Q: What is the best leadership style?

A: After a century of leadership research, there still remains no “right” leadership style. In fact, there are many different types of leadership approaches, each developed to align with distinct organizational models. Here are some of the most common leadership styles.

Autocratic leadership focuses solely on the primary leader. In this leadership role, the leader holds exclusive authority and responsibility. An autocratic leader is recognized as the sole decisionmaker and expects prompt implementation by subordinates.

Contrary to autocratic leadership, the democratic leadership style is characterized by full employee participation as well as an open employer/employee collaborative decisionmaking process. Democratic leaders encourage communication upward, downward and across the organization.

Transformational leaders believe their purpose is to initiate change. They engage and empower their followers. Opposite the transformational leadership style is the transactional leadership model. Transactional leaders maintain the status quo. A transactional leader focuses his or her efforts on meeting current expectations.

Cross-cultural leadership is often found in international companies with various cultures represented. Cross-cultural leaders must possess key global leadership skills such as adaptability, curiosity, intercultural competence and extraordinary communication skills.

A final common leadership style is servant leadership. Servant leaders are distinct because they put others’ interests and needs above their own.

There are many ways to lead. Individuals should choose the style that brings out an employee’s own positive, meaningful and effective work performance. With that said, I believe the “best” leaders — regardless of leadership style — must exemplify a few foundational qualities. First, leaders must have keen self-awareness. Second, they must be consistently fair. Third, leaders must be continuous learners. Fourth, they must be extraordinary communicators. Fifth, and finally, leaders must maintain their integrity at all times.


Nicole Zwieg Daly is the director of consulting and programming at the Center for Ethical Organizations at the University of St. Thomas.