Leadership styles: Understanding how you lead

This resource is part of SAIF’s leadership project, which is meant to help employers and leaders of organizations establish strong and sustainable safety cultures using research-based concepts and strategies.

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What is leadership style?

There are almost as many theories about leadership styles as there are leaders, but in a nutshell, leadership style is the way a leader provides direction and motivates others. It can be useful to know your dominant style when it comes to leading so you can understand how to relate to others more effectively.

Leadership styles are fluid and effective leaders can shift their style when needed. None of the styles outlined here are “good” or “bad” and all can be useful in specific situations. Your leadership style is made up of your personality, your experience, and your preferred way of communicating. Understanding your dominant style can help you build better relationships with others, improve business operations, and increase self-awareness of the impact of your actions.

Here are three styles identified by the Iowa Leadership Studies:


In this style all authority resides in the leader: they make a decision and expect it to be followed.
There are times when this style can be beneficial, such as when you need to get things done


  • Quick decisions
  • Better performance because employees feel they are being watched
  • Less stress because the leader is taking on all the responsibility and risk


  • Employee frustration
  • High levels of fear
  • Missed opportunities from lack of flexibility
  • More misunderstandings because of one-way communication flow


These leaders share decision making across the team; employees are encouraged to share their
opinions and they are considered. While the leader still provides the overall direction, they value
the opinions of their employees and believe their perspectives to be valuable.


  • Less likely to make bad decision
  • High employee engagement
  • Enhanced team effectiveness


  • Long time to make decisions
  • Dependence on team
  • Distracted from true goals

Laissez-faire or let it be

This style lets the team make all the decisions and they provide little if any guidance. This type of leader believes the strength lies in the team and it’s better to stay out of their way.


  • People take more responsibility
  • Quick course adjustments
  • People stick around


  • Lack of accountability
  • High stress
  • Disorganization creates missed deadlines

For more on this topic, visit saif.com/learntolead.