Leadership Styles: What They Are and Why They Matter

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Knowing your leadership style can help you engage and motivate your team. This article shares several styles and their common traits. Read more to identify your personal leadership style and develop your leadership approach.

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How you interact with and influence your team or organization can be the catalyst for success or a detriment to productivity. Different leadership styles can be effective in different situations. In fact, effective leaders often know how to adapt their style to fit the needs of their people. This article shares some common leadership styles and their identifying traits to help you determine your areas of leadership strength and learn how to change when needed.

What is a leadership style?

A leadership style is the way you show up to motivate and engage your team. Of the many leadership styles in organizations, no particular one is the best. This article will discuss eight of the main styles in more detail, including:

  • Coaching: You focus on developing and empowering team members through guidance, support, and feedback.

  • Delegative or laissez-faire: You give your team the freedom to make decisions and complete tasks without much direction or oversight.

  • Transactional: You’re a leader who rewards or punishes your team based on their performance and adherence to rules.

  • Servant: As a leader, you prioritize the needs and well-being of the team, lead by example, and focus on collaboration and employee satisfaction.

  • Visionary: You lead with a strong vision for the future that helps inspire and motivate others.

  • Autocratic: You make all decisions without consulting your team or considering their input.

  • Bureaucratic: Your leadership style is focused on rules, procedures, and hierarchical structures.

  • Democratic: You involve your team in decision-making and encourage collaboration.

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Why is it important to understand leadership styles?

Knowing your leadership style is important to develop your leadership skills and become a more effective leader. This self-awareness can help you identify your strengths and areas that must be developed as a leader. You’ll also be better able to make adjustments and improve your style.

When you know your leadership style and can identify which style will work best for your team, you can better impact team dynamics. You might adapt your approach to suit an individual’s needs or work to learn more about another style to drive success differently.

Understanding leadership styles and theories can also help you communicate more effectively. For instance, if you tend to be an autocratic leader, you may need to be more aware of the need to slow down and ensure everyone on your team feels heard and valued.

You may also handle conflict differently depending on your leadership style. By being aware of leadership styles, you may be able to resolve conflict more efficiently. You’ll know more about where your style could contribute to that conflict, or you can better align your strategies for conflict resolution with your leadership style.

8 leadership styles

Each different leadership style has its own merits. Understanding the traits generally associated with each leadership style can help you identify your own approach and new styles you might want to embrace.


Coaching leaders support and empower team members to achieve their full potential. You’ll prioritize team member development and use coaching techniques to facilitate their growth and progress.

This style works best when you can individualize attention and work with employees willing to accept challenges and address limitations.

Traits of coaching leaders 

Coaching leaders are focused on developing their people’s skills and abilities. This type of leader typically:

  • Promotes a positive environment

  • Builds trust through attentive listening 

  • Shows empathy for others, trying to understand their experiences, feelings, and motivations

  • Offers constructive feedback 

  • Works collaboratively with team members 

  • Consults often with team members to build trust 

  • Takes a personalized approach

Delegative or laissez-faire

Laissez-faire translates to “allow to do,” and this delegative leadership style leaves decision-making and task completion to team members. This leadership style offers little guidance and lets the group resolve any issues on their own.

This is a successful leadership style with experienced, well-trained team members you can trust to do their work with little oversight.

Traits of delegative leaders

As a delegative leader, you will be hands-off regarding task completion and decision-making. At the same time, you’re likely to:

  • Trust team members to make sound decisions on their own

  • Give people a high degree of autonomy and independence

  • Provide limited direction but necessary resources

  • Intervene only when necessary


Transactional leaders focus on give and take. This style is instruction-based, with leaders using praise and punishments to motivate the team. Guesswork is eliminated, which can be useful. But, this approach can also stifle creativity. 

Traits of transactional leaders

Transactional leaders tend to closely monitor team member progress. If you use the transactional style, you’ll probably also:

  • Clearly define roles

  • Focus on short-term goals

  • Correct or discipline those who don’t meet expectations

  • Follow a traditional hierarchical structure

  • Have systems in place to maintain order

  • Value efficiency over creativity

  • Rely on incentive programs or other types of rewards


As a servant leader, you focus on serving the needs of others, such as team members or the community, rather than on achieving personal goals or objectives. Servant leaders often garner respect from their employees for their collaborative and communicative approach. 

Traits of servant leaders

Servant leaders empower others by creating a supportive environment. As a servant leader, you likely are strong in terms of:

  • Empathy for others

  • Self-awareness

  • Listening

  • Taking care of people and resources

  • Community building

  • Influencing others

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If you’re a visionary leader, you have a clear, strong idea about the future or the value of a big change. You can inspire others to share in your vision and motivate your team members to follow you down the path you persuasively outline. You can also call a visionary leader a transformational leader. This is because they often see the world differently.

Traits of visionary leaders

You’ll have your eye on the end goal. As a visionary leader, you are also likely to:

  • Demonstrate a strong commitment to organizational purpose and big-picture goals

  • Encourage individuals to move outside their comfort zones

  • Foster confidence among your direct reports

  • Be open to taking risks

  • Look for creative, innovative approaches

  • Show passion and enthusiasm that inspires others

  • Make tough decisions 


An autocratic leader makes all the decisions and holds tight to control. You’ll have a lot of responsibility and power. You’ll also be the one to dictate to others what they should do and how to do it. It’s not always popular with people.

Traits of autocratic leaders

Autocratic leaders often rely on fear. At the very least, they expect people to respect the authority of their role. Other common traits of autocrats include:

  • Make decisions quickly

  • Have a commanding presence

  • Expect people to follow orders without question

  • Use threats and punishment to retain control

  • Offer little room for collaboration 

  • Focus on results


The bureaucratic leadership style relies on rules, procedures, and hierarchical structures. Collaboration and creativity take second place to efficiency and effectiveness. This style can work well in highly-regulated industries and task-driven fields where attention to detail is appreciated.

Traits of bureaucratic leaders

This is also a “by the book” type of leader who follows a prescribed way of doing things. If you’re a bureaucratic leader, you’re probably someone who:

  • Focuses on process

  • Follows the rules

  • Likes defined roles and specializations

  • Prioritizes efficiency

  • Communicates formally


Democratic leaders are supportive and communicative. You’ll work to help team members grow and develop, and you’re willing to delegate responsibilities to make that happen. You seek input and feedback to strengthen your team and work better together. 

Traits of democratic leaders

You’re probably a democratic leader if you prioritize collaboration, participation, and shared decision-making. Other attributes that could indicate this is your leadership style include:

  • Willingness to share decision-making

  • Readiness to encourage participation and involvement

  • Honest, transparent communication style

  • Desire to coach and guide team members

  • Comfort with individual autonomy 

  • Adaptive

  Next steps 

Each leader brings personality and experience to their style as a leader. Plus, your leadership style can evolve. If you want to become a different type of leader, you can.

Learn more about leading people and teams in the Leading People and Teams Specialization from the University of Michigan on Coursera. You can also maximize your ability to create change with and for people in the Connected Leadership course by Yale University. All this and more is available for you and your leadership teams with Coursera for Business.

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Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.