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Can You Guess the 27 Most Popular Leadership Styles?

Updated: Jan 24, 2023


We have all seen various leadership styles that we like or dislike, some more passionately than others.

What models do you desire to see in others? Which ones do you despise?

The choice of which model to emulate in your own leadership depends on the team, culture, and your own personality. Same goes for how you prefer others to lead you. That may vary as well. Both preferences tend to evolve over time as our life and work experiences allow us exposure to a variety of these philosophies in action.

But we innately know when a leadership situation feels positive or negative to us. Shouldn’t our goal be to learn from others and ourselves to improve the leadership environment around us?

Heck, we spend roughly two-thirds of our waking lives at work.

Why not work for a boss that fits you? Or if you are a leader, don’t you want to lead in an organizational culture that fits your style?

To help you identify the leadership style that best suits you or your organization, let’s take a look at the 14 most common leadership styles, along with 13 celebrity leadership models. By the end of this post, you should have a good idea of how you prefer to lead, be led and encourage others on their leadership journey.



Pencils Lined Up

While I hate to denote any of these leadership models as inherently bad or good, there are some that are more positively motivating than others. Perhaps that’s due to our experiences and what we’ve learned to prefer in leaders around us.

In general, autocratic, bureaucratic, authoritative styles are on their way out. More and more people reject these as examples of true leadership, but some of these might be needed for organizational environments that have ultra-rigid timelines and deliverables for clients and customers.

No matter where you fall on the leadership spectrum, let’s jump right into the fourteen different leadership styles most common today!

All leadership should start with understanding how we lead and manage ourselves; this includes our emotions and actions. Without this first step, we will be less effective in influencing others due to lack of clarity on who we are, how we are perceived, and how we are to approach our team.

Three vital parts to this model are:

Self-awareness: How do others perceive you? What pushes your buttons? What do you do that pushes others’ buttons?

Self-confidence: Living an authentic confidence that comes from your experience but doesn’t define your self-worth solely from what you do.

Self-efficacy: This is related to confidence and is our ability to bounce back from setbacks quickly.

Authentic leaders are people who promote trust and openness through honesty and transparency. Plus, they value people and ethics over profits.Research has shown that teams perform better with this type of leadership, since it improves the team’s belief in their ability to succeed.

When people believe they can succeed, they usually rise to the occasion.

All Hands In | Team Participation

These leaders are usually extroverts that share authority and decisions openly with everyone on the team, which generally leads to group decision-making and goal setting. Sometimes the team has the final say on a decision. At other times, the leader makes the decision once she has gathered the team’s opinions.

Staff tend to respond to this style with higher morale and a sense that their voices really do matter.

As the term implies, this approach is a hands-off one. The leader allows wide latitude for decisions to be made by others, with the expectation that others will be responsible for solving their own problems.

Laissez faire leadership typically works best when you have a highly skilled, expert, and independent team. Some potential negatives of this philosophy are low accountability, lack of role awareness, and passivity.

This approach to leadership seeks to do precisely what the name implies — collaborate with others. It is similar to participative leadership in that it gathers others’ ideas before forming a decision. The leader simply takes the role of leading the decision-making process, rather than choosing the path forward.

“It’s my way or the highway.”

Ever heard this statement explicitly stated or even implied?

While an autocratic philosophy is routinely shunned by most in the workforce these days, there are some places where rigid processes are necessary to keep a company functioning properly. Manufacturers, restaurants, and other organizations all need a tight level of control on their operational practices to ensure that they can deliver a polished product over and over without fail.

Situational Leadership Infographic

Flexibility to adapt to requirements of the situation defines what this model is all about. Selecting the amount of supportive/relational behavior and marrying that with the appropriate amount of directive/task behavior needed will define the leadership approach one needs to take in that particular situation.

Rather than a one-size-fits-all mentality, this model adapts to people and situations accordingly.

Some leaders like to tell you what to do and exactly how to do it. Ever worked for someone like this?

I know I have. Hopefully, you aren’t in an industry that needs creativity or innovation, since these are both usually stifled under this style. And with the world constantly changing, we all likely need more creativity and innovation to survive and thrive.

Also called transformative leadership, leaders using this model walk the talk.

They provide a compelling vision that others can rally around. They draw deep respect, loyalty, and high performance from their team by setting clear goals, demonstrating fairness, providing support and encouragement, and inspiring others to reach for things that might seem out of their reach.

The key tenets of bureaucratic leadership are becoming more outdated due to the increasing demands of the workforce. Most workers, Millennials in particular, don’t want to work in a rigid system that fosters and values a strict and formal hierarchy, control, immutable rules, impersonal atmosphere, inflexibility, and specialization over generalization in roles.

Plans & Blueprints on a Table

This method is best used for situations where there are lots of projects with various details and tight timelines. Focusing on the end result, rather than the people completing the tasks, is more important due to meeting those deadlines.

A task-oriented leader needs to keep track of detailed plans and schedules, constantly re-prioritizing goals and reviewing the status of tasks in order to meet the job requirements.

This style argues that that the team must work together to succeed, and in order for that to happen, the leader’s highest priority is to supply the needs of his or her team. As such, group cohesion and teamwork is crucial to performance and effectiveness.

John Adair's "Action-Centred Leadership", a form of functional leadership, challenged the notion that you either had leadership or didn’t and demonstrated that it could be learned. This reignited the debate over whether leadership is primarily a function of nature (is innate) or nurture (can be taught).


Given the state of our ever-changing, technology-accelerated world, adaptive leadership is more than welcomed by most. The military has used this method for decades, and now civilians are learning of its promise in organizational application.

On the field of battle or in the office, there are four critical parts to this method.

  • Creating a personal connection with others helps to form a tight bond that is necessary to team cohesion in challenging times.

  • Making timely decisions is more important than dithering over whether a decision is a good or bad one. For sure, we should try to make a good one, but we can always course correct later. Waiting for the perfect call can kill you in war or even in business during a time of crisis.

  • Focusing on the mission and purpose, rather than personal gain, galvanizes the team around something greater.

  • Clearly laying out goals and objectives, but not micromanaging the execution.

It’s important to make a distinction between the words authoritative and authoritarian. These words are often used interchangeably but are very different in meaning. The latter is generally rejected by modern workers as outdated and inhumane — this is the “do what I said because I’m in charge” notion that demands respect.

The word authoritative simply points to leadership that has a commanding presence, self-confidence, and is generally obeyed because it has earned respect from others. However, authoritative leaders still have a strong sense of control and semi-rigid rules.


Abraham Lincoln

From leaders of companies and nations that are sufficiently old enough to be called historical to leaders of cutting-edge organizations and countries, we catalogue some of the most successful A-list leadership styles.

All of them have both unique (kindness, fun, etc.) and similar traits (work ethic, perseverance, etc.) that caused them to succeed.

Dive right into the proficient minds of these 11 prominent leaders and choose which ones to incorporate into your style.

Most people know Steve Jobs as a hard-charging, meticulous, impatient, critical boss, but there was a different side of Jobs that some closest to him knew. As he progressed in his career and became more aware of how others perceived him, he adjusted his philosophy to be more sensitive to the workload he was demanding of others.

He even showed kindness in his later years by sharing with others the medical information he had learned when they were going through a similar life event.

Bezos has built one of the most customer-centric companies in the world. His unwavering commitment to his vision at Amazon has made him the CEO of the 26th largest company in the world by revenue. At times, people have vilified him for the pressure he puts on his employees to deliver a high level of customer service.

At the rate the company grew last year (27%), they may well reach the top ten in the near future. Plus, he is now the wealthiest person in the world by net worth.

President Lincoln was an aberration in the annals of presidential office. He was a political outsider, molded by loss, not success, self-taught, thoughtful, generous, and kind. His philosophy of leadership came at a pivotal time when it was exactly what America needed to move on from an economy that relied on the human suffering of slavery. To lead in this way, he paid the ultimate sacrifice.

While she became famous for her book “Lean In”, Sheryl was first known for her executive leadership role at Facebook as their COO. Her style tends to focus on several key qualities, such as ambition, compassion, collaboration through soliciting others’ ideas, and clearly articulating your vision. Not being afraid to lean into awkward or challenging situations in search of a solution or answer has been a hallmark of her career as well.

Known by many at his former company GE as “Neutron Jack”, he was both loved and reviled by employees.

While he routinely “ranked and yanked” (fired) the bottom 10% of performers at GE annually, Welch was also understanding when people made mistakes (especially those who were previously star performers). He chose to encourage them to future success, rather than allow them to spiral into self-doubt.

In order to accomplish his vision of making Microsoft an international success, Gates knew he would need to marshal persistence to bring his passion to reality. As a transformational leader, he demonstrated the hard work, forward thinking, and constant evolution needed to fuel the company’s rise to the top of computer technology.

The founder of the Virgin Group of companies believes that having fun, listening more than talking, persistence in the face of challenges, and delegating more to afford oneself some personal time have been crucial to his success as a leader. Sir Richard is known for his creation of the Virgin brand of companies that operates in industries as diverse as air travel and cell phones.

Nelson Mandela chose peace over violence, even though he was politically imprisoned for 27 years on Robben Island. He knew that the only way to move the country of South Africa forward and past apartheid was to promote reconciliation between whites and blacks rather than strike back with violence or political retribution.

His soft approach, amidst the harsh opposition, eventually broke through, softened, and united the hearts of South Africans.

As Chancellor, Merkel demonstrates a rather pragmatic, methodical approach to leadership. Having been the leader of Germany for well over a decade, she has seen her share of success and failures. Nonetheless, she has persevered through it all and shown a willingness to go it alone based on principle at times.

Similar to Mandela, she has chosen to “lead from behind” in other circumstances, trading a position of power and control for one of humility, cooperation, and collaboration. But don’t mistake her approach for weakness; she is persistent and knows what her goals are. This approach has, more often than not, led to a win-win scenario for both her political allies and opponents, sustaining her role as Chancellor since 2005.

Donald Trump

Who hasn’t heard of Donald Trump, now that he can add “President of the United States” to his list of job titles?

The President is the near opposite of Richard Branson with a hard charging, high-energy top-down leadership philosophy that can be equal parts aggressive negotiator and loyalist to his closest allies. Whether you love or hate him, he is often perceived as harsh and confident all at the same time.

Making his initial fortune as a co-founder of Paypal, Elon has an outsized personality. Now, as the CEO of Tesla with leadership of SpaceX, SolarCity, and many other companies, he has a tremendous drive to enable large societal changes across many industries, making him a significant force as a transformational leader.

What is a list like this if we left off leaders from two of the largest and newer companies, Google and Facebook? Larry Page, one of the founders of Google, shaped as an engineer by trade, has a laser focus on efficiency, relentless innovation, staying nimble, and perseverance above all else.

Mark started Facebook, now the largest social media company in the world, and he is one of few prominent leaders that dropped out of college and still became a multibillion dollar success.

Inquisitive by nature, Mark leads his team with vision and consistency. Plus, he displays the discipline not to chase too many shiny objects at the expense of the truly important projects that continue to keep Facebook at the top of their game.


How many of these leadership models have you found yourself recognizing in yourself or previous bosses you’ve had?

Want to learn more about how to help your team grow in its leadership? If you are looking to take your team’s leadership to the next level, InitiativeOne can come alongside you to increase the effectiveness of your team.

There are several parts to this leadership transformation process provided by InitiativeOne, including a personal profile assessment, cognitive learning, group sessions with real-world challenges, personal discovery, and a toolkit to empower leaders to perform at their best.

There are really only two things stopping good teams from being great. One is how they make decisions and two is how they solve problems. Contact us today to grow your team’s leadership performance by making decisions and solving problems more swiftly than ever before!


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