Definitive Guide to Successful Management Styles for Leaders

By Becky Simon | March 28, 2019 (updated March 1, 2023)

Learn about all the different management styles, when to use each one, how to identify your own style, and which management styles can most effectively drive your organization’s success.

Included on this page, you'll discover the different management styles of businesses, when to use each management style, and the most effective and ineffective management styles.

Management Style vs. Leadership Style

Before we dive into management styles, let’s consider the terms management and leadership. These terms are often used interchangeably, but they are very different.

Management focuses on controlling and facilitating a group of employees to achieve a goal set by the boss or their superior. Managers minimize barriers and focus on handling resources, budgets, processes, and a defined objective.

By contrast, leadership is not necessarily focused on control and power; rather, it adds value and influence to motivate employees to contribute to business success. Leaders tend to motivate, inspire, and create a vision. Anyone in an organization can be a leader, regardless of title. As such, a team member may be the perfect leader for a project even if they are not managing people.

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What Is a Management Style?

A management style refers to the characteristics that a manager adopts to plan, prioritize, and organize work to achieve business goals. Management styles differ based on company culture, as well as the manager’s seniority and personality. Many managers adjust their style based on staff and environmental factors.

Management characteristics can range from caring and compassionate to fearmongering and manipulative. These characteristics can have a positive or negative effect on the behavior and emotions of the team. The Dunham and Pierce Leadership Process Model is a great example of how your style affects your team’s performance and, conversely, how the actions of employees impact your management style.

What Are the Different Management Styles in Business?

There are numerous management styles. Each management consultant, manager, and organization has their own style preference. We discuss the characteristics of the most popular styles below.

  • Authoritarian: This management style is also referred to as autocratic, sell-style, persuasive, directive, micromanagers, paternalistic, and command and control. These managers tend to be very conscientious, albeit not trusting. In addition, they prefer order, speak their mind, may be persuasive, enjoy a strict hierarchy, give orders, rely on control, fear, guilt, and scare tactics, and are very rigid. They tend to breed employees that depend on their paternalistic/maternalistic style.
  • Authoritative: According to Donna Volpitta, Ed.D, Director of the Center for Resilient Leadership and author, this is the best leadership style. 


Donna Volpitta

“Authoritative leaders have high expectations for their employees, but they teach and guide them in how to meet them. Employees’ opinions are heard and respected. Authoritative leaders explain the decisions that they make in light of the input. Their feedback methods are supportive, rather than critical, focusing in on how to improve. They are consistent and predictable in their expectations and responses. Authoritative leaders are able to guide their followers to become the best that they can be. They provide structure and scaffolds that enable people to gain skills and confidence. They foster growth mindsets, which enable their employees to flourish.”

  • Coaching: This management style is also referred to as developmental. Coaching managers take the lead and have continuous interactions with employees to encourage the best performance and development. These leaders define roles and responsibilities, but accept input. They promote responsibilities and independence, but offer guidance and support when needed and identify opportunities for improvement. A coaching manager requires expertise and motivated staff.

  • Democratic: This management style is also referred to as consensus, consultative, collaborative, participatory (participative), people-oriented, and permissive. These managers are curious, value diverse ideas, and are open to ideas and feedback. They also thrive on streamlined processes, and are flexible and have the ability to try new things. This style works best with skilled team members and when there is not a crisis situation.

  • Laissez faire: This management style is also referred to as cowboys, seagulls, delegative, and trust but verify. They are agreeable, trusting, motivated, and hands-off, allowing the team to self-direct. Warren Buffett, one of the world’s wealthiest people and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, is considered a laissez-faire leader. Buffet is hands-off in his approach, allowing his team independence. This has worked because his staff are driven, competent, and highly skilled. This style can be challenging with unskilled staff because of the lack of supervision.

  • Servant: The phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in “The Servant as Leader,” an essay published in 1970. A servant leader wants to serve first and makes sure that other people and business needs are being served. They focus on people’s well-being, putting others’ needs first in order to help them develop and perform. This form of leadership is very common in education.


Matthew Ross

As Matt Ross, COO of The Slumber Yard, says “Servant leadership is very effective, especially with millenials who do not respond well to overly corporate styles of leadership. My employees are the lifeblood of my business, and I put them above expenses and profit margins. Anything I can do to help them be more productive and efficient will ultimately help the business (and myself). Lastly, I believe servant leadership is superior to task-oriented leadership in that servant leaders empower employees. Task-oriented leaders often make employees feel insignificant since they feel like they have to follow a rigid structure to get things done. Employees under servant leaders typically have more creative freedom and room for innovation and experimentation.”

  • Transactional: This management style is also referred to as telling. The transactional leader values structure, rules, and regulations. These leaders are very organized and depend on motivated employees who function well in a structured environment. Transactional leadership is not a good fit for organizations that value creativity and innovation.

  • Transformational: This management style is also referred to as inspirational, charismatic, selling, and lead-by-example. These leaders have charisma, great people skills, a genuine desire to develop employees, and high energy. In addition, they take risks, are empathetic, empower and stimulate their staff, expect creativity, excel at conflict resolution, communicate well, and stimulate staff in an effort to achieve surprising results. Mark Zuckerberg is considered a transformational leader, as he is encouraging, aggressive, and innovative, and he takes risks. Martin Luther King Jr. is also considered a transformational leader, as he is still inspiring and influencing people to promote equality and reform. Bill Gates is another transformational leader; Gates clearly communicated his vision and inspired his followers to build one of the largest software companies in the world.

  • Visionary: This management style focuses on inspiring others to contribute to their vision. Visionaries are very effective in startups and organizations that need a new direction. Visionary leaders tend to imagine the future and commit to getting there.

Management styles vary so wildly that many leaders are unable to identify with a single type. In addition to the management styles above, you may also come across the following:

  • Administrative: Also known as process-driven and rule-driven, administrative leaders orchestrate tasks and stick to processes defined for them.
  • Affiliative: This is a harmonious leader with great conflict resolution skills and the ability to build high-performing and happy teams.
  • Bossless/self-managed teams: This type of structure has no managers. The team members manage themselves. If team members are skilled, motivated, and knowledgeable, this style can work well.
  • Bureaucratic: This is a very traditional style of leadership based on rules, policies, and hierarchy, with a focus on control of work. This works best when there is little need for creativity.
  • Chaotic: This style occurs when managers give employees control without providing any structure or direction.
  • Commanding: Commanding leaders take charge, and they’re competitive and driven to succeed. They move quickly toward ambitious goals.
  • Complex adaptive: In contrast to a hierarchical style, everyone is involved and takes ownership in the complex adaptive environment.
  • Cross-cultural: Cross-cultural leadership is used when employees from different cultures must interact with one another. These leaders are able to adjust quickly and easily to different cultures.
  • Delegating: Delegating works well with highly skilled staff that are able to work on their own. Employees make decisions with little direction from management.
  • Directive: The directive leader provides direction and expectations — what, how, when, why, and where for doing a job. This works well for inexperienced staff.
  • Example-setting: These leaders directly involve themselves in the work in order to set the example on how to get the job done.
  • Facilitative: A facilitative leader is motivating, compassionate, and a great listener. They involve the extended team, stakeholders, and management in decisions to create a united team.
  • Innovative: The innovative leader is creative and able to recognize a good idea and communicate it to the team and leadership to gain buy-in.
  • Join: In this style, employees are invited to make decisions. Everyone’s opinions are considered equal.
  • Management by walking around (MBWA): This is a management practice in which the manager wanders through the workplace to monitor employees, work progress, and help as needed.
  • Pacesetting: The pacesetting leader sets high standards and expects all employees to perform to these standards. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, is an example of a pacesetting style. He created a transactional experience that has been imitated by other online vendors.
  • Political: Also known as mushroom managers and campaigners, these leaders are conscientious, but not agreeable. They are often described as competitive, controlling, outspoken, and manipulative.  
  • Situational: Situational leaders adjust their style to fit the people they are trying to influence.
  • Strategic: These leaders influence employees based on the strategic goals of the business.
  • Task-oriented: This style is very focused on defined roles and structured processes and measurements that ensure the job is getting done.
  • Team leadership: These leaders create a future vision to inspire a purpose and direction for the team.

What Are the Different Leadership Styles?

According to Daniel Goleman’s research in his book Leadership That Gets Results, six styles of leadership produce positive results, all of which are mentioned above: affiliative, coaching, commanding, democratic, pacesetting, and visionary. The expectation is that a good leader can switch between management styles when necessary. Although this research took place in 2000, the leadership styles are still relevant.


Froswa Booker Drew

In addition, Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew focuses on yet another leadership style, relational leadership, which complements transformational leadership. As Dr. Booker-Drew writes, “Relational leadership recognizes two dynamics: the role of individuals and their relationships as well as understanding the perspective of individuals in creating meaning in relationships, and the historical/social constructs that exist. This is an ongoing process of creating and relating to others. Relational leadership is a collaborative social process. We need people to reach the goals for our team, department, and the organization. More engagement means better outcomes. Relational leaders create opportunities for reflection and learning to enhance their leadership toolkit.”

According to leadership experts Bill Torbert and David Rook, at the root of leadership styles are action logics, which are how leaders interpret their surroundings and react when their power or safety is challenged. The seven developmental action logics include the following:

  1. Opportunist: Focuses on their personal wins; known to be egocentric, manipulative, and distrusting. They seek to control the world around them.
  2. Diplomat: Seeks to please higher-level management and avoid conflict. Looks for acceptance, avoids conflict, and is unable to give difficult feedback. Diplomats are very effective at paying attention to employee and colleague needs.
  3. Expert: Focuses on gaining control by perfecting their knowledge and presenting data, logic, and facts in order to gain buy-in. They may be known as a my-way-or-the-highway manager. Experts are excellent individual contributors.
  4. Achiever: Creates a positive working environment that both challenges and supports employees. These managers are open to feedback, can balance long- and short-term objectives, reduce staff turnover, and can delegate.
  5. Individualist: These leaders consider personalities and ways of relating when managing teams. They communicate very well with other action logics, ignore irrelevant rules, and use conflict to further development.
  6. Strategist: Creates shared visions across other action logics, has the ability to comfortably deal with conflict, and handles resistance to change well. Personal relationships, organization relations, and international/national developments are also important to strategists.
  7. Alchemist: An alchemist is the final and rarest action logic with the ability to “renew and reinvent themselves and their organization in historically significant ways,” according to Torbert and Rock. Alchemists are charismatic, have high moral standards, and focus on truth. Nelson Mandela is an example of an alchemist action logic.

Leaders are able to transform through these levels as their abilities evolve. Torbert and Rook performed a survey over a 25-year period and found that the most common action logics are opportunists, diplomats, and experts. These action logics are less effective at implementing organizational strategies compared to the other four action logics. Individualists, strategists, and alchemists are consistently able to innovate and transform their organizations.


Elene Cafasso

Elene Cafasso, MCC, professionally trained executive coach and executive mentor, suggests “leaders today face an unprecedented level of uncertainty, volatility and ambiguity – triggering an automatic threat state in our reptilian brain. Despite this, leaders must be able to read what’s most required in any given situation and respond accordingly to be effective.”

When to Use Each Management Style

The best managers are flexible with their styles. These managers can tailor their style based on the project or task, the people they are working with, or the organization’s culture. Rosalind Cardinal, the Leadership Alchemist and Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, says, “The key to being an effective leader is to have a broad repertoire of styles and to use them appropriately.”


Michael Smith

Michael Smith, Senior Managing Director of Technology, Media, and Telecom at Blue Ridge Partners, provides a specific example when it comes to sales management. “The average tenure of a sales manager is only about 18 months, a startling number that may be ignoring the need for sales leaders to create a high-performing sales culture," he says.

Smith continues, "Good management starts with good use of metrics and management, but it doesn't end there. That revolving door of sales management often exists because they struggle to create a sustainable sales culture that brings everyone on board, establishes buy-in, and creates an exciting and fair environment for all sales staff. Sales managers who succeed in driving longterm growth have a very defined set of traits, including professionalism and respecting the complexity in the sales professional's job. They celebrate success and make every win count, and they engage with people and don't shy away from one-on-one interactions with their staff. Transparency is another important factor and a key driver of performance, as is accountability for hitting established targets."

Each leadership style comes with challenges, including causing employee burnout, creating a cutthroat, competitive environment, motivating with incentives that don’t work, inciting too much conflict, and the fact that some leadership styles don’t mesh in all environments or with other cultures.

Cross-cultural leadership styles can be challenging and are an important consideration when communicating with leaders from different cultures. For example, the Japanese culture is known for technology innovation and values understanding an issue in depth before coming to a solution. The Japanese approach to leadership commonly includes reporting details, considering input from all team members, and collaborating on important decisions. This can conflict with the Western way of fast decision-making.

In contrast, the Chinese leadership style tends to value quick and high-volume production over perfection. Companies are commonly controlled from the top down, providing the flexibility to spin up new business units quickly. Each business unit is given complete autonomy.

How to Identify Your Unique Management Style

Although it’s important to remain flexible with your management style, you also want to understand your core leadership capabilities and the style that best fits your personality and objectives. You can do this by considering the factors that influence your style.

  • Understand your personality traits and those of the staff you manage.

  • Identify your values and the reputation you want to convey.

  • Know your weaknesses.

  • Request feedback from your counterparts, employees, and senior staff.

  • Evaluate the type of organization and its policies, priorities, culture, external factors (such as competitors and the economy), company objectives, challenges, and goals.


Katherine Hosie

According to Katherine Hosie, MS and leadership coach, in order to identify your leadership style, “You must first know yourself – your personality, your values in life, your strengths, what energizes you, and what depletes you. This can be used to craft an authentic leadership philosophy and approach that sustains you for years.”


Management and leadership style quizzes, evaluations, and assessments are readily available online, offered freely or while working with a consulting group. These can help you determine whether you are creative or rigid, if you’re focused on people, or if you’re more like a world leader or a behind-the-scenes leader. The quizzes and assessments can help you improve your skills by understanding where you are today. Below you will find a list of the most popular management style quizzes.

Discussing Your Management Style

During the interview process or when working toward a promotion, your management style may come into question. The goal of the interviewer is to understand whether your style of management is suitable for the employees, culture, and goals of the organization.

The best way to discuss your management style is to set the stage for good management skills. Talk about the characteristics of an effective manager and how you fit that mold. In addition, provide an example of how you have utilized the characteristics mentioned during a project or while leading in the past.

The Most Effective and Ineffective Management Styles

According to a Gallup poll, only 32 percent of U.S. workers are engaged in their jobs. This could be due in large part to poor management.

As mentioned previously, effective leaders incorporate a variety of different management styles into their work environment. These leaders consider the organization’s type, goals, requirements, personalities, and culture. Also, depending on the leadership expert you are consulting, the names of styles will differ.

Democratic, inspirational, results-based, transformational, collaborative, strategic, charismatic, coaching, authoritative, and visionary are the most positive, yet still impactful management styles. However, there are times when an authoritarian management style can be very effective, especially when employees tend to be lax in their roles and the workplace is disorderly.

Effective managers will produce impactful business results, including the following:

  • Decreased tardiness and absenteeism

  • Decreased theft and other crimes against the business

  • Decreased turnover

  • Improved company culture

  • Improved efficiency

  • Improved employee morale

  • Improved performance

  • Increased productivity

  • Increased profitability

  • Improved work quality


Jennifer Hunt

According to Dr. Jennifer Hunt, a physician executive and leadership coach, “The most effective leaders are those that do not have a style. They are agile in their leadership and have a huge toolbox of skills and styles. Similar to a chameleon, they can shift their style effortlessly when the circumstances require [it]. For example, an agile leader can delegate a key decision one day and make a top-down executive decision the next.”

Dr. Volpitta, of the Center for Resilient Leadership, says, “[The authoritative] style works with the natural tendencies in our brains. Our brains tend to be threatened by authoritarian leaders, who undermine our sense of autonomy, but permissive leaders leave us feeling lost, without a sense of structure and support. Both of these leadership styles tend to put our brains on edge, prepared for fight or flight.”

On the contrary, the least effective leadership styles are opportunist and autocratic, due to their demand for control and egocentricism. Some traits that may flag ineffective leaders include lack of integrity and empathy, unethical behavior, the inability to perform or communicate effectively, arrogance, the inability to shift their leadership style, lack of vision, inability to take accountability for failure, lack of investment in employee or self-development, unwillingness to take risks or innovate, lack of market awareness, and the inability to focus on customer needs.


Drew Fortin

The Predictive Index conducted a survey of over 5,100 employees to discover what makes a great and bad manager. In speaking with Drew Fortin, SVP of Sales and Marketing at The Predictive Index, “The number one trait we found prevalent in ineffective managers is a lack of self-awareness. They focus largely on themselves and are not attuned to the impact they have on the people around them when they do things like play favorites, badmouth teammates, or don't listen to others.”

According to Dr. Hunt, “The least effective leaders are those who micromanage and are exclusively top-down, hierarchical leaders. These styles used to be the norm, but they are being replaced by more team-oriented styles focused on delegating and empowering. This is in stark contrast to the agile leader who sees him/herself as a multiplier. In other words, the best leaders get exponential results from their employees by multiplying, rather than stealing and guarding their effectiveness.”

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you ensure you choose and hire the right manager for the job?

Managers have a major impact on an organization and its employees. Therefore, they are one of the most important hiring decisions you make. Use these hiring tips to ensure you hire the right person for the job:

  • Do not rush the hiring process.
  • Consider current employees who are familiar with the company culture.
  • Understand job requirements and the characteristics required to carry out those requirements now and in the future.
  • Use situational questions during the interview process.
  • Ask candidates to describe their management/leadership style(s) and why they think they are a good candidate.
  • Screen candidates thoroughly.

Is your leadership style right for the digital age?

The traditional command-and-control management style does not work in today’s digital age. A more collaborative and innovative style is suitable to employees and customers who expect involvement.

What is conflict management?

Conflict must be managed in order for successful project delivery. In some cases, conflict is good — if it is properly managed. Conflict management is the act of recognizing and handling conflicts in a calm, impartial, and balanced manner. This involves empathetic communication, problem solving skills, and negotiation.

In what situation/environment is each style appropriate?

Each management style is effective in the right environment, and management styles may vary from day to day based on the challenges faced, employee personalities, or changing business goals.

How do you adapt your management style?

Each person responds differently to different styles of leadership. To adapt your management style, be aware of staff and cultural needs. You can perfect your style by experimenting with different modes and remaining flexible to change.

How can style affect emotions of/impact the team?

Various styles can motivate one staff member, yet stifle another. It’s important to remain stylistically flexible in order to motivate and inspire employees.

How do you best get the job done and work with other people?

A leader’s style is impacted by their schooling, job experience, and life lessons, but each organization and team may require new leadership skills, styles, and communication methods.

How do you best set goals and objectives and manage the results?

This is a common challenge for managers and staff alike. Tips for setting goals, objectives, and managing results include understanding how the decisions you make impact results, listening to team feedback and understanding what motivates them, gaining an in-depth understanding of budgets, expenses, the economy, and overall business profitability, communicating with customers, in-depth analysis of data, and positioning staff in roles that fit their skill set.

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