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What are the 4 types of leadership


Lead Academy

16 Mins Read

What are the 4 types of leadership? And what’s the best way to lead your team? It’s a simple question that has thousands of different answers, depending on who you ask. But it’s not that every answer is different. They overlap each other in many aspects. Leadership skills are so crucial in today’s world that those who have them can usually look to climb rapidly in their ranks. This is why knowing the leadership types is so important. No style is equally effective everywhere. It depends on your circumstances as well as how far you’re willing to push the boundaries. So, if you know how many types of leadership styles there are, you can actually figure out the best way to lead yourself in the current situation that you’re in. The overwhelming majority of research agrees upon three to four styles of leadership. So, that’s what we’re tackling today in this blog, the four types of leadership models.

Why four?

It’s not a random number that we selected out of thin air. There’s a reason behind it. Let’s discuss that in detail.

Check out our other blog, “10 Wonderful Sources of Support for Learning and Development.”

What is Leadership Style?

Throughout history, great leaders have emerged with particular leadership styles. But they all did the same things: provide direction, implement plans and motivate people. Every leader displays some characteristic behaviours when directing, motivating, guiding, and managing groups of people.

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A leadership style refers exclusively to these traits.

A leader delivering a speech to his disciples

What Makes Leadership Styles an Important Subject?

Leaders are the brains of any organisation. They can inspire movements, social changes, motivate others to perform, create, and innovate. Their choices can make or break the success of anything- people and organisations alike. As you start to consider some of the people who you think of as great leaders, you can immediately see that there are often vast differences in how each person leads. They never conform to a cookie-cutter approach as it almost never works. Failing to recognise which style you should adhere to and how you should adopt it is the leading cause of bad leadership and, in turn, organisational problems.

So the question remains if we know what makes a lousy leader, why is the world full of it?

It stems from the fact that most of us fail to recognise the good or the alarming traits of a leader. We are ‘seduced’ by the display of confidence. However, self-confidence and competence are two completely different things. Yes, they are indeed related. But correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation. As Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Amy Edmondson wrote,

“We are so seduced by confidence that we habitually end up with overconfident, arrogant leaders.”

So, leadership is not just important, it’s an intricate part of our lives. Given its importance, it would not be wrong to assume that people must have figured out the best leadership style by now through research.

So, what is the best type of leader? Is there a definitive answer to this?

Check out our other blog, “What are the Key Features of Effective Communication? The 7Cs of Communication.”

Casual look on ‘leadership’ in our everyday lives

All of us take on a leadership role at some point in our careers. Even when we go on to choose our careers, we’re taking on a leadership role. We take control of our lives and try to make them go the way we choose, where our passion lies. Although, during that time, we’re basically just a one-man army. The decisions we make affect us and us alone. To ensure that our choices bear fruit, we take on the help of many people, organisations and such.

Over the course of time, we take on managing projects. No matter the job or role, all of us assume a managerial position at some point or another. The role may not dictate to us to assume a managerial position, but we nevertheless do it anyway; because life is like that.

Just look at it this way: we are always managed by someone, and in turn, we manage someone else. For instance, Our parents and teachers take on the role of leaders when we’re young. As we age, we take on similar responsibilities at our homes, offices, and such. Just like we manage our families and our friends, we manage our colleagues in a similar fashion.

Lots of people gathering at a big hall

What is the best type of leader?

Some manage all these aspects discussed above from a ‘bossy’ point of view. Others do it like a partner. Some are just passive and let others manage things for them. It’s not like one style is terrible while the other is good. You have to ask yourself some questions based on your circumstances and personality. If you work in an organisation, these questions can be like:

  • Should you demonstrate with examples?
  • Should you motivate followers to keep going?
  • Should you provide team members with time and space to thrive or fail on their own terms?

Based on your choices and your research, you choose a leadership style.

So the truth is, every leadership style has its place and time. There is no definitive answer to “What is the best type of leader?”. It all comes down to your needs.

A young project manager briefing his team about the project

Types of Leadership Styles

As we discussed before, there are many leadership styles. Fortunately, researchers have developed different theories and frameworks that allow us to better identify and understand these leadership styles. With a bit of research through history, we can boil them down to just a few- three of four, to be exact.

Whether you’re leading a meeting, a project, a team or an entire department, you might consider identifying with or adopting a defined leadership style.

Most professionals develop their own style of leadership based on many factors.

Examples of these factors can be-

To help you out with your choice, let’s introduce you to two of the most recognised names in the field of research of leadership: Glenn Parker and Kurt Lewin. We’ll later look at the leadership models that the research of these two individuals discovered. You’ll have plenty of good ideas on how leadership models are similar or dissimilar depending on how you conduct your research.

  • Glenn Parker

Glenn Parker is, to quote CEO World,

“an internationally recognized workshop facilitator, organizational consultant, and conference speaker in the area of teamwork, collaboration, and team meetings”

He’s also the author of sixteen books, including the upcoming work Positive Influence: The Leader Who Helps People Become Their Best Self. It’s a cooperative effort where his son is also involved, which he co-wrote with his son Michael. If we research his books, we can identify four types of leadership.

  • Kurt Lewin

Kurt Lewin was a German-American psychologist. Lewin was one of the first to study group dynamics and organisational development, both of which are of tremendous importance in today’s business studies.

Often recognised as the “founder of social psychology”, he is one of the modern pioneers of social, organisational, and applied psychology in the United States.

In 1939, Kurt Lewin led a group of researchers to identify different styles of leadership. He and his group established three major leadership styles that have provided a springboard for more defined leadership theories. But it is also true that further research has identified more distinct types of leadership.

During the study, Lewin and his group divided some schoolchildren into one of three groups with a distinct leader. The researchers intentionally chose these leaders to be one of three types:

  1. Authoritarian
  2. Democratic
  3. Laissez-faire

The children were asked to do an arts and crafts project. The researchers then observed the behaviour of children in response to the different styles of leadership. After the study, they concluded that democratic leadership tended to be the most effective at inspiring followers to perform well.

Team leader conducting the meeting with the employees

What are the 4 Types of Leadership?

Following Kurt Lewin’s famous research, the modern world identified many styles of leadership. Even if the names of these styles change from research to research, they almost always overlap.

Kurt Lewin’s Leadership Research

If we take Kurt Lewin’s research, we can see that he identified three distinct styles of leadership. But we’re taking the freedom to add in one more, namely, “Paternalistic Leadership”. We’ll explain why. So in no particular order, these leadership styles are:

  • Authoritarian Leadership (Autocratic)

Authoritarian leaders, also known as autocratic leaders, lead, as the name clearly implies, through an overbearing point of view. They provide clear expectations on the ‘what’, the ‘when’ something needs to be done, and the ‘how’ people should do it. A strong focus of this leadership style is the command by the leader and the control of the followers.

The leader and his followers are members of two very different societies. They never overlap each other, and a clear distinction is always maintained between them. Authoritarian leaders do not depend on the input from the rest of the group. Even if they do, it has minimal impact on their decisions.

In Lewin’s research, it was found that it is harder to move from an authoritarian style to a democratic style. But the same is not valid if we reverse the situation. There’s ample room for abuse in authoritarian leadership. Abuse of this method is usually viewed as controlling, bossy, and dictatorial. Research also shows that decision-making is less creative under authoritarian leadership.

So is it any good?

We often face situations where there is no expendable time for decision making or bureaucratic delays. What needs to be done needs to be done right then and there. Other times, we see that even when a whole group has an expert whose directives are critical to the project’s success, they are often ignored completely. In these cases, authoritarian leadership can easily escape all these hurdles. However, in reality, it tends to create a dysfunctional environment more often than not. Sometimes it borderlines hostility between followers and the leaders.

  • Paternalistic Leadership

Paternalistic leadership is similar to a parent-child relationship where the leader is seen as a “father-figure”. The leader guides and protects his subordinates as members of his family. It’s a softer form of authoritarian leadership as it doesn’t completely shut the freedom of speech for followers. This is why it cannot necessarily be called a style of its own but rather a type of authoritarian leadership.

The whole group is seen as the members of a united family. The head of the family, namely, the leader, provides his subordinates with good working conditions and fringe benefits. As a result, the followers can feel motivated and are less likely to rebel.

This model of leadership works on the assumption that workers will work harder out of gratitude. However, it is not merely a hypothetical model. It is, in fact, practised in Japan and had been practised in feudal Japan as well. The unorthodox norms in Japanese social structure are actually the reason behind the success of this model. Small firms in the subcontinent also follow the same model.

However, it seems that mature adult employees do not cope very well with the paternalistic leadership model. As people age, they like to work independently, which the paternalistic leadership model doesn’t always have the room for. So, instead, it generates antagonism and resentment in the subordinates.

A young woman taking lead of a project

  • Participative Leadership (Democratic)

Lewin’s study shows that participative leadership, or now popularly known as the democratic leadership, is typically the most effective leadership style. To quote President Abraham Lincoln,

“Democracy is government of the people, by the people, and for the people”

Democratic leaders thus actively participate in the groups acting as a mere extension of the group, not necessarily as a leader. The guidance that they offer to the group members is much more subtle as they allow input from other group members and adjust their procedures for the wellbeing of everyone involved.

However, it is noteworthy that Lewin’s research found that children in this group were less productive than the members of the authoritarian group. But due to the nature of their leader, the contributions that they made were of a much higher quality.

Although participative leaders encourage group members to participate, they don’t act as the members wish. Instead, the leaders in the participative model remain as a representative of the whole group. The group members select them for their wisdom, and they put faith in the person that they will always take decisions that will benefit everyone involved. That’s why the leader in this model retains the final say in the decision-making process.

Due to the nature of the democratic leadership model, followers are integrated as an essential part of the team, which in turn increases commitment to the goals of the group. No one is forced; everyone acts according to their own free will. As a result, everyone is engaged in the process and are more motivated and creative.

  • Delegative Leadership (Laissez-Faire)

The delegative leadership model is also known as laissez-faire leadership. It produces a distinctive type of leader who offers little to no guidance to group members. The whole group is involved in the decision-making. Everyone’s input is equally valued, no matter how much or little qualified they are.

So undoubtedly, if the members involved are highly qualified experts, the results will more often come out to be excellent. However, in real life, it often produces a lack of motivation since the inputs of the experts can become nullified by the ones that offer no value to the team. As a result, it leads to poorly defined roles in the team. In fact, Lewin noted that laissez-faire leadership leads to other problems in the group as well. For example, members under the delegative leadership model will more often:

  • Significantly lack direction
  • Show refusal to accept responsibility for their own mistakes and instead blame each other for it
  • Produce less work and, as a result, make less progress

Lewin’s study shows that among the children in his team’s study, the ones under the delegative leadership were the least productive of all three groups. They made more demands on the leader but, surprisingly, showed very little cooperation on their part. They were also unable to work independently.

Yellow paper boat at the front represent a leader and the blue boats lined up at the back are his followers

Glenn Parker’s Leadership Research

After researching his new book, Positive Influence: The Leader Who Helps People Become Their Best Self, Glenn Parker discovered that most leaders fall into one of four categories. Note how they almost overlap with the leadership models that Kurt Lewin provided but are also quite different in their own way.

1. Supportive Leaders

A supportive leader gives their team members opportunities to take on new challenges. The leaders in this model do not actively participate in their followers’ success but support them in all shapes and forms so they can work effectively. There is also room for failure without serious consequence. Take the leadership team in Pixar, for instance. They give valuable inputs in the creation of the film. However, the director can have their own say in this, and their decision is received as the final one.

2. Teachers

If you’re an entrepreneur or an executive, you’ll see that a teacher figure influenced your thinking at one point in your career or another. In a corporate setting, a leader can teach new employees how to perform effectively in their roles.

3. Motivators

Motivational leaders often take events, procedures from their lives that helped them achieve success. The focus and determination in their lives become the centre point of these stories. Motivational leaders rely on the fact that their members are motivated in the same philosophy of life as themselves.

Even if the people aren’t members of their team, they can encourage people who are at least paying attention in a similar fashion.

A group of leaders all successful in their own career

4. Role Models

The name says it all. We all have a role model in our lives who we aspire to become. The most distinctive characteristic of the role models is that they are more successful than us. They are more accomplished or experienced, and we set our goals to one day be in our role model’s shoes.

However, the definition of ‘successful’ here is very subjective. For example, not everyone craves money or fame. The money that is enough to lead a happy life is enough. For others, the goal may be to be one of the wealthiest people on earth. Then, a person from either one of these categories may want to live a life where everyone recognises them instantly or may want the complete opposite- live a life of utter peace and quiet.

So everyone’s role models will obviously be the one that matches their personality the best, one who achieved something extraordinary that they could not yet.


The most effective leader is the one who is equally comfortable and skilled at using any one of the four styles. Your needs and the situation’s needs will dictate what method will be the most effective one to lead. If you’re already leading a group, it will also show you if you need to switch up your style. Effective leaders are able to assess your needs and adapt their approaches accordingly. Their end goal is to provide you with what you need and in a way that you can use it. What are the 4 types of leadership is a question that they are integrally familiar with as extensive research is needed into this question to know what traits make an ideal leader in different situations.

However, you are unlikely to be successful simply by mimicking the styles of leadership models. It’s not about responding or adapting at all. These are only the means. The objective is to inspire and motivate others. If you’re inspired to become a leader, leadership coaching is one of the ways to identify your leadership strengths and weaknesses.

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