What Kind of Leader Are You?

UPDATED: March 11, 2016
PUBLISHED: February 3, 2015

Chances are you know what type of leader you are. I’m approachable, easy to work with and trust my people to do their best work. But are you sure?

There are a multitude of categorized types of leaders, and unlike what some might think, there isn’t one right way to lead.

Knowing what leadership style, or a combination of several styles, is most effective for you will allow you to focus on how you can best motivate your team to follow your lead—or to get back in line when they’ve lost their way.

Related: Rohn: 7 Personality Traits of a Great Leader

Here are five common kinds of leaders and what defines them, including how each one deals with employees who’ve fallen behind:

1. The Control Freak: Because I said so.

Authoritarian leaders believe that close control over employees is critical for achieving success. They value policy and procedure above all else, and subordinates don’t get to question why decisions are made, nor is their input usually requested in decision-making. 

This person will realize quickly when an employee isn’t meeting standards, in part because he is always directly monitoring his team’s performance. He will single-handedly develop an improvement strategy for the struggling employee (based on formal standards), have them agree to the terms and measure their improvement against the steps in the plan.

2. The Laissez-Faire Leader: I’ll leave the decision to you.                

The laissez-faire leadership approach is hands off. Employees and their respective managers are empowered to make decisions related to the organization’s operations, and these executive-level leaders offer little guidance or direction, unless specifically asked. 

Laissez-faire-style leaders won’t find out about a poor performance until it’s become an unavoidable issue. Slow to get directly involved because of a lack of familiarity with the exact situation, these hands-off leaders will first look to guidance from an employee’s direct manager. This leader will probably have the employee create a performance plan and agree to stick with it and then have that person’s direct manager be responsible for monitoring improvement.

3. The Democrat: Let’s take a vote on it.

Democratic leaders attempt to incorporate the voice of their staff in the decision-making process. While the level of participation may vary, these leaders tend to favor group consensus on choices that impact their organization and the creation of committees to help inform decisions.                    

An employee’s lack of performance will frustrate democratic-style leaders. It’s likely the employee would have originally been involved in defining his or her performance standards. Didn’t we all agree to these measurements? So this leader will work with the employee and their managers to come to a consensus as to how they can get better, as well as for future definitions of improvement.

4. The Carrot and the Stick Leader: Achieve this and I’ll reward you that.

Carrot and the stick leaders view leadership as transactional, motivating followers through a system of rewards and punishments. These leaders are often interested in maintaining the status quo and maximizing efficiency. 

A transactional leader will set up a plan that has incentives for achievements and penalties for poor performance—a struggling employee might not receive a bonus or other perk until they mend mistakes. This type of leader will also consider demotion or promotion to motivate employee performance.

5. Caterpillar to Butterfly: Here’s what’s going to happen…

Transformational leaders are the ones that come in and shake things up. They implement their vision and get their subordinates to buy into it—they make a big impact on their organization and their industry.

This leader is going to do one of two things with a struggling employee: work with them to create a game plan that will make them a high-performing contributor or transform them into a former employee—and quickly.

Still scratching your head, not sure of where you fall? That’s OK, because you might take on different styles depending on the situation—authoritarian approach when running meetings, laissez-faire for determining daily duties of your senior staff—and that versatility is a mark of a true leader.

Related: Why the Empathetic Leader Is the Best Leader

Victor Yocco is a researcher and strategist at Intuitive Company, a Philadelphia-based design firm. His current speaking and writing interests include strategy and leadership, and interpreting the application of theory and research to digital design.