What Kind of Leader Are You?

four leadership styles

What Kind of Leader Are You?

The four leadership styles and how to find your leadership style

Being a leader can mean many different things. You can be an activist leading a movement, or an inventor leading the way in innovation.

But what we’re talking about in today’s article is being a business leader, a manager or the head of company. Being a leader in business is about more than simply being in charge. It’s leading the way in your thought processes, in the work culture and in the tone of the company.

In this article we are going to delve into the four leadership styles, the tactics employed in each of these styles, the pros and cons of these styles and how to find your personal leadership style.

What are ‘leadership styles’? 

The theory of the four leadership styles came about from studies completed in the late 1930s by Psychologist Lewin.

Lewin’s three main leadership styles identified in the 1939 study were Authoritarian leadership (autocratic), Participative Leadership (democratic) and Delegate Leadership (Laissez-Faire).  These leadership styles refer to the tactics, approaches and characteristics of a leader. It can also extend to how they motivate, how they measure success and generally how they behave when leading.

The fourth leadership style often associated with this model is Paternalistic leadership, a popular style employed in Japan and often lumped in with Lewin’s theory.

Autocratic or Authoritative Leadership

The autocratic or authoritative leadership style is characterised by a strong and uncompromising approach. This kind of leader doesn’t really do collaboration, it’s their way or the highway.

This leader gives orders and tasks without feedback from employees. This leadership style is built on a strong chain of command and constant supervision. Threats and fear keep the wheels turning under this leader.


The autocratic leadership style is not the best, but it does have some pros. Due to the lack of input from other management or staff, decisions can be made quickly and without rebuttal. Action can be swift because they don’t allow employees to choose their tasks or work schedule and the direction is never up for discussion.


In Lewin’s 1939 study Patterns of Aggressive Behaviour in Experimentally Created “Social Climates” he found that autocratic leaders lacked creativity, making them less able to cope with complex problem solving and that’s just one of the faults with this leadership style.

It doesn’t foster positive associations with the workplace, it means that if the leader gets something wrong there is no-one to point out flaws in their plans. And this approach doesn’t support employees or help them to grow in the business, resulting in a high turnover.

Democratic or Participative Leadership

This leadership style is characterised by the inclusion of subordinates in the decision making process. The democratic or participative leader decentralises authority. This leader will take the decision to the people and actively involve them in the decision making processes of the company including policy making and planning.

The democratic leader leads by example and uses persuasion and respect to manage their employees.


This leadership style is more commonly adopted in management circles these days. It keeps employees actively engaged and emotionally invested in the company, which means they work harder, and they find their work more rewarding, resulting in a lower employee turnover.


While this leadership style does have a lot of positives it also has its negatives. It can take longer to organise and settle on company plans and policy. It can result in demotivation if an employee’s suggestions are never taken on board, and it doesn’t guarantee that the best plan is formulated.

Laissez-Faire or Delegative Leadership

These free-rein leaders throw caution and responsibility to the wind with this leadership style. The Laissez-Faire leader passes all responsibility, decision-making and running of things down the line to their subordinates.

This kind of leader believes that self-managed employees work harder and will do what they need to do to get the job done.


This management style gives employees a lot of room to explore their own path in the company and could see exceptional employees with good leadership skills rise to the top of the pack and implement changes that make all the difference to the company.


While this leadership style doesn’t breed the kind of discontent of the autocratic style, it is still less than ideal. Without direction or feedback, it can be challenging to keep an employee engaged in their work and this can lead to procrastination and demotivation.

Paternalistic Leadership

As the name suggests, this leadership style focuses on acting as a parental figure in the company to the staff. It is a popular leadership style in Japan. It focuses on protecting employees, helping them feel secure and giving them fringe benefits, the theory being that in return they will work harder and feel a sense of loyalty to the company and the leader.


This style is similar to taking a mentoring approach to the staff. Provided this style works for both employee and leader it can be a good approach, one that is mutually beneficial both parties.


If you have any older employees or particularly self-posed or confident employees, they may find this approach infantising and not respond well to it.

How do you find your leadership style?

This all depends on which way you lead organically and which direction you chose to take as a leader because there is a still the choice to make.

Review your personality traits

Are you a stickler for the rules? Are you stubborn? If so, you might be the autocratic leader. If you’re at your best when collaborating and you like to give others the chance to take the stage and offer their opinions, then you are a democratic leader.

If you are happy to sit back and pass off all your tasks and decision making to the staff, then you are a laissez-faire leader.

And if you’re invested in employees and want to help them to succeed and want them to respect and like you, then you are a paternalistic leader.

Blend your styles

Just because you organically gravitate towards one of the above styles does not mean you need to only be that kind of leader. Taking pointers from other leadership styles can be helpful as well.

If you’re more autocratic naturally try incorporating elements of the democratic style. Get your employees opinions or try delegating smaller tasks and giving certain employees more freedom and responsibility like a laissez-faire leader.

Likewise, if you are naturally more of a democratic leader, you could lean into the paternalistic leadership style offering mentoring to some of the staff or you may want to occasionally take a harder line and dictate instead of calling for input on smaller projects.

If you’re more of laissez-faire type leader it might help you to try a democratic approach. This will bring more involvement from the top down and help the employees feel heard and as though their work is being noticed and appreciated. It could also lead to better outcomes with more of a group approach enabling feedback and reflection for stronger plans.

That’s the four leadership styles and how to find your personal leadership style. We hope you’ve found this article helpful, if you’re interested in learning more about leadership, you can check out our courses on leadership here. Or you can book in to have a chat with one of our friendly course advisors here.

Skip to content