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Leadership Styles You Can Learn with an MBA

By Steve Smith

The information presented here is true and accurate as of the date of publication. DeVry’s programmatic offerings and their accreditations are subject to change. Please refer to the current academic catalog for details.
November 27, 2023
8 min read

Whether you’ve taken on a leadership role in a project, team or department setting in the past, or it’s something you’re stepping into the first time, you may be interested to know about different leadership styles commonly used in business and how to discover which one is right for you. 


Every leader is different and is likely to develop their own style of leadership based on their experience and personality. If you’re considering earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree and planning to pursue management roles, it’s important to understand and to develop your own leadership style. In this article, we will explore what that means and examine the characteristics and benefits of 10 leadership styles commonly found in the business world today.  

What Is a Leadership Style?

The methods, characteristics and behaviors that leaders use when managing their teams are collectively referred to as a leadership style. The way a leader manages, motivates and directs their teams and individual team members is influenced by a multitude of factors, including their personality, character, values and experiences, and can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of their leadership skills. Does this mean a leader simply picks one management style and uses it in all situations? Not at all. In many cases, business leaders will display a range of different leadership styles depending on their situation, but they will maintain one predominant style and express that style more often.

Why is it important to know your leadership style? Understanding how you are naturally inclined and want to work with people can help you become a more effective leader by helping you to:

  • Determine how your style affects the people you directly influence. 

  • Find your leadership strengths.

  • Define which leadership skills you need to develop.

Types of Leadership Styles

We’ve curated a list of 10 distinct leadership styles along with their traits, how each of them can benefit teams and organizations, and their potential challenges.

1. Autocratic leadership style

Autocratic leaders are focused primarily on efficiency. They make decisions alone or with the input from a very small, trusted inner circle. They are typically confident and self-motivated, and are proponents of highly supervised work environments, structure and adherence to the rules.

The benefits of an autocratic leadership style include reduced employee stress, productivity through delegation and direct communications, but the highly structured approach might not be the right fit for all teams. 

2. Bureaucratic leadership style

Focusing on fixed duties within a hierarchical system where each employee has an established list of responsibilities, the bureaucratic leadership style is somewhat similar to the autocratic style. This leadership approach is effective in highly regulated industries, like finance, healthcare or government. If you are self-disciplined, detail-oriented and value rules and structure, this style may fit your leadership approach.

This leadership style can be efficient in organizations that follow strict rules and regulations, but change can be restricting to some employees, and it does not function well in more dynamic business environments.

3. Coaching leadership style

Coaching leaders create a positive, motivating environment, helping their team members set smart goals and recognize their strengths and weaknesses. They direct their teams with challenging projects that promote learning and growth and provide regular feedback. This style of leadership is advantageous for both employer and employee but tends to be more time-intensive than other leadership styles.   

Coaching leaders are often perceived as mentors, leading with positivity and promoting the development of new skills. Because this leadership style requires more one-on-one time with employees, it might not always be well-suited to deadline-driven environments.

4. Democratic leadership style

Democratic leaders ask their team members for input and consider feedback from them before making decisions. This leadership style, which is also known as the participative style, can contribute to employee engagement and workplace satisfaction since team members feel that that their contributions matter. Democratic leaders promote an environment where ideas are shared and place a high value on group discussions. 

Employees can feel more empowered and valued under this leadership style, earning high marks for boosting employee morale and retention. This style, however, can be time consuming, and has the potential to impose social pressure on team members who are less comfortable sharing ideas in group settings.

5. Laissez-faire leadership style

Opposite to the autocratic leadership style, the laissez-faire, or hands-off, leadership approach delegates most of the tasks to team members and allows them to work independently. Leaders adopting this style are likely to have more time to devote to other projects, since they are spending less time on managing employees. If all team members are well-trained, experienced and require minimal oversight, this style can work well. 

The laissez-faire leadership style can encourage accountability, creativity and a relaxed work environment. It may not work well for new employees who may need more guidance, oversight and support.

6. Pacesetter leadership style

This fast-paced leadership style is effective when a team needs to achieve results in a hurry. Using this style, leaders focus on performance and set high standards for their team members, working together to achieve ambitious goals. This leadership style can be a real motivator for people who thrive in fast-paced environments.

While the pacesetting leadership style promotes a high-energy and dynamic work environment based on accomplishing business objectives, it may not work for individuals who need more time to complete work or for stress management.

7. Servant leadership style

As the name implies, this leadership style puts the needs of others first. Focusing on developing the abilities of the people who work around them, leaders using this style create strong relationships, set a good example for others and understand others’ personal goals. A servant leader is one who will likely make decisions based on what is right for everyone, rather than what will benefit a select few. This leadership approach tends to foster an environment where creativity, problem-solving and collaboration thrive and loyalty and productivity are increased.

While the benefits of this leadership approach include a positive atmosphere, increased motivation among team members and improved communication, this approach doesn’t prioritize intense focus on results and exercises limited control, which might not fit all business structures.

8. Transformational leadership style

This leadership style emphasizes change and transformation. Leaders adopting this approach might be in a position to inspire followers to achieve more than they thought possible. Transformational leaders focus on the future, continually looking ahead to consider what needs to be done to achieve their organization’s goals. They focus on change and understand that change is a necessary component of organizational success. They also focus on people, seeing their potential and striving to develop their individual strengths and abilities.

This leadership approach will be best received in organizations whose leadership is open to change and continual evolution.  

9. Visionary leadership style

Also called affiliative leadership, the visionary leadership style is similar to transformational leadership because it fosters a culture of innovation and change. In this case, however, the emphasis is put more on long-term goals and the achievement of a shared vision. Visionary leaders are powerful and persuasive communicators who can predict potential roadblocks and map out action plans. This can give employees increased confidence during uncertain or challenging times.

Management teams working under a visionary leader are likely to have vision statements and other tools to inspire and engage them. Potential challenges, however, include these leaders’ potential to skip small details that can make a big impact on success of the team’s plans, or to be hyper-focused on a single goal to the detriment of other important initiatives.

10. Situational leadership style

Leaders using this proactive management approach change their management style to meet the demands of situations and teams. They recognize the need to adapt their leadership style to match the needs, readiness and development levels of team members. This leadership style involves analyzing specific situations, assessing the competence and commitment of individuals and adjusting the leadership approach accordingly. Particularly useful for startups or businesses that require frequent changes and flexible talent, this approach can motivate employees and ensure that teams aren’t stuck working in a manner that is not appropriate for the situation. 

The biggest potential challenge for leaders with a situational leadership style is that if their leader’s approach changes too often, team members may be left not knowing what to expect in terms of what they’re working toward. 

Finding Your Leadership Style

If you’re wondering how to choose the right leadership style for you, try taking these simple steps:

  • Choose the style that feels authentic to you: Your career path is also a path of self-discovery, and getting to know yourself is an important step toward becoming an effective leader. When you have a good sense of self, you can better lean into the leadership style that feels authentic to you.

  • Outline your values: What’s important to you? What situations get you fired up and motivated? Knowing these things about yourself and mapping out your values can help you to identify strengths and what you believe in. Part of this self-assessment can include looking at pivotal moments in your life and looking for trends, people you may have been drawn to in the past or present, and common themes that may emerge.

  • Work with a business coach or mentor: A business coach can help you to develop a leadership style as well. Your mentor can be someone in your workplace who you respect. It could be another leader or a colleague, but it must be someone whose feedback you would appreciate and value. This kind of relationship can also help you spot areas that need strengthening in your leadership skills. 

  • Watch leaders you respect: In a similar way, observing leaders who you admire and respect can also help you develop your own style. As you observe them in different situations and settings, make notes of what you like and visualize yourself taking a similar approach.  

Develop Your Leadership Style with Help from DeVry and Keller

Sharpen your leadership style along with many of the skills today’s organizations need by earning a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) from DeVry and our Keller Graduate School of Management. Our flexible, online MBA program allows you to pursue a general MBA degree or choose one of 10 different MBA specializations in areas like accounting, human resources, global supply chain management, marketing and more.

Online learning with DeVry and Keller can help you balance your commitment to education with work, family and other aspects of your busy life by choosing the schedule that fits your personal and professional goals.

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