These 5 Styles of Leadership Don’t Work. Do You Use One of Them?

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

As an entrepreneurial leader, you’re responsible for motivating your team, making important decisions, and setting an example that the rest of your employees can follow.

History portrays the “ideal” leader as one who’s somewhat stoic, decisive, and charismatic, but the truth is, there are many different styles of leadership that can be effective, depending on how and where they’re used. For example, some companies may benefit from a bold, outspoken, and energetic leader, while others will benefit from a quieter, focused, calm leader.

This affords you some degree of flexibility while growing into your new leadership position. There are, however, several styles of leadership that almost never work:

1. Reactive. Every decision or action in the professional world falls somewhere on the spectrum of proactive and reactive. Proactive measures are ones taken in advance of some expected result, such as warning a client that their shipment may be delayed. Reactive measures are ones taken as a reaction to something else that has occurred, such as giving a client a discount on a shipment that arrived late as an apology. Generally, proactive measures are better than reactive measures, because they prevent bad things from happening rather than simply trying to mitigate damage from them. Accordingly, the reactive style of leadership — characterized by a “let’s wait and see” attitude and delayed decision making — is rarely effective. Instead, try to be as forward-thinking and as preparatory as possible.

2. Unreasonably Optimistic. Healthy optimism can be an asset for a company. Optimism is usually associated with higher morale, and can influence lower employee turnover (and possibly higher productivity). However, as a leader, your optimism needs to be controlled, and shouldn’t affect your decision making. An optimist might look at an option with a 45 percent chance of success and think favorably of it. An optimist will expect the best out of people, even if history has proven otherwise. An optimist may trust gut instinct over raw data, and that leads to poorer decision making overall. In short, optimism that subverts pragmatism and reason can be dangerous for your company.

3. Controlling. Leaders should remain in firm control of their respective enterprises at all times; they need to be respected, and their orders need to be followed. But at the same time, leaders shouldn’t control every aspect of the business. Too often, in a bid to achieve higher productivity (or some other goal), leaders begin micromanaging their employees, introducing new rules and regulations, and overseeing even small assignments that employees perform. This obsessive, controlling approach to leadership may get some results in the short term, but you’ll end up tiring yourself out and pushing your employees away, often leading them to pursue other opportunities. You hired your team members for a reason; you need to trust them to handle the directives you give them. If you can’t trust them, fire them and find someone you can trust.

4. Distant. A distant boss isn’t bad some of the time — after all, we’ve established that a hovering, controlling boss is bad too. However, there comes a point when that distance starts to interfere with morale, direction, and productivity. Employees should be able to handle many responsibilities on their own, but there will always be times when they need to request new tools, assistance, or even advice to accomplish their directives. If a boss isn’t there to field these requests, or even worse, to provide initial direction, employees will burn out fast. It’s also a good idea to communicate with your team on a regular basis, even if it amounts to little more than small talk; those personal interactions facilitate stronger team bonds and more collaboration.

5. Narcissistic. You can tell this one’s bad from the name alone. The narcissistic style of leadership is focused on the self, and it tends to develop in people in love with the idea of being a leader. They want to be the visible figurehead, and achieve glory by making themselves more prominent and more respected. Oftentimes, they do this by attributing other team members’ accomplishments to themselves, or by undermining team members in an effort to make themselves feel bigger. They may be able to win more press and close more deals thanks to their charisma, but ultimately, this style leaves employees and colleagues feeling neglected, underappreciated, and unrecognized, which decreases morale and productivity.

Beyond these extreme styles of leadership, you can (mostly) forge your own path. Your leadership style should come from within you naturally, blending elements of your inherent personality with traits that you suppress or enhance to fit your new surroundings.

The best way to move forward is to find models of leadership that have been successful — such as widely known business or political leaders, or bosses who’ve made an impression of you — and learn from their approach. You won’t find a perfect blend right away, but you can start with an ideal foundation, and slowly adjust until leadership comes naturally to you, more or less.

For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!

CEO of EmailAnalytics (, a productivity tool that visualizes team email activity, and measures email response time. Check out the free trial!