Navigating Leadership Styles: Which Approach is Best?

In the modern world of business, many organizations have adapted their own proprietary systems, processes, and means of work. However, fewer parts of the components of business have seen as much innovation as leadership. While not the same, both play key roles in the sustained success of any company, and as many owners and leaders have discovered, there is no “one-size-fits-all” style of leadership.

Today, we’ll discuss three prominent styles of leadership, the pros and cons, and if it might be what’s best for you and your company.

Autocratic Leadership

While mostly common in prior decades, the autocratic style of leadership was once very popular. By definition, autocratic leadership is a top-down approach wherein one person is the sole decider of different actions the business will take, without any external input.

To some, this may sound a bit close to a ‘dictatorship’ in the context of a larger firm. However, especially in start-ups, growing companies, and smaller teams, this style of leadership may be best suited. With the decision making power concentrated into one singular person, not only will managerial actions be taken rather swiftly, but it also leaves no room for obfuscation of the chain of command. It also means that in times of crisis, decision-making is efficient and rather quick. This is common in smaller start-ups as well as small tech firms where one leader is seen as a visionary whom the surrounding employees trust wholeheartedly.

It is however just as easy to see why this style of leadership might not work for a number of different firms. As a firm grows larger, the number of different complex systems that need to be maintained and managed simply cannot be done so by one person. This places far too much onus on any individual, and goes against the principles of specialization.

Similarly, having this much power concentrated into one person can severely discourage employees and other executives if decisions made do not reflect the needs of the company and its employees. Lastly, it leaves very little room for innovation, as no external output or differing experiences influencing the decisions can result in a cycle of poor decisions, or ones lackluster in the pursuit of company-wide success.

Participative Leadership

The next common style of leadership is Participative leadership. In stark contrast to Autocratic leadership, Participative seeks to employ advice, suggestions, and feedback from employees directly into the decision-making process.

With a participative style of leadership, employees will often feel more enthusiastic about the opportunity to have their voice heard and decisions made into actions, improving employee morale and giving them a feeling of empowerment in the workplace. This also encourages other employees to speak up about their ideas and suggestions for different ways to improve the business, thus opening up leadership to ideas they may not have previously considered.

However, this style is not without its drawbacks. Compared to an autocratic style of leadership, decisions in a participative system are often made much slower, taking the necessary time to consider all good ideas and factors with each decision. This can also lead to a ‘divide’ in ideas for the ways in which the company should grow, or actions they should take, thus potentially leaving some portion of the company dissatisfied with their input not being acted upon.

Lastly, while great on paper, this style of management may not be suitable at all for specific industries or types of businesses (consider construction for example – the design and requirements of the structure they’re building and the regulations required to build it in that location are not often up for debate especially by lower-level employees.)

Transformational Leadership

Last on our list is transformational leadership. This style of leadership rests on the shoulders of executives and higher-level employees to inspire and motivate employees to work toward a company-centered goal of long-term health and growth. This works to inspire employees to challenge themselves, see how they can be more effective and efficient, and opening up inter-company mobility. This is maybe the most modern form of leadership that’s been effectively implemented across a large swath of industries.

The benefits of a transformational leadership style are numerous. To name a few, the first is the camaraderie that this style of leadership supports. Driving a collective group of employees toward a shared vision is not something that can really be taught; if the vision makes sense, those who subscribe to it will work toward it. This makes hiring and recruiting interesting, as it narrows the ideal candidates down but also makes them much easier to identify. These people work and live by core values that match those of their company.

Another benefit is that this promotes the discussion and implementation of innovative ideas. Not only is it collaborative, but it works to encompass the whole of the company’s core values and shared ideals in every decision, and with a healthy discussion of people oriented toward the same destination, this style of leadership gives way to ideas that may not have ever come to light without it.

Lastly, transformative leadership is focused on the long-term health and growth of the organization and the employees in it. Nobody wants to work somewhere they feel they’ll be replaced or shunned or ignored and thus have to move on from quickly. This orientation toward the future promotes the growth of said employees within the culture of the company. Not only will the company grow, but the employees will grow with it.

One of downsides to this kind of leadership style is that it relies on a strong leadership team to enact it properly. A company cannot work toward its long-term goals if leadership is constantly micromanaging, taking shortcuts, or ignoring the vision for short-term success. Another downside is that this style of leadership is dependent on the time and investment leadership makes into cultivating that company culture. You cannot simply sell it without buying it yourself, and it may not be a quick process to have employees bought into a vision if they do not understand it or believe it for themselves. One last detriment to transformative leadership is, like a collaborative effort, that it may not be suitable for some specific industries or market segments.

In Closing

Leadership styles vary greatly from company to company, and from industry to industry, and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ style that will work perfectly across all organizations. The benefit of having these different styles of leadership is that companies have the opportunity to try out different ones to see which is the most beneficial for the company as a whole.

We here at The AJC Group focus on helping leaders to become their best selves – training them on how best to handle and lead their teams, how to make decisions under pressure, and different ways of approaching common and uncommon problems alike. Send us an email to to learn more about our Executive Leadership Coaching and Training Program and how you can become a powerful, confident, and transformative leader, and to take your company to the next level!