top of page
leadership thoughts.png
  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Leadership Styles

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #171

"Effective leadership is not about rigid adherence to a single style but about the ability to adapt and blend various approaches to meet the evolving needs of the organization and its people."

Have you ever been asked about your leadership style? It's a common interview question for leadership roles. The implication that leaders adhere to a single style can be as irritating as fingernails on a chalkboard. Effective leadership isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. The best leaders assess their organizational context and the needs of their team, adapting their style to optimize outcomes and foster a positive work culture.

While the concept of a singular leadership style rankles me, I acknowledge that research shows different leadership styles impact performance, motivation, and culture. This "Leadership Thoughts" issue explores common leadership styles and their implications.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership inspires followers to exceed their self-interests for the organization's benefit. Visionary, charismatic, and supportive, these leaders cultivate trust and innovation, prompting employees to develop their potential. Research by Bass and Avolio (1994) links transformational leadership with higher employee satisfaction, commitment, and performance.

Transactional Leadership

Burns (1978) described transactional leadership, which focuses on exchanges between leaders and followers and uses rewards or punishments based on performance. While effective for short-term goals and maintaining order, it may not inspire employees to exceed expectations or foster long-term change.

Servant Leadership

Greenleaf (1970) introduced servant leadership, emphasizing the leader's role in prioritizing the needs of others. This style enhances organizational trust, engagement, and ethical behavior. Research by van Dierendonck (2011) shows servant leadership positively impacts employee satisfaction and team cohesion.

Authentic Leadership

Authentic leadership involves staying true to oneself and being open with others. These leaders are self-aware and lead with honesty, developing trust-based solid relationships. Walumbwa et al. (2008) found that authentic leadership promotes employee engagement and job satisfaction.

The research underscores the importance of adaptability and context. Effective leaders blend different styles to suit organizational needs. Transformational and authentic leadership styles inspire and engage, while transactional leadership maintains structure and achieves immediate goals. Servant leadership fosters a nurturing culture. However, it's important to note that the successful application of these styles often relies on emotional intelligence. Leaders with high emotional intelligence are better able to understand and respond to the needs of people, thereby enhancing their effectiveness and satisfaction.

The Importance of Contextual Adaptation

Effective leadership requires continuous adaptation to the organizational landscape. Leaders must understand and adapt to their context, benefiting the organization and themselves.

Enhanced Organizational Performance

Adapting leadership styles ensures the organization's and its members' needs are met. For example, transformational leadership is effective during change, while transactional leadership suits routine operations. Aligning leadership with contextual demands drives performance, fosters innovation, and achieves strategic goals.

Improved Engagement and Satisfaction

When leaders adapt their style to meet organizational needs, employees feel valued and motivated. Supportive leadership boosts morale during stress, while visionary leadership energizes teams during growth periods. This attunement creates a positive work environment, enhancing engagement and satisfaction.

Personal Growth and Development:

Adapting to different contexts fosters continuous learning for leaders. It challenges them to expand their skills and deepen their understanding of various styles, preparing them for future roles and challenges.

Suggestions for Continuous Learning

  • Engage in Professional Development Programs: Enroll in programs focusing on various leadership styles and practices universities and professional organizations offer.

  • Seek Mentorship and Coaching: Mentorship and coaching provide personalized guidance and feedback on leadership practices.

  • Read Widely and Diversely: Read books, articles, and research papers on leadership. Staying updated with the latest research offers new insights and strategies.

  • Participate in Leadership Workshops and Conferences: Attend workshops and conferences to learn from experts and network with other leaders.

  • Reflect and Solicit Feedback: Regular self-reflection and feedback from peers and subordinates help leaders understand their strengths and areas for improvement.


Leadership is a dynamic and multifaceted practice that requires continuous adaptation and growth. Exploring transformational, transactional, servant, and authentic leadership styles emphasizes that no single approach can universally address all organizational challenges. Effective leaders possess emotional intelligence to assess their context and flexibly apply different styles to foster a positive, productive, and innovative work environment. By engaging in continuous learning, seeking mentorship, and reflecting on their experiences, leaders can enhance their ability to meet the diverse needs of others and drive organizational success. As the leadership landscape continues to develop your commitment to personal and professional development remains essential for influential leadership.


  • Bass, B. M., & Avolio, B. J. (1994). Improving Organizational Effectiveness through Transformational Leadership. SAGE Publications.

  • Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. Harper & Row.

  • Greenleaf, R. K. (1970). The Servant as Leader. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.

  • van Dierendonck, D. (2011). Servant Leadership: A Review and Synthesis. Journal of Management, 37(4), 1228-1261.

  • Walumbwa, F. O., Avolio, B. J., Gardner, W. L., Wernsing, T. S., & Peterson, S. J. (2008). Authentic Leadership: Development and Validation of a Theory-Based Measure. Journal of Management, 34(1), 89-126.


Subscribe to receive our "Leadership Thoughts" weekly!


​Explore Our PIL Courses!

PLDC offers Pennsylvania Department of Education PIL-Approved Programs that count toward Act 45 continuing education credits.

Two women looking at a computer

Our programs are designed using the most current and proven methods for effective adult learning that keep participants engaged and promote knowledge retention. In addition to our core programs, we can work with you to create a completely customized program to meet your organization’s unique objectives.


10 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page