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Leadership, at its most basic definition, is the ability to lead or influence members of an organization. When you get deeper into the subject, you find there is so much involved within leadership and so much to learn about. The purpose of this guide is to go over various leadership styles, describe different skills and traits a leader might have, discuss different ways a team might make a decision, and more. There are multiple classes about leadership at South College, so this guide aims to educate students across multiple programs.

Autocratic or Authoritarian Leadership

Autocratic leadership is also known as authoritarian leadership and is where the leader has individual control over all decisions with very little input from group or team members. In this leadership style, there is a strong focus on the command of the leader, with clear separation between leader and team members. The work involved is usually structured and rigid, with creativity being discouraged. Leaders have the authority to dictate all work methods and processes, which might lead the team to feel as though they are not trusted with decisions or important tasks.

Three primary types of autocratic leadership:

  1. Directing: rigid
  2. Permissive: slightly more flexible
  3. Paternalistic: strict but balanced with care and concern

One benefit to the autocratic leadership style is that it is beneficial in situations where a problem needs to be resolved quickly and efficiently, as typically, the leader is the one with the most knowledge in the team. This leadership style can be more useful in small groups where leadership might be lacking, as the leader can take charge by assigning tasks and establishing deadlines.

A downside to the autocratic leadership style is that those who abuse their position of power will seem bossy, controlling, and dictatorial, which will cause resentment from team members. Morale might also be affected since group contributions are discouraged, leading to team members feeling dissatisfied and restrained.

Cherry, K. (2023, June 27). What are the pros and cons of autocratic leadership?. Verywell Mind.,rarely%20accept%20advice%20from%20followers.

Visionary Leadership

Visionary leadership focuses on long-term plans for the future, working well in a business setting. The leader envisions a clear idea for the future, then communicates it to their team to create an environment full of collaboration and teamwork. Visionary leaders tend to be forward-thinking, and they assess any progress being made towards their goals. Similarly, they are also very plan oriented, creating a strategic plan that will help them achieve their goals. They are also strong communicators, as they must get their team’s support to achieve their visions.

These qualities also lead to strong benefits in this leadership style, including target goals being reached. Long-term goals are emphasized, and leaders fully embrace the organization’s mission statement to achieve goals; however, sometimes leaders in this style can get too wrapped up in focusing on the future that they do not always remember to focus on the present, creating an imbalance in their work. Another benefit is that, due to their strong communication and communicating the vision to the team, employees tend to feel inspired to reach these goals; however, sometimes employees' ideas about the goal can be overlooked due to the leader favoring their own ideas.

MasterClass. (2022, January 24). Visionary leadership: 5 qualities of a visionary leader - 2024.

Affiliative Leadership

Affiliative leadership creates a sense of team spirit by putting people first. In this theory, when the leader is treated well, they are then compelled to treat their team the same way in return. This creates a more positive work environment, which leads to better employee performance. There are some specific characteristics that fall under this style of leadership.

  1. Prioritizing coworkers: it is believed that if a leader prioritizes their team’s various needs, they will create a strong, long-lasting team.
  2. Constructive feedback loops: affiliative leaders will request feedback from their team, asking for details, then analyzing the information given to them. From there, they will decide how to respond to it and make any necessary improvements.
  3. Participative dialogue: the idea behind this idea is giving team members a voice helps them feel empowered and by asking open-ended questions related to the problem, leaders can solve things more effectively.
  4. Moral compass: sharing and respecting values helps maintain interpersonal relationships and fosters an environment for good teamwork.
  5. Emotional intelligence: by understanding and managing your own emotions, you are better able to understand the emotions of others, which will help you to effectively lead your team.

Advantages to this leadership style include a strong sense of belonging, increased productivity amongst team members, and feedback that helps improve performance.

Disadvantages include risk of under-performance and the leader could be seen as weaker if team members have also experienced more authoritarian-styled leadership.

Personio. (2022, October 13). What is affiliative leadership? definition & tips.

Democratic Leadership

Democratic leadership encourages and rewards creativity, but the leader still has the final say. Team members are encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas, which leads to higher levels of productivity, stronger team contributions, and improved morale. Some traits that define democratic leadership are willingness to adapt, having a fair mind, and being engaged with team members. Leaders will seek out varying opinions, regardless of if it is a popular opinion, which helps team members feel comfortable engaging with the leader and sharing their thoughts.

There are some benefits to this type of leadership, such as more ideas being shared, which provides a perspective that the leader might not have previously considered. There is higher team member commitment, as they feel heard and welcome to share ideas.

Just as there are benefits, there are also some struggles. Since sharing ideas is highly encouraged, this could lead to poorer decision-making, or an influx of opinions being shared by people who might not have a strong skillset related to the problem. Too much opinion sharing can also mean that team members are being overlooked or their ideas are not getting enough attention. This style of leadership might also not be the best option when there is a time crunch and decisions need to be made quickly.

Cherry, K. (2023, April 6). Is Democratic leadership the best style of leadership?. Verywell Mind.

Pace-Setting Leadership

Pace-setting leadership is where the leader upholds high standards for their team, and they set the pace for their team by setting the expectation that the team will perform at the same level of performance as the leader. Leaders embody traits such as initiative, conscientiousness, and drive to achieve goals. In this style, results are the primary focus, and the leader upholds high expectations to ensure team members meet deadlines. Leaders set the example by showing their team the requirements in terms of speed, quality, and performance they require in their work. Pace-setting leaders need to take initiative and be the first person to take a course of action when it comes to a problem. Then, they set the same goals for the team with the expectation that they will perform at the same level.

For this type of leadership to work effectively, both the leader and the team need to be highly skilled and be working in an environment that is committed to always improving. Pace-setting leadership is suited well to situations that require fast results. This leadership style works well in situations where goals need to be met quickly, especially if they’re short-term goals. This type of leadership puts pressure on the team to achieve goals on time and at maximum efficiency. This also means problems will get addressed quickly rather than being swept under the rug.

In opposition, this leadership style can also be a breeding ground for resentment, as the leader might take over a task if they deem the team to be lacking confidence or handling the problem inadequately. This leadership style can also quickly lead to burnout, as working under this type of leadership can be overwhelming. Work-life balance might be precarious as the team struggles to keep up with the leader’s pace.

HRDQ Staff. (2022, September 22). What is pacesetting leadership? examples, pro/cons, and more. HRDQ.

Coaching Leadership

Coaching leadership is when the leader can see the strengths and weaknesses of the team members to help them grow and succeed. They foster mentor-mentee relationships with each team member to help set them up on a path to success. This leadership style involves personalized support coupled with beneficial feedback and is seen as the opposite of the autocratic leadership style. Some key characteristics of leaders include compassion, self-awareness, collaboration, encouragement, and communication.

There are several benefits to coaching leadership, including:

  1. Close connections: in the mentor-mentee relationship, leaders create close-knit teams who can work collaboratively.
  2. Confidence building: coaching leaders help team members build confidence in themselves and their ability to achieve any goal.
  3. Support: leaders offer constructive feedback that is paired with support and praise.

There are also several challenges to coaching leadership, including:

  1. Time investment: time management might be a struggle for these leaders as they place a high focus on creating interpersonal relationships.
  2. Delayed results: along with time management, the focus on creating interpersonal relationships can also mean that problems take longer to get resolved, as long-term wins are prioritized.
  3. Participation: this type of leadership can only be effective when the team members also engage in the process and collaboration.

NSLS. (2022, July 28). What is the coaching leadership style?