The best leaders are the ones who motivate, encourage, and empower others. Too often, people confuse leadership with management. While the two are similar, being a leader is a different ball game – and you can certainly be one, even if you’re not a manager!
Unfortunately, lack of leadership can lead to high turnover rates. According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, 60% of managers in Singapore say that leadership in their company is “out of touch with employee expectations.”
Harvard Business School says that while managers focus on the process, leaders focus on the vision. While management focuses on systems and outputs, leadership focuses on people and change. While “manager” is a job title that denotes responsibilities, a “leader” has qualities that you can shape like any other characteristic. You can be both a manager and a leader, but the best managers are great leaders.
There are many ways to lead, however. Different types of leadership make it easy to find the style that works for you. Different companies and industries need different types of leaders. This guide helps you identify the best leadership style you can apply to your own management style.
Here are 15 different styles and examples of leadership in 2023.
This is perhaps the simplest and oldest style of leadership in business. Autocratic leaders follow this philosophy: What they say goes, and subordinates should do as they’re told.
Autocratic leaders are stern, decisive, and steadfast, and do not tolerate arguments or interference. This top-down leadership style relies on autocratic leaders to develop all the processes and policies. They create highly structured and rigid working environments.
Autocratic leadership might seem outdated in 2023, but this type of leadership has a lot of advantages. Autocratic leaders are almost always decisive and steadfast. They’re able to work well in stressful situations and find solutions quickly. There’s also a clear chain of command and a sense of strong, reliable leadership. However, autocratic leadership can also discourage group input and hurt morale.
One of the best examples of autocratic leadership is in the military. Like all armed forces worldwide, the Singapore Armed Forces rely on autocratic leadership to function. The military wouldn’t be able to save lives if they had to take time to vote on decisions.
In the workplace, an autocratic leadership style is useful when you need to make quick decisions. It’s also helpful where safety is a concern, and you need to follow strict rules. This style works well for emergencies, but not for regular team deliverables.
This leadership style is considered a participative form of management. Democratic leaders welcome feedback and input from their subordinates.
Democratic leaders rely on a bottom-up approach and encourage company-wide collaboration. They count on the participation of everyone, regardless of job title or position.
Democratic leaders can improve employee engagement and boost company morale. This leadership style also increases productivity and leads to innovative brainstorming. However, it can also lead to slow decision-making and instability.
Functioning democracies are the best example of democratic leadership in the real world. Elected leaders like Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong rely on the participation of the people.
Outside of the government, most boardrooms follow a democratic style of leadership. Directors will vote on major business decisions to create a consensus. This is also useful for developing employee engagement programs. Human Resources teams may conduct regular surveys and base their decisions on the results of these surveys. As a team leader, you can also ask for input from team members when refining a project, or get insights from multiple teams to fix workflows.
Laissez-faire leadership is a style of leadership that prefers delegation. Laissez-faire leaders are the exact opposite of micro-managers: They basically let their subordinates do as they please.
Laissez-faire leaders encourage autonomy in their teams. They prefer to delegate tasks and give their subordinates both freedom and responsibilities. When people make mistakes, laissez-faire leaders take accountability but don't lecture their team. They guide, support, and train their people to ensure personal growth.
The biggest advantage of laissez-faire leadership is freedom. Freedom breeds creativity, which explains why laissez-faire leadership is popular in tech companies. Independence can make certain workers more productive and confident in their work. But laissez-faire leadership in the wrong situations can also make workers feel like they’re on a boat with no captain. A little too much “hands-off” leadership can make companies lose structure.
Laissez-faire leadership works best in situations requiring innovation. It's common in tech and advertising companies. Apple maverick Steve Jobs was a practitioner of laissez-faire leadership.
In the workplace, you can use this style when leading highly skilled and motivated people. For instance, a creative team needs to run a brand launch campaign. It's best to give them a brief and let them figure out the rest. After all, micromanaging can kill creativity.
Transformational leaders are agents of change. This type of leader encourages, motivates, and inspires their employees. Output is their second priority. Seeing their employees or subordinates develop for the better comes first.
Transformational leaders are, in a sense, the embodiment of what a leader in 2023 should be. They exemplify moral standards, work ethic, and constructive criticism. Transformational leaders put importance on authenticity, transparency, and mentoring.
The advantages of transformational leadership are clear. It can unite employees, foster change, and promote morale. But it can also be risky and disruptive if a company isn’t ready for change. Change doesn’t happen overnight; companies need to work toward it.
Transformational leadership is best applied at the top level of management. Executives fighting for change will benefit the most from transformational leadership. Reed Hastings, Netflix's co-founder and executive chairman, is a transformational leader. He was instrumental in disrupting the moviemaking industry.
This style also applies to companies or teams going through a period of change or growth. When there's a lot of uncertainty in the air, you can offer motivation and reassurance to help boost morale.
Transactional leadership occurs when leaders offer something in return for something else. Employees who perform well receive rewards, while employees who perform poorly receive punishments. It’s a very simplistic style of leadership that relies on the notion that employees prioritise compensation.
Transactional leaders assume that employees lack self-motivation. This situation calls for reward and punishment to encourage productivity. As such, this type of leader tends to micromanage employees. Transactional leaders are strict rule-followers, but they're also forthright, practical, and impartial.
The simple nature of transactional leadership makes it incredibly fair. There’s no room for favouritism in this environment, and employees are all in a fair playing field. But transactional leadership can also make it hard for employees to find motivation outside of tangible rewards. It isn’t an environment conducive to developing new leaders.
Transactional leadership works best in structured organisations like the military. It's also popular in sports companies. Football coaches, like those in the Singapore Premier League, will reward athletes when they perform well at games or meets.
This style may also be effective in workplaces where you need to establish clear structures and expectations. When your team members perform routine tasks, motivating them with rewards is good. For instance, a customer service team must resolve a lot of complaint tickets. A good transactional leader can motivate their team to perform by rewarding them for hitting weekly targets.
Servant leadership is when leaders serve the company as a whole before themselves. These leaders put their subordinates, their company, and their communities first.
Servant leaders are almost always selfless. They see the big picture, and will work toward serving the greater good. Robert K. Greenleaf coined the term “servant leader” in 1970. He described servant leaders as empathetic, self-aware, persuasive, and committed to building communities.
At its best, servant leadership is transparent, motivational, and authentic. At its worst, it can promote an environment that lets employees take advantage of their supervisors. Servant leadership is also, realistically, impractical for industries that rely on output, data, and tough decision-making.
Servant leadership is not always the best style to apply in a corporate workplace. It is useful, however, in religious organisations, local governments, and nonprofits.
However, you can still apply some principles of servant leadership in the workplace. Doing this will build trust and a sense of community within your organisation. A good way to do this is to lead by example. For instance, when a project requires a team to work overtime or over the weekend, you can make time and effort to help, and even take on tasks to fill the gaps.
Unlike fixed forms of leadership like autocratic leadership, situational leadership is highly adaptive. Situational leaders will adjust their leadership styles depending on the group or employee’s needs.
Situational leaders are very adaptive, flexible, and insightful. In short, they can read the room. This type of leader understands when teams need more direction, delegation, or freedom. For example, with newer team members, situational leaders will take on a mentor’s role. With senior members, they might adopt laissez-faire leadership.
Employees are more open to leaders who recognise their individuality. As such, situational leaders create comfortable and safe spaces for their subordinates. However, situational leadership can also lead to confusion and feelings of favouritism. It’s a difficult style of leadership to maintain in the long run.
Situational leadership happens everywhere. Most of the time, leaders don’t even know it. Take the hospital, for example. Doctors will closely supervise nurses and medical technicians, often delegating tasks. When working with specialists, they’ll take on a more collaborative leadership role.
Another example is when you have a diverse team with different cultures and work styles. You can’t apply the same style to every team member in this case.
One way to look at charismatic leaders is to see them as storytellers. These are individuals with charm, influence, and persuasive abilities. They can encourage others to believe in their goals and beliefs, all while displaying a positive attitude.
Charismatic leaders are often extroverts. In a crowded room, charismatic leaders are the main characters. They know how to tell stories, spin tales, and use humour. They excel at winning people over with their fantastic communication skills.
Confident and self-assured, charismatic leaders can be highly inspirational. In the right environment, they can encourage camaraderie and make people feel heard. Note that, unlike other leadership styles, charismatic leadership is defined by how individuals present themselves rather than how they impact others. As such, charismatic leaders might be charismatic, but they might not be true leaders at all.
Powerful public speakers are the most common examples of charismatic leaders. Individuals who speak at events like TED Talks are charismatic leaders.
In the workplace, as a charismatic leader, you can help get everyone’s buy-in towards a common vision. Imagine how a start-up founder can persuade investors to fund their company. At the same time, you can motivate employees to wear multiple hats and take on different tasks. That’s charisma right there!
Like servant and transformational leadership, coaching leadership focuses on the growth and development of specific people. Coaching leadership is great for when subordinates need special attention.
Coaching leaders focus on professional development. They create several achievable short-term and long-term goals. This type of leader looks at the future. They pay special attention to achieving long-term results.
Coaching leaders spend time and effort to create healthy relationships with their mentees. This type of leadership fosters strong trust between leaders and teams. However, coaching leadership requires a lot of energy and consistency. Of course, not everyone is willing to provide this.
Coaching leadership is more common among higher-ranking employees like executives and managers. They are always looking out for employees to coach for management positions.
As a team leader, you can also adopt this style when you need to pass on knowledge or train their people. A good example is when a sales manager mentors their team members to achieve a company’s sales targets.
As the name suggests, a visionary leader is someone with a vision. These are “big picture people” who work toward goals for the company as a whole. Visionary leaders are rare and highly sought-after for chief executive officer (CEO) and chief operating officer (COO) positions. Some of the greatest innovators of our time are visionary leaders.
Visionaries have grand ideas, and are willing to do anything to achieve them. This type of leader tends to have extraordinary drive and can persuade others to share that drive, too. Visionary leaders are both results-oriented and motivation-oriented.
Visionary leaders can help companies become industry leaders. They’re disruptive risk-takers. When backed by action, they can turn their companies into industry giants like Apple and Facebook. However, visionary leaders can have one-track minds. A visionary will need a strong team to ensure nothing is lost along the way.
Visionary leadership is ideal for CEOs and high-level government officials. CEOs see the big picture, and they have support systems to help achieve that vision.
Lee Kwan Yew might be the best example of a visionary leader. He transformed Singapore from a developing country to a very progressive one. He had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve, and implemented policies that were ahead of their time.
Like autocratic leadership, bureaucratic leadership relies heavily on a clear chain of command. However, bureaucratic leadership does not rely on a single person to make decisions. Instead, bureaucratic leaders follow a strict system of rules, procedures, and approvals.
Bureaucratic leaders prioritise preserving order. They keep to the status quo and expect their subordinates to do the same. In our everyday lives, we associate bureaucracies with paperwork and red tape. Bureaucratic leadership is not so different, as it emphasises rules, routines, and regulations.
Bureaucratic leadership is good in situations where employees need centralised authority and a clear and strict set of responsibilities. This type of leadership also tends to treat every person fairly due to its impersonal approach. However, the downside of bureaucratic leadership is that it doesn’t make room for creativity, and in some cases, personal growth.
Bureaucratic leadership is most common in government organisations and branches. It helps to manage these large and complex organisations for the public’s sake.
Many large corporations in Singapore also operate with a bureaucratic leadership style. They have clear hierarchies and job roles, focusing on following company policies and procedures. Construction companies are also known for adopting bureaucratic leadership due to regulatory requirements.
Quiet leaders aren't afraid to let others shine. Quiet leadership is defined as the ability to lead a team without being the centre of attention. These leaders are sometimes the most selfless, as they are humble, insightful, and, most importantly, low-key. In many ways, quiet leaders can be considered thought leaders, as well.
Don't mistake quiet leaders as being simply shy people, however. Take their silence for contemplation and observation. They think before they speak and listen to what you say; when they do speak, it's always with insight and analysis. Because they say less, what they say holds weight. This explains why many top leaders in business are quiet leaders.
The good thing about quiet leaders is that they have zero tolerance for noise and nonsense. We see it often in the news: corporate and political leaders making big promises they don’t keep. Meanwhile, quiet leaders almost always back up what they say and mean what they say. However, quiet leadership may not work for industries like public relations or advertising, where noise is the goal.
Quiet leaders aren’t made overnight. Most of the time, they’re moulded after decades of experience and insight. Ho Kwon Ping, the founder of the Banyan Tree Group, is an advocate of quiet leadership. He defines success as “living a purposeful life and feeling you’ve achieved something that – in your own small way – you’re proud of.”
For task-oriented leaders, outputs come before people. That’s not to say that this type of leadership is unfair. This type of leadership is often necessary in emergencies, like when a company is going down or requires a major structural overhaul.
Task-oriented leaders place more importance on output, results, and data. This type of leader wants to meet objectives and goals. Deadlines are king, and task-oriented leaders are the shepherds making sure that everyone is moving in the right direction.
If you want results, you'll want to become or hire a task-oriented leader. This type of leader promises that they will meet deadlines and goals. Sometimes, though, this can come at a price – which is paid by the employees. Worker welfare is not always considered a priority for task-oriented leaders. This can lead to burnout and mass resignations.
The project manager is the role most associated with task-oriented leadership. If you’re a leader overseeing massive projects, task-oriented leadership is often the only option to ensure you meet targets and deadlines.
Ho Ching, former CEO of Temasek Holdings, demonstrated task-oriented leadership in growing Temasek's portfolio. From SG$90 billion in 2004, Temasek's net portfolio rose to SG$381 billion by March 2021. Apart from expanding her company's investments, she also promoted sustainability and social responsibility.
People-oriented leaders have completely different goals from task-oriented leaders. They rank employee satisfaction as a top priority. People-oriented companies believe that by focusing on people, you improve productivity.
People-oriented companies set themselves apart because they don’t see their workforce as a means to an end. To people-oriented leaders, managers and employees are all equally valued stakeholders. They exert effort to protect everyone’s mental, physical, and emotional health in the workplace. This is because they believe that happy employees will result in optimum productivity.
People-oriented leadership is the most ideal form of leadership, at least if you’re an employee. These leaders rarely experience high turnover rates in their companies because of high job satisfaction. But people-oriented leadership isn’t always ideal in industries that require structure and results, like engineering, government, and public service.
It’s rare to find company-wide people-oriented leadership, but it’s more common to see this type of leadership in certain departments. For example, the Human Resources (HR) department would be expected to exhibit people-oriented leadership. Google might be a task-oriented company as a whole, but its HR department is people-oriented. They take care of the employees with wellness retreats and recreational activities.
Some of the recognised best places to work in Singapore like HP, foodpanda, and Micron Technology are also people-oriented. They put the well-being of their employees first.
Adaptive leadership, which became more common during the pandemic, is built on the 4 A’s : anticipation, articulation, adaptation, and accountability. Adaptive leaders can take on different leadership styles that best fit specific scenarios. These leaders anticipate future needs and articulate these needs to stakeholders. Then, they adapt procedures to fit these needs and take accountability for their actions.
Adaptive leaders are, first and foremost, flexible. They can work under pressure and collaborate with people of different backgrounds and expertise. When a crisis hits, adaptive leaders know how to pivot and problem-solve on the spot. They have an adaptive mindset that’s open to change and always focused on the next steps.
Adaptive leadership is an asset to companies that need structural and cultural updates. In industries that thrive on competition, adaptive leadership can be the key to staying ahead of the curve. That said, adaptive leadership can also move too fast for companies that rely on structures and stability.
Tech is, perhaps, the industry that thrives the most from adaptive leadership. The fast pace of tech companies is the perfect fit for adaptive leaders who thrive on change and innovation. That said, non-tech companies can also benefit from adaptive leadership in specific departments, such as marketing, which are more open to change.
The Singaporean government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis is a great example of how adaptive leadership can work in unpredictable scenarios. The government took decisive action guided by science, data, and evidence. Strategies were adjusted as the situation evolved. This allowed the government to implement an effective and timely crisis response.
It’s common to blend different leadership styles. In fact, it’s preferred. In 2023, employees want to see dynamic leaders who understand what they need to thrive.
When done right, adopting different leadership styles can increase effectiveness and efficiency and improve communication and collaboration. It can also enhance innovation and creativity and improve employee retention and satisfaction. This positive impact on organisational culture allows for the tailoring of leadership approaches. This increases your ability to meet changing needs and address complex challenges.
For example, a data science company might thrive from task-oriented leadership to reach its monthly targets and coaching leadership to mentor the many emerging data scientists in the company. Meanwhile, an animation studio might succeed from visionary leadership from its CEO and laissez-faire leadership from immediate supervisors.
By adopting more than one leadership style, you can certainly hit several birds with one stone.
That’s not to say that combining different leadership styles is always the answer, however. When done wrongly, blending leadership styles can lead to instability and lack of direction.
Having contradicting directions can lead to confusion and inconsistency. Your team may feel disconnected from organisational goals and values. There’s also the risk of conflict and division. Team members may feel a lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities, and find it difficult to provide consistent feedback.
For example, if you implement both autocratic and democratic leadership styles in the same setting, your team will find it hard to follow directions. Do you as the leader have the final say, or can they give suggestions? This is not clear in this kind of set-up.
While all of these leadership styles are being adopted in 2023, there is no clear “best” leadership style out there. But there is a best leadership style foryou.Leadership styles are not a one-size-fits-all situation. Different scenarios demand different leadership styles. In some cases, a blended combination of leadership styles might be the answer. No matter what leadership style you choose, authenticity is the key to becoming the best leader you can be.
For more career insights, visit JobStreet’s Career Advice page. Get ready for your next leadership position by signing up to JobStreet or updating your profile. Download the JobStreet app now on the App Store or Google Play .