In a landmark study from the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman’s “Leadership That Gets Results” outlines the most successful leadership styles in business. Through an analysis of more than 3,000 mid-level managers, the three-year study determined that a manager’s leadership style accounts for 30 percent of the company’s bottom-line profitability.

The study also found that successful managers blend leadership styles for optimal results: “The best leaders don’t know just one style of leadership — they’re skilled at several, and have the flexibility to switch between styles as the circumstances dictate.”

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Here, we take a look at the six basic leadership styles, including when they can be applied effectively and when they should be avoided. Learn how to maximize your strengths and the strengths of those around you through Southeastern University’s online MBA programs.

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6 Styles of Business Leadership

Strong and committed leadership is key to a successful company. In order to be a successful leader, it’s crucial to know your strengths and weaknesses as well as the strengths and weaknesses of your team members.

Likewise, it’s important to understand what styles of leadership are most effective for you and your team members. The best leaders don’t strictly fall into one of these categories, but instead know when to adopt certain leadership styles to get the best results.

Coercive Leadership Style

“Do what I tell you.”

The coercive style seeks immediate compliance from employees. As a style that can be linked to that of a dictatorship, it can be summed up with “Do what I tell you.”

This style does come with drawbacks. It can cause people to feel devalued, and it can have a strong and overwhelming negative impact on the work climate.

The coercive style has its place, however. In a crisis such as a company turnaround, leaders may need to take this type of direct approach to produce results.


  • In a crisis, leaders may need to adopt this direct style to product results


  • Employees can feel devalued
  • Can negatively impact work climate

Authoritative Leadership Style

“Come with me!”

In the authoritative style, visionary leaders take a “firm but fair” approach that mobilizes members toward a specific goal. It’s often known as the “come with me” style.

Goleman’s study determined that this style has the most positive impact on change, closely followed by the affiliative, democratic and coaching styles. By using clear directions and providing motivation and feedback on task performance, the authoritative style’s strength is enthusiastic, long-term direction.

The authoritative style is not always practical, however. If a leader is working with a team that is more experienced than the leader, it can seem overbearing or cause the team to view the leader as being out of touch or egotistic.


  • Most positive impact on change
  • Clear directions, motivation and feedback


  • Can feel overbearing to team members

Affiliative Leadership Style

“People come first.”

In this “people come first” style, an affiliative leader praises and nurtures members to cultivate a sense of belonging in an organization.

Strong emotional bonds can produce loyalty in an organization. The affiliative style strengthens such connections to form a positive workspace. As a result, this style is effective in most conditions, particularly in instances that trust or morale needs to be improved. It can also be necessary when trust has been broken.

Leaders should not use this style alone. It can create a culture where poor performance or even mediocrity is tolerated. Constructive criticism is also left out in this style, meaning employees will likely stay stagnant in their workplace performance.


  • Strengthens emotional bonds, which creates loyalty
  • Forms a positive workplace
  • Improves morale and trust


  • Not effective on its own
  • Can create a culture where poor performance is tolerated
  • Leaves out constructive criticism

Democratic Leadership Style

“What do you think?”

The democratic style can be summed up with the question “What do you think?” Focused on getting feedback, leaders can receive valuable ideas and confirmation while building an environment of trust, commitment and respect.

In this style, the leader is open to input, which breeds decision-making and helps to motivate team members. It’s most effective when there’s a need for the team to buy into a decision or plan.

The style should be avoided when team members are not competent or informed enough to contribute. This is also the case when time is short or fresh ideas aren’t needed.


  • Open to input
  • Most effective when there’s a need for team members to endorse a decision or plan
  • Motivates team members


  • Not effective when time is short or alternative ideas aren’t needed
  • Should be avoided when team members are not informed enough to contribute

Coaching Leadership Style

“Try this.”

Some leaders can maximize their workers’ effectiveness by acting like a coach instead of a traditional boss. In the “try this” model, leaders focus on the strengths and weaknesses of an employee in an effort to improve and encourage him or her along the way. Although it’s effective, Goleman noted that this style is used least often.

The coaching style should be avoided when employees are unwilling to learn or if the leader lacks proficiency.


  • Focuses on strengths and weaknesses of employees
  • Leads to individualized improvements and encouragements


Not effective if employees are unwilling to learn or if the leader lacks proficiency

Pacesetting Leadership Style

“Do as I do.”

Similar to the coercive style, the pacesetting style should be used sparingly. However, according to Goleman, that’s unfortunately not the case for this “do as I do, now” style.

Pacesetting sets up high performance expectations that must be met. If that doesn’t happen, people are replaced by the leader, who also demonstrates this high-octane style. Naturally, the effort to do things better and faster often undermines the company climate. The pacesetting style can be effective at times, especially in the presence of highly motivated and competent team members.


  • Effective for highly motivated and competent team members


  • Pressure to be better and faster can undermine the company climate