The Impact of Different Leadership Styles & Traits

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Leaders can exhibit an array of different styles, and each can have a number of positive and negative effects on followers and the organisation as a whole.

Though the approach to leadership can play a significant role in a leader's effectiveness, successful leaders often exhibit qualities from several different styles.


The leadership website Changing Minds lists a half-dozen leadership styles that have measurable effects on followers. These styles include the visionary leader, the coaching leader, the affiliative leader, the democratic leader, the pacesetting leader and the commanding leader. Many of these leadership styles also carry other labels; for example, the leadership website Legacee refers to the democratic leader as having a participative leadership style, and the website Academic Leadership notes that these styles loosely align with the "big five" personality traits commonly found in academic psychology.


Each leadership style demonstrates a number of strengths when applied in an organizational setting. The visionary leader creates new high-level objectives and strategies and, according to Changing Minds, works well in a company that needs a new direction. This style can also have a significant positive impact on both morale and the organizational climate. The coaching leader can guide followers to build long-term skills, and the affiliative leader can have a positive effect in organisations with divisional structures or an us-versus-them attitude. Democratic leaders help create a sense of teamwork and belonging among followers, and pacesetting leaders drive work in an organisation by empowering followers to maximise their own skills. The commanding leader uses coercive power to direct employees; this approach can have a positive effect in entry-level workgroups that need considerable oversight.


Just as each of the leadership styles has beneficial effects, each also has some drawbacks. Although the visionary leader can improve employee attitudes by setting a new direction, senior employees entrenched in the old organizational culture may rebel against such a change. Some followers view coaching leaders as micromanagers, according to Changing Minds, because of their high levels of involvement. Affiliative leaders, who build relationships between followers and workgroups, can create conflict or emotional stress in some situations, and democratic leaders can create the appearance of weak or indecisive leadership. Pace-setting leaders can have an exhaustive effect on followers who cannot keep up with an aggressive agenda, and commanding leaders may create a climate of oppression and fear among some employees.


In his book "Organizational Leadership," management expert Fred Luthans points out that successful and effective leaders often exhibit a blend of many different leadership styles. In addition, leadership expert Don Clark points out on his website Big Dog & Little Dog's Performance Juxtaposition that the effects of leadership often depend as much on the followers as on the leaders.