Laura Berlinsky-Schine

What makes a leader great? In general, great leaders possess several qualities and employ distinct management styles that set them apart.

Different working environments demand different styles of leadership, and great leaders typically combine characteristics of many different leadership types to manage effectively. Here are seven classic types of leadership and examples of leaders who make them work.

7 Types of Leadership

If you like to be in control...

1. Autocratic leadership

Autocratic leaders, also known as authoritarian leaders, generally have all the power, authority, and responsibility in an organization. There is rarely input or decision-making on the part of team or group members; instead, team members are tasked with implementing the leader’s decisions and choices.

This type of leadership is generally very rigid, but in situations that demand structure, quick decision-making, and close supervision, it can be beneficial to the organization. There are also many pitfalls: the organization cannot function without the leader, communication may be flawed or lacking, and workers may feel demoralized.


With her meticulous attention to detail and demanding nature, Martha Stewart embodies autocratic leadership. She is closely involved in and pays personal attention to the goings-on within her brands and make the majority of her empire's decisions.

If you're a natural at influencing and inspiring...

2. Charismatic leadership

Charismatic leadership can transform attitudes and beliefs in employees and others. She has the power to influence and inspire people, and the goals of the organization generally reflect her vision.

As the name suggests, this type of leader is charismatic and can effect great change, as well as inspire people. On the flip side, as with autocratic leaders, the organization may become overly dependent on the leader. Other risks include a charismatic leader ignoring the needs or ideas of her employees and being unable or unwilling to learn from mistakes.


Oprah Winfrey, who can sway the minds not only of her employees but people across the world, is a charismatic leader.

If you can lead from afar...

3. Transformational leadership

Like charismatic leaders, transformational leaders inspire others. However, unlike the former leadership style, this style does not require the leader to be present to effect change, because the leader initiates transformation through the organization and motivates employees to perform.

Transformational leadership demands a high level of productivity and involvement from employees. While this style can go a long way in effecting real change, it may overuse some employees to the detriment of others. Transformational leaders also risk setting too-high, unrealistic expectations for team members.


With a strong vision and the power to inspire others, Walt Disney was a classic transformational leader.

If you're good at delegating...

4. Laissez-faire leadership

Employees of laissez-faire leaders have a high degree of autonomy. Leaders maintain a hands-off approach to managing workers, providing them with the tools they need to do their job without being directly involved in decision-making processes, daily tasks, and responsibilities. However, these leaders still take responsibility for the company's decisions, even though the power to make these decisions rests in the hands of the employees.

The laissez-faire leadership style can be successful when employees are skilled in the nature of the work and motivated to succeed and do their jobs well. Workers enjoy independence, which may be appealing to many employees. This type of leadership can have consequences when the leader is uninvolved or takes a passive approach to working with employees who need more guidance. It can also lead to a lack of unity and cohesion in a group or team, and projects may fall off track without strong oversight.


Donna Karan, who maintains a hands-off leadership style, trusting managers with decisions while monitoring the performance of her employees, is one example of a laissez-faire leader.

If you prefer structure with you at the helm...

5. Transactional leadership

Transactional leadership stems from the notion that employment and specific projects are a transaction: When an employee accepts a job, she agrees to “obey” the leader and complete the tasks and duties as assigned, and will be compensated in exchange for her efforts. Workers may be rewarded or punished based on their performance.

Roles are well-defined, and people who are ambitious and respond to rewards are likely to do well under this kind of leadership. Additionally, this leadership style establishes a clearly–defined structure that enables the organization to meet short-term goals. However, transactional leadership does not allow for much innovation or creativity in employees. It also establishes a rigid structure that may not respond well to change.


In founding and managing Microsoft, transactional leader Bill Gates employed—and continues to use—a task-oriented, goal-focused style.

If you're a helper...

6. Supportive leadership

Supportive leaders delegate and assign tasks to employees, but also provide employees with the skills needed to complete the task. They work through problems and issues with employees and offer a high degree of attention and coaching on an as-needed basis. The employee maintains autonomy, but the supportive leader will step in and work through issues and problems with the employee as they arise.

Supportive leaders tend to have compassion and are respectful to their employees. In turn, employees feel valued and empowered. Still, supportive leadership can have some pitfalls. For instance, a supportive leader may lose recognition as a manager if she only steps in when problems arise and be less involved in the overall workflow and realization of the organization’s goals.


CEO Larry Page uses a blend of several leadership styles to ensure the success of Google. As a supportive leader, he maintains involvement in the company’s hiring decisions and motivates and respects employees, while expecting them to work independently toward Google’s goals and vision.

If you believe in equal participation...

7. Democratic leadership

Also known as participative leadership, in the case of democratic leadership, all or most group members are able to participate in decision-making processes. Democratic leaders emphasize equality and encourage discussion and a flow of ideas.

While democratic tends to be an effective leadership style and has a number of benefits—it encourages creativity, emphasizes fairness, and values intelligence and honesty—there are some potential drawbacks. Roles may be less well defined, which could create communication problems and failures. Some group members, typically those with less experience, may be less willing or able to contribute, or feel that their contributions are not as valued as others are.


As a democratic leader, Indra Nooyi, the CEO and chairman of PepsiCo, encourages communication and makes an effort to take an interest in the lives of her employees.

What’s the best leadership style?

Depending on the nature of the work and structure of the organization, leaders may favor a specific leadership style. The most successful leaders and managers tend to use several different styles, combining the best characteristics of different types of leadership to empower and keep team members content, realize the goals of the business, and effect change.


This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket and The Haven.

What’s your leadership style? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!