What comes to mind when you hear the word leadership?

When I think about leadership, I remember this quote from Maya Angelou:

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Great leaders have the ability to motivate and inspire others. Whether you aspire to be a CEO or the best individual contributor you can be, it's important to understand your leadership style.

Why? In the workplace, each person has the opportunity to be a leader, no matter their title or position in the company. Not only does a leader motivate others, but they also implement positive change and help their team set and achieve goals.

Let's take a deep-dive into leadership and see which of the leadership style you resonate with.

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What Is Leadership?

Leadership is a skill individuals use to create a vision, set goals, and motivate others to reach the vision and achieve the goals.

You don't need to be in a management position, have a specific title, or reach a certain seniority level to be a leader. As the author and motivational speaker, Simon Sinek, says, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."

Strong leadership is especially important for remote and hybrid teams. Leaders of these teams need to have a clear mission and vision so all team members are engaged. A great team leader supports remote employees so they feel like they're making an impact on the business.

Leadership Skills

How can you become a great leader? Develop these leadership skills:

1. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is a quality great leaders possess. They understand their strengths and weaknesses, motivations, thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. Self-aware leaders are aware of how their words and actions might impact those around them.

2. Communication

Effective leaders are often excellent communicators. They clearly convey their thoughts and set goals and expectations for their teams: over email, through instant messaging, and during meetings. Clear communication also helps them build rapport and trust with their team and colleagues.

3. Influence

Leaders can use their influential skills to achieve favorable outcomes. They should be comfortable communicating their vision and goals, and persuading others to support them. This allows leaders to promote their ideas, and work well with those who might be more experienced or senior than themselves.

4. Learning Agility

Agile leaders recognize when changes need to be made. They can decide when to take a project or idea in a different direction and help others do the same. Learning agility means the leader learns from their mistakes, requests feedback from others, and actively seeks out new opportunities to learn and grow.

leadership skills for every leadership style include self-awareness, communication, influence, and learning agility

Source: Center for Creative Leadership

Styles of Leadership

Not all leaders are the same. Many have different leadership styles, and leaders might change up their style depending on the situation.

So, what are some of the most common leadership styles?

1. Democratic Leadership

Democratic leaders are those who delegate responsibilities and encourage others to participate in the decision-making process. The amount of input they ask for or accept might vary depending on the leader, the work environment they're in, or the situation.

Another name for this leadership style is participative leadership. This highlights the idea that this type of leader involves other people in their decision making. The democratic leadership style is effective because the leader empowers others and is team-focused. It's an approach that improves morale as everyone is aligned to set and reach goals.


  • Everyone can participate in decision-making and feels heard.
  • It fosters collaboration and creativity.
  • Democratic leadership fosters inclusivity and builds trust between a leader and their team.


  • Democratic leaders can appear indecisive when they ask for feedback or opinions from others.
  • The decision-making process can take longer because each idea and perspective is considered.
  • A democratic leader might become apologetic when certain ideas aren't used.

Democratic Leadership Example:

Let's say a VP of Marketing (a democratic leader) is in a creative planning meeting with marketing managers from across the company. They've brainstormed nine different campaigns to pursue over the next quarter, but they need to narrow it down to five. The VP polls the room of managers and they vote to decide the top five campaigns they'll pursue.

Democratic Leaders:

  • Bill Gates: Business Magnate
  • Ginni Rometty: CEO
  • John F. Kennedy: U.S. President

2. Laissez-Faire Leadership

Laissez-faire leadership is a hands-off leadership approach. This leadership style can be effective if the leader is working with people who are experienced, highly-skilled, and don't need much oversight.

Managers who adopt a laissez-fair leadership style are the opposite of micromanagers. They allow their employees to make decisions on their own. This is a style that's a great option for creative teams. Laissez-faire leadership is often known as delegative leadership, and it works well when the leader provides guidelines and materials at the start of a project.


  • It gives individuals more autonomy to make decisions.
  • The laissez-faire leader can prioritize different projects instead of spending time micromanaging.
  • This leadership style is a good fit for motivated and experienced teams who can problem-solve effectively and value independence.


  • Expectations can be unclear because of infrequent communication from the leader.
  • It's not an ideal leadership style if certain team members need clear instructions and frequent motivation.
  • The performance and productivity of individuals who report to a laissez-fair leader can suffer due to their hands-off leadership approach.

Leadership Example:

A CEO of a small startup might adopt a laissez-faire leadership style. They trust their employees to understand the business' goals and lets them set their own work hours and work remotely.

Laissez-Faire Leaders:

  • Warren Buffet: CEO and Investor
  • Donna Karan: Fashion Designer
  • Ronald Reagan: U.S. President

3. Autocratic Leadership

Individuals with an autocratic leadership style lean heavily into their authority. It's also known as authoritarian leadership. It works best in situations where decisions need to be made quickly or there is a clear order of operations that needs to be followed in order to comply with strict regulations (e.g., healthcare, military, security).

Autocratic leaders make decisions with little to no input from others. For this leadership style to be effective, autocratic leaders should set clear expectations up front, and follow through and enforce the rules they've set.


  • It's effective when decisions need to be made quickly.
  • Roles are clearly outlined and there is an evident hierarchy for decision making.
  • This leadership style is an ideal choice when


  • It can limit creativity because input is not often asked for or welcomed by autocratic leaders.
  • Team morale can suffer because the expertise and ideas of team members are often ignored.
  • Autocratic leadership can lead to communication problems and a lack of innovation if feedback between the leader and the team is not given frequently.

Autocratic Leadership Example:

A Director of Security identified a security breach on the company website. The director quickly pinpointed the source of the issue and told each senior security manager the exact steps they should take to resolve the problem and minimize the negative impact of the breach.

Autocratic Leaders:

  • Lorne Michaels: Television Producer
  • Helen Gurley Brown: Editor-In-Chief and Author
  • John Chambers: Executive

use of authority in leadership styles

Source: Cleverism

4. Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is exemplified when leaders set standards and values for their team but give individuals the ability to make decisions and take ownership of projects and tasks. This leadership style works best when there's an existing system or process that needs fixing. The transformational leader's priority is to "transform" these systems and often gives employees goals to aim for.

A transformational leader is often an authentic and transparent individual who's open to cooperation and frequent communication. They're also a resource and mentor for their team members and they're able to inspire change.


  • Transformational leaders excel at setting both long-term and short-term goals for themselves and their teams.
  • New ideas are clearly communicated.
  • Transformational leaders are empathetic and build trust and rapport with their teams.


  • These leaders are less effective when developing initial plans or processes.
  • There often needs to be an existing structure that needs fixing.
  • Transformational leaders aren't the best fit for bureaucratic structures.

Leadership Example:

A new customer support manager takes over the leadership of a support team. The manager sees the phone support wait times are too long in the afternoons. They meet with their support team and communicate that scheduling changes will be made so more support specialists are staffed on the phones after lunch and their goal is to take. The customer support manager sets clear expectations for the support specialists and tells the team to communicate if they have questions or need assistance.

Transformational Leaders:

  • Martin Luther King Jr.: Activist and Minister
  • Oprah: Media Executive
  • John D. Rockefeller: Business Magnate

5. Transactional Leadership

With a transactional leadership style, objectives are clearly outlined and it's expected that all contributors or team members will work towards them.

This leadership style is often used in situations where employees need short-term motivation. If they achieve the goals set by the leader, then they're rewarded. When the goals aren't met, there's often a punishment.


  • It provides a clear structure for individual team members to follow.
  • Short-term goals are achieved quickly.
  • Rewards those who follow instructions.


  • Creativity is limited because decisions are made by the leader.
  • Rigid structures and processes don't allow for innovation.
  • The relationships between the leader and their employees are often impersonal.

Leadership Example:

A sales team lead offers a bonus to their sales reps if they reach a certain number of sales by the end of the quarter. And if the customer churns during over the course of the year, the commission for that sale is clawed back.

Transactional Leaders:

  • Vince Lombardi: NFL Football Coach and Executive
  • Barbara Corcoran: Founder and Investor
  • Charles de Gaulle: President of France

Leadership Assessment

Depending on the company you work for, you might be asked to participate in a leadership assessment. Leadership assessments, quizzes, and exercises are used to gauge your skills and competencies to determine your leadership potential. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) compiled a list of leadership assessment tools and the companies that use them. You can even compare different assessments to see which is best for you and your team.

With an understanding of your leadership style, you'll have a clear idea of which skills and strategies will make you a great leader. If you're looking for more, check out these remote management best practices next.

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