9 Leadership Models and How They Work (With Traits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 7 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many leaders use different models or styles to inspire their teams to perform. A leader's approach can depend on their personality, work style, the industry they work in and the culture of the organisation they work for. Understanding the different models available, their typical traits and what environments they work best in can be helpful if you're an emerging leader or reconsidering your leadership style. In this article, we define leadership in the workplace, explain leadership models, list nine different models and identify some things to consider when choosing the right model for you.

What are leadership models?

Leadership models are theoretical frameworks for management that offer a valuable structure for defining a management method that suits your personality and work style. Leadership at work means different things in different scenarios, but it relates to the skills and abilities leaders use to influence employees to achieve results within an organisation. A leader's influence can affect results, employee engagement and work culture. Leadership exists at many levels of an organisation, from employees working on individual projects to senior leaders with executive-level positions. Strong leaders are usually:

  • Excellent communicators

  • Capable problem-solvers

  • Confident

  • Highly productive

  • Inspirational to others

  • Empathetic and good listeners

Various models can outline different leadership behaviours. These different behaviours can be effective for various work environments and situations. Leadership strategies usually identify examples of how to lead, but they differ from leadership styles, which relate to individual styles tailored to a leader's personality, workplace culture or ideals. As a result, many leaders can pull ideas from other models and adapt them to best suit their style. They may also shift from one model to another throughout their career or when switching workplaces.


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Different leadership models

Here's a list of nine different models you can use as a leader:

1. Transformational leadership

Transformational leadership focuses on open communication, integrity and respect for your staff's knowledge and experience. Transformational leaders typically set specific goals or visions for projects that help to motivate team members to reach specific targets. One goal of this model is mutual respect, which can help to drive employee engagement, retention and outcomes. Transformational leaders are often:

  • Open-minded

  • Empathetic

  • Active listeners

  • Unafraid to take risks

  • Inspirational motivators

Related: What Is a Transformational Leader? (And How to Become One)

2. Transactional leadership

Transactional leadership focuses on employee targets by setting specific performance goals for employees and rewarding them when they complete their goals. This model can be effective in driving outcomes, but it doesn't necessarily help to create a team environment or encourage employees to share their ideas. It's more prevalent in specific industries, such as the medical industry or industries where safety is a top priority. Transactional leaders are ‌typically:

  • Task-oriented

  • Highly structured

  • Independent decision-makers

  • Strictly scheduled

  • Authoritative

  • Rule-abiding

  • Focused on setting and reaching goals

Related: Understanding Transactional Leadership

3. Team-oriented leadership

Team-oriented leadership is about collaboration, where leaders encourage team members to reach their potential, driving motivation and sharing their ideas to benefit the organisation. Also known as ‘people-oriented leadership’, team-oriented leadership can help boost productivity, efficiency, employee engagement and satisfaction. Coaching is a type of team-oriented leadership style where leaders work closely with employees to help develop the right strategies for business growth, offering support and guidance to improve their performance, which positively affects the organisation. Team-oriented leaders may be:

  • Goal-orientated

  • Insightful

  • Good communicators

  • Empathetic

4. Servant leadership

Servant leadership focuses on the needs of others and aims to create a collaborative environment that makes employees feel valued, assuming that satisfied employees naturally perform better and that this drives long-term success for an organisation. Servant leaders use positive reinforcement to help their teams achieve their goals. As a servant leader, you may use self-reflection and self-awareness to gain insight into your purpose as a leader to help you better mentor staff and improve morale in your organisation. When using this model, it's important not to ignore productivity while focusing on team members' happiness. Servant leaders are often:

  • Good listeners

  • Empathetic to others

  • Emotionally intelligent

  • Self-aware

  • Persuasive

5. Impoverished leadership

Impoverished leadership, also known as laissez-faire leadership, is a more passive leadership model. Typically, leaders using this model provide the tools and information employees require and allow their team to work out things for themselves. Some leaders may use this model because they have a lot of trust in their group, which can help to facilitate problem-solving between groups with the ability for employees to direct themselves and offer their ideas.

Alternatively, some leaders using this model may not be interested in the long-term success of the organisation or its employees. This attitude can affect staff retention and efficiency. Impoverished leaders can be:

  • Hands-off

  • Uninvolved in decision-making

  • Good at delegating

Related: How Can Laissez-Faire Leadership Be Effective in the Workplace?

6. Bureaucratic leadership

Bureaucratic leadership is for leaders who are more skilled in administration than in hands-on work. It involves focusing on results and performance. Usually, leaders who take on this model answer to shareholders or a board, providing detailed information to show their team's performance. Using this approach, leaders hold their employees to specific objectives and measurable outcomes to track results.

Unlike some other models, a bureaucratic leadership model is very formulaic and requires adherence to protocols and rules, leading to an uncomfortable workplace for some employees. It works better in industries that are heavily regulated and require strict standards rather than industries that thrive on creativity or collaboration. Bureaucratic leaders are typically:

  • Detail-orientated

  • Task-focused

  • Highly organised

  • Focused on policies and protocols

7. Democratic leadership

Democratic leadership, often known as participative leadership, focuses on seeking the perspective of employees and getting their input to help shape your decision-making. This style works well in creative industries, generating innovative ideas to solve problems, although managing many diverse ideas and perspectives can be challenging. The model also works well when you have an experienced and skilled team who can also help set realistic goals based on their knowledge. Democratic leaders can be:

  • Team players

  • Collaborative

  • Creative thinkers

  • Highly adaptable

  • Open-minded

8. Autocratic leadership

The opposite approach to a democratic model is an autocratic model, where leaders don't consider their team members' opinions when making decisions. In this approach, leaders set the tasks and outline them, expecting their employees to complete the actions in the specified time frame. This approach can work well in environments where quick decision-making is important or when working with relatively inexperienced staff members who require specific guidelines. The risk with this model is that employees feel neglected and unappreciated. These feelings may lead to employee disengagement and staff turnover. Autocratic leaders are often:

  • Highly organised

  • Task-oriented

  • Knowledgeable about the subject

  • Results-driven

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Autocratic Leadership

9. Ethical leadership

Ethical leadership focuses on fairness to everyone within an organisation. Ethical leaders treat all employees with honesty and respect, which employees then reciprocate to the organisation's benefit. They're typically values-driven, so this leadership approach can work well in an organisation that's passionate about its values, for example, education, health care or member-based organisations. Ethical leaders are typically:

  • Open and honest

  • Fair and focused on justice

  • Known for their integrity

Choosing the right leadership style

Not every leader uses a specific model. Instead, many leaders may take elements from each to create a unique leadership model that's appropriate for their organisation and personality. Because leaders can affect the culture of an organisation, it's important to consider which approach is likely to get the best results for the organisation in the long term.

When considering leadership styles, it's a good idea to consider the current culture of your business and which culture may be successful. Try to be flexible in your approach, trying out various models to evaluate each one's success. For example, you may wish to measure the organisation's success at meeting its targets or employee engagement and retention levels.

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