December 1, 2021
Dara Fontein

5 Leadership Models Designed for Success

7 minutes

When you think of a leader, you may automatically picture someone at the executive level of an organization. Perhaps you’re thinking of your organization’s CEO or those in VP roles across the business. The truth is, leadership roles are not restricted to those in executive positions. Leaders exist at every level of an organization, from CEOs to managers in charge of a team of two.

With leadership coming in so many forms, identifying and defining the leadership model you align with closest is an important process. In this blog post, we’ll explain why leadership models are so important, explore five leadership models that are proven successful, and outline the importance of collective intelligence for leaders.

Why are Leadership Models Important

Before we dive into why they’re necessary, it’s important to understand exactly what a leadership model is. As Tyler Lacoma defines,
“Leadership models are theories that suggest effective leadership styles and qualities for business managers.”

They bring together your professional management style and personality in a defined structure. That said, the leadership model you adhere to can change and evolve. While you might fit one type of leadership model now, you can discover a different one that works better with your growing set of skills and new approaches to management.

To be a successful leader, though, you need to know where you’re starting from. When you define and understand your leadership model, you establish a strong foundation that you can build upon.

From there, you can gain greater insight into your values and goals, as well as your natural strengths and weaknesses. When you can identify your specific leadership model, you can also build upon your skills and establish a deeper sense of how your direct reports feel about you and your working style.

Knowing how you lead (or want to lead) invites the self-awareness that is crucial for any effective leader. When you can compare your qualities to those of a specific leadership model, it’s much easier to take ownership and responsibility for your actions and any feedback you receive from your employees.

With this self-awareness, you’re also to get ahead of any possible areas of improvement. For example, if you know that those who follow the same leadership model as you are prone to micromanaging their direct reports, you can keep an eye on your natural inclination to micromanage. This lets you proactively make any behavioral adjustments needed to be as effective and successful as possible—especially in your employees’ eyes.

5 Leadership Models Designed for Success

While there are countless different leadership models, some are proven ineffective (or even harmful) to the leader’s employees. Although nearly every leadership model has some pitfalls, we’ll be exploring five that are most effective overall. Whether you want to discover which leadership model you currently align with most closely or are looking for a foundation from which you can structure your leadership style, we’ve rounded up five successful leadership models.

Affiliative Leadership

An affiliative leader focuses on the people within an organization. The basis of the affiliative leadership model is collaboration and cooperation, with personal relationships between team members at the forefront. Conflicts within this leadership model are respectful, with all team members genuinely interested in finding solutions — without the presence of ego.
Affiliative leaders take the time to truly listen to their employees and work hard to build and maintain relationships. They support their employees’ goals and visions and enthusiastically encourage and praise their team members when appropriate. With employee morale naturally higher under the affiliative leadership model, team members are usually much more engaged and likely to stay with the organization longer.
If you want to make sure your team members work well together, increase the quality of work overall, and boost productivity, affiliative leadership could be a good fit for you and your goals.

Democratic Leadership

Built on a foundation of fairness, the democratic leadership model (also known as “participative leadership”) is thought to be one of the most effective leadership styles. With democratic leadership, the manager or leader requests the input of their team members and makes decisions based on this information. While the leader has the final say and is the ultimate ‘decider,’ all team members are granted the opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions when it comes to decision-making.
With this use of employee voice, “business leaders are able to gather data and develop a better understanding of their employees, as well as enable them to have a true impact on the decision-making process and the organization as a whole.” Under this leadership model, leaders will see greater employee retention, improved organizational growth, and more knowledge-sharing between team members.
Like the affiliative leadership model, democratic leadership prioritizes collaboration between team members. By opening up the discussion to all team members, democratic leaders invite productive discussions, brainstorming, and creative problem-solving that encourage high levels of productivity and efficiency.

Strategic Leadership

Strategic leaders ensure both the needs of their team — and the organization — are met at all times. The strategic leadership model connects the growth and operations of the business to the employees working to ensure the organization’s continued success.

Strategic leaders will analyze the goals of the business and the executive team and align their team members and resources to these objectives. They’re able to see the big picture and understand how their team can contribute in the most efficient way possible. A strategic leader will foresee and understand the future of the business and diffuse this vision into realistic day-to-day tasks and projects.

The strategic leadership model asks leaders to possess skills such as strategic thinking, communication, planning, measurement (objectives and OKRs), strategy implementation, and management. Strategic leaders will often have defined structures and highly-organized frameworks and plans to support change or conflict.


Coach-Style Leadership

While similar to affiliative and democratic leadership, the coach-style leadership model focuses on each team member individually. A coach-style leader will prioritize their own team members’ growth and development and nurture everyone’s unique skill sets.

Just like a sports coach may do, a leader following this model will help each team member improve on their strengths while also creating a culture where teammates work together harmoniously. Team members can communicate openly, share knowledge and guidance freely, and discuss feedback (whether negative or positive) without ego getting in the way. 

Instead of setting general expectations and requirements for the team overall, this type of leader customizes their evaluations to align with each employee’s expertise. This doesn’t mean that they don’t give their employees a chance to learn new skills or work on their weaker areas, but rather that they manage each team member with a specific intention. They understand that all individual contributors bring something unique to the team, and these differences only make the team itself stronger in the long run.


Authoritative Leadership

Also referred to as “visionary leadership,” the authoritative leadership model works great for teams where a defined structure and more direction is needed. 

Authoritative leaders will help add clarity to uncertain situations without simply giving orders. While the title “authoritative” may make you think of a leader who just tells their team what to do, this isn’t the case. Instead, authoritative leaders guide their team towards common goals through mentoring and leading by example. They offer clear direction and constructive feedback at every stage of a project or task. Because of this, authoritative leaders are often considered highly motivating, inspiring, and influential. If you’ve ever been a member of a team where it seems like nobody knows what’s happening or who is in charge, it can be quite a relief to encounter an authoritative leader.

This leadership model aligns with self-confident leaders with a clear vision and who know the direction they’re headed in.  When all team members know what’s expected of them and what their collective goals are, it’s much easier to find success. 

All Leaders Need Collective Intelligence

A good leader can’t exist without the people they are leading. To be a successful leader—regardless of the leadership model you align with most—you need to have a deep understanding of your employees and their priorities

Through the power of collective intelligence, you can gain unbiased, critical insights as you bring your team members together. Particularly fitting for the democratic and affiliative leadership models, a collective intelligence tool like ThoughtExchange lets managers and other leaders ask their team questions, receive anonymous responses, and see which matters are most important to their team members. You’re also able to quickly and easily uncover any pain points your reports may be experiencing and have the opportunity to remedy and find solutions where possible.

Through collective intelligence, leaders can empower their teams by involving them in decision-making, finding out what their team members care about most, and then creating an action plan based on this information, which results in greater success for them as leaders.

Dara Fontein
Dara is a copywriter and content creator born, raised, and currently based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She’s written for companies including Hootsuite, lululemon, Article, and ThoughtExchange. When not playing around with words, Dara can be found updating her cat's Instagram account and wandering the aisles of home decor stores.

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