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5 leadership styles and the one that outperforms them all

There are many leadership styles, but only one optimal method, argues research.

5 min read


5 leadership styles and the one that outperforms them all


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Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today’s post is by John Eades.

One of your direct reports disregards a rule. What do you do?

Do you let it slide because they’re a top performer, make excuses for them, or even fire them to send a message to your team? 

The answer comes down to how well you leverage two critical components of leadership: love and discipline.

Over the last three years, our research team has studied over 40,000 organizational leaders in all different leadership roles to determine exactly how love and discipline in one’s leadership approach influenced effectiveness. Five clear-cut leadership styles emerged; but one style proved to outperform the others both in performance and praise from their people.

1. Manage

People whose leadership style is to manage others are often leaders by title alone. They use low levels of both love and discipline. They focus more on themselves than on the people they are supposed to be leading. Because of that, people work for them — rather than follow them.

For example, former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick had issues with sexual harassment, temper tantrums, a ruthless company culture and many disgruntled drivers during his time at the company.

2. Please

People whose leadership style is to please others are generally not comfortable being in a position of authority. They use low levels of discipline while using high levels of love. They care for people, but avoid conflict with team members and tend to give people too many chances when mistakes are made. Their team members like them as people, but there is a lack of respect for them in a professional capacity.

For example, Michael Scott, the fictional manager in the US version of the television show “The Office” often found himself going out of his way to avoid difficult conversations.

3. Rule

People whose leadership style is to rule others take their position extremely seriously. They use high levels of discipline and low levels of love. They value their authority and regulations above their relationships with people. The thought of not having control, or not being the centralized decision-maker, makes them uncomfortable. To ensure that they don’t lose control, leaders who rule others create processes and environments that funnel decision making to them. They tend to come across as heartless because of their reliance on the way things “must” be done.

For example, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, whose temper was one of corporate legend, had a “larger than life” approach that was leveraged to make himself the spotlight.

4. Support

People whose leadership style is to support others are good — not great — leaders. This is the most popular style to fall into: 47% of all leaders from our research currently lead this way. They often have good relationships with their team members and achieve business goals and objectives, but they don’t reach the next level of leadership until they learn how to lead through elevating their teams.

For example, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is praised for his deeply rooted mission and depth as a leader and scorned by many for his rigorous style.

5. Elevate

People whose leadership style is to elevate others simultaneously use high levels of both love and discipline. They constantly exceed goals and objectives, have deep relationships with team members and make a positive impact on the lives of those they lead.

For example, Movement Mortgage founder and CEO Casey Crawford uses love at the center of his leadership approach.

One clear winner

Leaders whose style is to elevate their employees report having high-performing teams at rates better than all other styles combined. They experience a 14% increase in top performers, an 18% increase in internal promotions and an 11% decrease in voluntary turnover.

Leadership is a journey, not a destination, and there is no better time than the present to evaluate your own leadership style. It’s a series of skills that can be developed. Are you on your way to this elevated style of leadership?


John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company which exists to turn managers into leaders. He was named a 2017 LinkedIn Top Voice in Management & Workplace.  His writing reached over 7 million readers. He is also the author of the book “Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Other to Success” and host of the “Follow My Lead” podcast. As a motivational speaker, he connects to the hearts and minds of leaders from all industries and experience.

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