What's Your Leadership Style?

What's Your Leadership Style?

Flexibility is an asset to good leadership and can set great leaders apart from the rest. Learn how you can incorporate each style into your leadership strategy.

Leadership style 1: Authoritative

Authoritarian or autocratic leadership is when leaders are dictatorial about what they want their employees to do and exactly how they want it done. There is not a lot of flexibility for followers of this type of leader.


The high levels of control exerted by this style of leadership can demoralize staff and diminish the organization’s ability to react to changing external circumstances. For example, when the accounts payable team becomes boxed in by such strict parameters, it tends to focus only on the process at hand and not on the larger pay-to-play connection or the relationships the team has throughout the company.


A highly task-oriented leader focuses only on getting the job done, and can be quite autocratic. Such a leader will actively define the work and roles, plan, organize, and monitor. However, as task-oriented leaders spare little thought for the well-being of their teams, they may have great difficulty motivating and retaining staff. We have all used the term “taskmaster” to describe someone we’ve known over time, and task-oriented leaders tend to be excellent project managers as long as they consider the well-being of the project team.


Also highly authoritative, transactional leadership operates with the premise that, upon taking on a job, team members agree to obey their leader unquestioningly. Usually, the “transaction” is payment, in return for effort and compliance. As such, the leader has the right to “punish” team members if their work does not meet the predetermined standards.

Leadership style 2: Participative

Participative leadership often is used when a leader has part of the information, and the employees have other parts. Using this style establishes the foundation for a more cohesive team. Regarding accounts payable, it is especially effective when the leader asks for the staff’s ideas and input for creating a new AP procedure and works with subject matter experts to obtain system- or process-related information to address a vendor issue, initiate a project, or address a system issue.

Servant leadership

Robert Greenleaf, whose writings have significantly influenced leadership studies, coined the term “servant leadership” in the 1970s. Servant leadership describes traits of someone who is not formally recognized as a leader. Such a person leads by meeting the needs of his or her team and tends to involve the whole team in the decision-making process. Servant-leadership emphasizes the leader's role as the steward of the organization’s resources, including human, financial, and others; and encourages leaders to serve others while staying focused on achieving results in line with the organization's values and integrity.

Stephen R. Covey, wrote the best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Throughout his writing and teaching, Covey embraces the servant leadership style.

People and relations-oriented leadership

The antithesis of task-oriented leadership, this type of leader is focused on organizing, supporting, and developing the people in the team. Although extroverts tend to thrive under such a leader because the workplace becomes a “fun” place to be, introverted team members can consider this style intrusive. In practice, most leaders use both task-oriented and people-oriented styles of leadership to fulfill their responsibility to make performance meaningful.

Leadership style 3: Delegative

As the term implies, this style of leadership fully empowers staff members to play significant roles on the team. Although this style is good at delegating and allows the employees to make decisions, it is important to note that the leader is still responsible for the decisions made. Delegative leadership can be especially effective when the team is highly trained and experienced, and is competent to analyze the situation and determine needs, and understands how to do it. This style was popular when the concept of self-managed work teams was in vogue in the 1990s.

Leadership style 4: Transformational, the best of all worlds

In addition to leaders who are autocratic, democratic, or free-reign leaders, there also are transformational leaders. A person with this style is a true leader who inspires his or her team with a shared vision of the future. A transformational leader often will use all styles of leadership or will ensure they have on staff people who possess skills displayed by transactional or bureaucratic leaders.


Another leadership nuance is the charismatic leader who demonstrates traits similar to those used in transformational leadership, in that the leader injects huge doses of enthusiasm into his or her team, and is very energetic in driving others forward. These leaders can communicate on an emotional level that draws others to them, and that, of course, is a good thing.

A good financial leader is adept at integrating the strengths of authoritarian, participative, and delegative leadership styles and nuances depending on the situation.

For example:

  • Using an authoritarian style with a new employee who is just learning the job.
  • Using a participative style with a team of workers who are senior accounts payable associates.
  • Using delegation with an associate who knows more about the process or vendor issue than the leader, or when the situation may call for the accounts payable manager to focus on other priorities.
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