengths and weaknesses. I’ve picked ten common leadership styles to dissect. 

Then I'll compare each style to my favorite, you guessed it, servant leadership! I want to show how it stands apart. If another leadership style suits you more, that’s perfectly fine. Different situations do call for different leadership approaches. I just believe that the most consistent and reliable choice is servant leadership.


Autocratic Leadership Style:

A style of leadership where the leader holds complete control over decision-making and exercises authority without significant input or participation from subordinates. In this leadership style, the leader makes decisions, issues directives, and expects followers to follow instructions without question or debate.


  • Strength: These leaders are incredibly decisive and swift in results.

  • Weakness: There is a lack of employee empowerment and stifling of creative autonomy.

  •  Comparison to Servant Leadership: While autocratic leaders may deliver swift results, servant leadership fosters collaboration, shared decision-making, and a sense of community, ultimately nurturing long-term success and employee satisfaction.


Democratic Leadership Style:

 A style of leadership that encourages active participation and shared decision-making among team members. We’d expect to see the leader seek input, feedback, and perspectives from subordinates to consider their opinions when making decisions.


  • Strength: Teams will have open dialogue and collaborative, creative cultures.

  • Weakness: Ineffective leaders will struggle to make timely decisions due to excessive consultation and consensus-building.

  • Comparison to Servant Leadership: We see similarities with servant leadership in terms of valuing input and collaboration. However, in servant leadership we put a greater emphasis on the leader's role as a team advocate, role model, and collaborative partner. 


Transformational Leadership Style:

A leadership style that inspires and motivates followers to achieve extraordinary outcomes by tapping into their intrinsic motivations, fostering personal growth, and promoting a collective vision. Transformational leaders are visionaries, charismatic enough to empower their followers to exceed their own expectations and contribute to the greater good.


  • Strength: Teams will be inspired and motivated, striving for personal growth, and feeling a sense of purpose and empowerment.

  • Weakness: Ineffective or unethical leaders may manipulate their teams' emotions for personal gain.

  • Comparison to Servant Leadership: Like democratic leadership, we do see some components of servant leadership here as well. However, servant leadership adds layers of humility, empathy, and serving others' needs rather than solely focusing on inspiring growth and individual autonomy.


Transactional Leadership Style:

A leadership style that leverages rewards and punishments. A transactional leader will provide clear expectations, set goals, and establish a system of rewards and consequences based on performance. This is a task-oriented style designed around established standards and controlled through a system of incentives and corrective actions.


  • Strength: Positive reinforcement, such as bonuses and raises, can create a very productive and driven team.

  • Weakness: A strict system of punishments or rewards, without considering the individual needs and development of their team members, can negatively impact the overall drive and loyalty of a team.

  • Comparison to Servant Leadership: A servant leader may use some transactional incentives but would work to cater to the individual. This would be like offering one employee a bonus incentive while another may receive a flexible schedule to accommodate their family situation. Transactional leadership focuses on short-term results, servant leadership fosters long-term engagement and fulfillment.


Charismatic Leadership Style:

A leadership style characterized by the leader's charm, magnetism, and ability to inspire and influence others through their personal qualities and vision. Charismatic leaders have a compelling presence and the ability to attract and captivate followers, motivating them to achieve goals beyond their own self-interests.


  • Strength: Charismatic leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. can mobilize people through his vision, passion, and powerful speeches to accomplish revolutionary change.

  • Weakness: There is a concerning risk of self-interested leaders charismatically manipulating their teams for personal gain.

  • Comparison to Servant Leadership: While charismatic and servant leaders both inspire and motivate others, servant leaders work outside their own self-interest. Servant leaders prioritize relationships, fostering trust, and promoting the growth and well-being of individuals to accomplish goals.


Laissez-Faire Leadership Style:

A hands-off leadership approach where there is minimal guidance, direction, or intervention, allowing team members to have a high degree of autonomy and freedom in decision-making and task completion. The leader in this style tends to be less involved and provides little or no supervision, leaving most of the responsibility and decision-making to the team members.


  • Strength: This is the best leadership style for highly skilled and self-motivated teams, where individuals have the autonomy and expertise to make decisions and manage their work effectively.

  • Weakness: In all other teams you run the risk of confusion, decreased productivity, and lack of direction.

  • Comparison to Servant Leadership: Laissez-faire leadership differs from servant leadership's active involvement and focus on serving others. Servant leadership provides guidance, support, and mentorship catered to the unique level of skill and self-motivation of each team member.


Bureaucratic Leadership Style:

 A leadership style that emphasizes strict adherence to rules, procedures, and hierarchical structures. In this leadership approach, leaders focus on maintaining and enforcing organizational policies, regulations, and standard operating procedures. Bureaucratic leaders tend to rely on established systems and processes, often valuing stability, consistency, and predictability over innovation or flexibility.


  • Strength: Teams will have stability, order, and clear guidelines, ensuring consistency and adherence to policies and procedures.

  • Weakness: You run the risk of stifling innovation, creativity, and individual autonomy.

  • Comparison to Servant Leadership: Servant leaders do provide some structure and guidance, in line with organizational goals. However, it differs from bureaucratic leadership because the servant leader acts more as a shepherd. As long as the team is accomplishing the set goals and expectations, how they are accomplished is less important.


Coaching Leadership Style: 

A leadership style that focuses on developing and empowering individuals through guidance, support, and feedback. In this approach, leaders act as coaches or mentors, assisting their team members in setting goals, identifying strengths and areas for improvement, and supporting their growth and development.


  • Strength: You can expect to see increased competence and personal development among individuals on a team with a coaching leader.

  • Weakness: With a strong emphasis on individual growth, you may lose out on team collaboration and run the risk of developing an individualistic culture in the organization.

  • Comparison to Servant Leadership: Both leadership styles commit to personal growth and development. However, coaching leadership enhances the individual skills of a team, while servant leadership nurtures a supportive team environment where individuals and teams flourish as a collective unit.


Authentic Leadership Style:

A leadership style that emphasizes genuine and transparent leadership behavior driven by self-awareness, integrity, and moral values. Authentic leaders foster open and honest relationships with their teams based on trust, respect, and ethical principles.


  • Strength: Teams under these transparent leaders will have a level of trust that allows for openness and authenticity among the individuals.

  • Weakness: A leader whose values and beliefs differ from their team can cause animosity and strife, breaking down trust and degrading interpersonal relationships in the team.

  • Comparison to Servant Leadership: While both styles have core principles of integrity and transparency, servant leadership places the focus on the team. Instead of leading with their interests and values, servant leaders attempt to accommodate all the unique perspectives and individuals either through concession or compromise.


Situational Leadership Style:

A leadership model developed by Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard that suggests leaders should adapt their leadership style based on the specific needs of the situation. This approach recognizes that different situations and individuals require different leadership approaches for optimal effectiveness.


  • Strength: The adaptive style can maximize individual and team performance, achieving results.

  • Weakness: This style is ineffective when inexperienced leaders fail to accurately assess the situation and implement the incorrect approach. Also, people have a tendency to fall into a standard leadership style and find it hard to constantly change their methodology.

  • Comparison to Servant Leadership: Situational leadership shares common ground with servant leadership in its adaptability and flexibility. However, servant leadership is a model rooted in empathy that allows ease of navigation through situations without the need to change the entire model of approach. It could be jarring for a team to have a leader go from laissez-faire to autocratic leadership, throwing off the dynamics and overall cohesion of the team.


Takeaways:

This blog is jam-packed with content! So here are some thought provokers to help you marinate in the information:


  • What kind of goals do you hope to accomplish, and how quickly do you want to get there? 

  • What type of approach do you, or a leader you know, have and how does it impact the team?

  • Are you leading in a way that is a reflection of your beliefs and personal values, or are you emulating other leaders around you?


Picking a leadership style is important because how you act as a leader will determine how successful your team is. If you’re not sure where you’re at right now, take a moment to think about your team, their productivity, and relationship dynamics. Their behaviors, output, and interactions are a direct reflection of your leadership and its impacts on them.


Let me know which leadership style you love, or hate, in the comments!


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