Skip to main content

Knowing how to use different leadership styles is a critical skill. You need it to realize the full success potential of your business.

The best leadership comes from within. You can’t lead anyone effectively until you can lead yourself first.

And to lead others successfully, you must know how to lead in more than one way. Different people respond best to different leadership styles. Knowing how and when to use them makes all the difference to results. Yours and theirs.

Leadership does not always involve managing other people directly. Most business owners start out doing everything themselves. And this can continue for many years. Still, your decision making is subject to the influence of others outside of your business.

Leadership Isn’t One Way Fits All

Honing your leadership skills is as important when leading yourself as it is when leading others. The earlier you learn your authentic leadership style, the one that comes most naturally to you, the stronger a leader you will be.

However, you must learn to lead somewhat capably in all six styles. As your business grows, you increasingly encounter situations where your natural style is not the best one to use.

And, when working with business partners and others in future, being able to adjust your natural style as needed can reduce the number of non-productive conflicts you’ll need to deal with.

The Six Leadership Styles

There are six timeless leadership styles to use as needed:
  1. Democratic/participative
  2. Confident/determining
  3. Situational/activating
  4. Consensual/convincing
  5. Goal-Oriented/motivating
  6. Exemplary/inspiring

How Different Leadership Styles Work


A democratic leadership style takes the opinions and points of view of those being led into account. And allows them to participate in decision making. This can be useful when you aren’t certain about a decision, since the collective intelligence is taken into consideration.

It can also present problems when delegating responsibility downward or to the majority if followers do not have a good basis for decision making or lack sufficient information.

Particularly when faced with making change that affects others, skillful use of this style can minimize disruption to your business and reduce stress. There is, however, a fine line between involving others in decision making and allowing them to take over the show because you’ve abdicated responsibility for the outcome.


Confident leadership style is based on being sure of yourself and wanting to enforce your decision. This can come across as authoritarian, because your certainty cannot be changed easily. But it gives others a sense of security knowing decisions have a solid foundation.

This style is more task-oriented than people-oriented. It can be problematic when the basis for the decision is doubtful yet made in an authoritarian manner.

But, it can be especially useful in difficult situations or when dealing with crises. For example, when you are in launch mode or about to give a live presentation and the unexpected happens threatening to derail your plans.


The situational leadership style decides as necessary, depending on what is the best action to take in a certain situation or for a particular reason. In this case, it is important for the leader to have a certain level of relevant experience and that s/he knows the individual capabilities of their people.

This style is individually inspiring those being led,and provides a chance to show a high level of commitment to doing their best. Which means it is important to ensure you see their abilities realistically, so as not to ask too much of them.


Consensual leadership style is based on getting everyone on board when making a decision. The various options are weighed against each other and arguments for or against are heard, assessed, collected and discussed.

In this process an attempt is made to find the most convincing solution that can be shared by all. If the opinions and views differ considerably, it is important that the leader, after weighing the arguments, sets the focus, is able to persuade, and does not delay decision making.

While this leadership style might seem ideal, it can easily lead to a stalemate if not managed well. And, by its very nature, it requires a lot more time to reach a decision. There will be situations where the use of this style is not practical and might even be ruinous for your business.

For example, if you’ve brought people into a project who thrive when the standards of success they are expected to uphold are clear, then attempts to involve them in the decision-making process for how the work is to be done virtually guarantees no work will get done. Not understanding this is why so many business owners fail at outsourcing.


A goal-oriented leader knows how to motivate others to reach targets in ways that carry people along. Here, various incentives are promised for achieving the goal, and once achieved, the contribution is honored accordingly.

The important thing is that the goals are worthwhile for everyone involved and promises are kept. If false promises are made it will be difficult to kindle enthusiasm and motivation next time.

The biggest mistake business owners make in using this leadership style is not understanding what motivates each person is highly individual and can vary widely depending on circumstances and personal priorities.

The way to be certain you are successful in motivating others is to not impose what you think would be motivating, but rather to allow each person to decide this for themselves and share the information with the group.

Each person, including yourself, holds a different view of what success looks like, and of what makes their commitment to the end game truly worthwhile. Honour that, and those who work for and with you will blow you away with their quality of output and productivity and the extent of their loyalty in supporting you in achieving your goals.


An exemplary leadership style provides no leadership in the proper sense. The leader is inspired by his or her individual path, and this path does not need the approval of others. Words and actions are identical here because you walk your talk.

This may inspire others to follow your path and take the lead. Especially in the early days of start-up or during times when you are expanding your business, this leadership style can prove very successful and attract the right people to help you take your business whereever you want it to go.

Authentic Leadership

No person is exclusively in the role of leader or follower. You are constantly moving between roles. Not only do you actively show leadership behaviour, you passively have certain expectations about how you want to be led by others.

For example, someone who leads in a motivating manner wants to be led in a motivating way as well. Someone who prefers a secure confident leadership style also expects others to be certain of their own decisions.

That means your natural leadership style not only shows you how to lead authentically, but also shows you which style you tend to expect from leaders you follow and others you interact with in the course of running your business. You are naturally drawn to those who are most like you and respond to them positively with little conscious effort.

The effect you have on others and how you see yourself as a leader can be considerably different. Over time, if you pay attention to and seek feedback, you can see how you are perceived by others. This insight can be used to correct flawed self-perception and weak leadership behaviour accordingly.


There is no one best way to lead yourself and others. Knowing your natural leadership style helps you develop and unfold it.

After you’ve mastered it, work on learning the other leadership styles as well. The ability to consciously change and adapt your leadership style as needed helps you better lead others.

As the business owner, the responsibility for finding and using the best way to lead others is yours and yours alone.

And to future-proof your business, invest in developing leadership skills in others you hire into your business as well. This investment is one that pays off exponentially year after year.