Developing Different Leadership Styles to Adapt to Situations

By Marcia Reynolds
Marcia Reynolds


Traditionally, leaders could choose from three leadership styles to adapt to situations: authoritative, democratic, and delegating. There is also a new style of leadership that is emerging - a coaching style. A leader may call on all four styles but generally, fall back on one style under pressure. The skill is for a leader to know when each style and the corresponding behavior is called for in particular situations. The more flexible and adaptive you are, the more effective you will be.


Authoritative leaders: authoritative leaders operate alone and like to make quick decisions that are then communicated downward. They get things done but do not think through what the impact will be on everyone who is affected. Their decisiveness and task focus get great short term results. The harm done to relationships and trust could hurt results in the long run.



Leaders who spend time listening to feedback and asking for participation in decision-making are primarily democratic. They feel everyone's ideas should be considered before decisions are made. They often use brainstorming and employee focus groups to implement new policies and procedures. People feel heard but sometimes the process is too slow. Also, democratic leaders may not count on and share their own wisdom enough.


These leaders are adept at giving tasks to different groups of people, while overseeing the overall work of the groups. The delegating leader doesn't usually participate in the decision making, and the team is left to work on their own without much oversight. This can help employees feel empowered. It can also leave them feeling overwhelmed and set up for failure if the leader doesn't pay enough attention to what the employees need to succeed.


The latest style to emerge is focused on using coaching skills. Coaching leaders are dedicated to helping people think more broadly for themselves*. They ask questions with the intention of helping others come up with solutions on their own and to help them realize their full potential on the job and in life. Often, these leaders also delegate. Sometimes, people feel left out in the cold when they don't have enough knowledge, resources, or skills to think on their own. As with all the styles, the coach needs to discern what the person really needs to determine if this style is the best in the moment.

Effective leaders have good listening and observation skills so they know how to adapt their style as necessary. They build good interpersonal relationships so they are able to foresee challenges and difficulties that may arise. And no matter what type of leader they are, they need to be open and honest while communicating with a variety of people and groups.

This means you should know know how to develop and call on various styles and behaviors as needed for the situation. The more adaptive you are, the better you will be able to help your company build and maintain success well into the future.