Comparison of Different Types of Leadership Styles

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In this paper I will discuss the four different types of leadership approaches; Situational, Path-goal, Transformational and Adaptive. In the situational approach, leadership is different based on the situation, the leader adapts to the needs of their workers and the environment. The Path-goal approach focuses on enhancing the follower’s performance. While transformational transforms the followers into a better person. Finally, the Adaptive approach the leaders prepare, support, motivate and mobilize the followers to adapt to the change that is happening. Next I will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each leadership approach. The study of leadership has been going on for more than 100 years per McCleskey (2014). Then I will discuss the characteristics of a transformational leader I have had experience with who was successful. Finally, I will discuss how each leadership approach applies to being and educational leader.

Situational Leadership

Situational leadership is the most widely recognized, it was developed by Hersey & Blanchard (1969). This approach focuses on the situation that is being presented, because situations require different kinds of leadership. (Northouse, P. 2016) In order to be an effective situational leader, the leader must be able to adapt their leadership styles to the demands of the situation.

The situational approach is made up of two dimensions, directive and supportive. (Northouse, P. 2016) The directive behaviors help the members within the group accomplish goals. While the supportive behaviors help the group, members feel comfortable. The effective leaders evaluate their followers and recognize what they need and adapt to the followers’ needs. There are four different styles of situational leadership; High directive- low supportive, high directive – high supportive, high supportive – low directive and low supportive -low directive. The high directive – low supportive style is known as the directing style; the leader focuses on the goal more and less on the support. This leader tells its followers what to do and then closely supervises. The high directive – high supportive style is also known as the coaching style; it focuses on achieving the goals and meeting the needs of its followers. The leader makes the final decisions and helps followers reach the goal. Next is high supportive – low directive style which is known as the supporting approach this leader supports their followers and helps them accomplish goals. This leader listens, praises, asks input and gives feedback. This approach gives the followers control of decisions, but the leader is there to facilitate any problem solving that needs done. Finally, there is the low support – low directive which is known as delegating approach. This approach suggests less goal input and social support. The whole group decides on the route to be taken and then the followers take responsibility, this approach gives control to the followers and the leader doesn’t intervene. (Northouse, P. 2016)

There are four different levels of follower development within the situational approach. Degree one is low in competence but high in commitment, these are usually the rookies who are excited to work, but not yet fully trained. Degree two has some competence but low commitment, these followers are starting to get the hang of what they are supposed to be doing but lack the commitment to follow through. Degree three has moderate to high competence and the commitment is variable. Finally, degree four is high in competence and high in commitment. Each degree requires a different situational style of leadership. Also, a follower can be in different categories depending on the different situations they are put in. (Northouse, P. 2016)

Strengths to the situational leadership approach are; it have been used in the marketplace for many years with success, it helps train people to become good leaders, it is easy to understand, sensible and easy to apply, it also states what leaders should and should not do, it emphasizes on leader flexibility and also it treats each follower differently as an individual. (Northouse, P. 2016) Although there are many strengths there are also weaknesses. Some weaknesses include; there has been little research studies completed on this approach, there is no set criteria for each level, the validity is questionable, there are other factors that are not put into play and it doesn’t address one on one situations verse group leadership. (Northouse, P. 2016)

Path-goal Leadership

The path-goal leadership approach was developed to describe how leaders inspire their followers to be productive and content. (Northouse, P. 2016) The effectiveness of this approach depends on the suitable fit between the leaders’ behavior and characteristics of the followers as well as the task at hand. This approach believes that if a follower feels competent, rewarded and is valued they will be motivated to put forth their best effort. An effective path-goal leader points follower in the right direction by defining the goals, setting a clear path, removing hindrances and providing support along the way. (Northouse, P. 2016)

There are four different leader behaviors within the path-goal leadership approach; Direct, supportive, participative and achievement oriented. The directive leadership is when the leader gives the follower directions to complete tasks. It is known as the “telling” style, the leader provides the followers with all of the details, starting with the instructions on how to complete the task, what is expected of them, how to do it, and when it needs done by. (Northouse, P. 2016) The supportive leadership is a leader who is friendly and approachable. Supportive leaders treat their followers like equals, this leadership style works well with repetitive tasks. (Northouse, P. 2016) The participative leader cares about the thoughts and needs of their followers. The leader discusses with the follower’s ideas and opinions and then uses this knowledge to organize the group. (Northouse, P. 2016) Participative leadership is effective when the tasks are unclear, then the leader can sit down with the group and discuss the tasks and come up with a solution. The last style is the achievement- oriented leadership, this is a leader that pushes their followers to perform at their highest potential. This leader sets high standards and strives to always improve. Not only do these leaders expect greatness from their followers they also believe in their followers and are confident that they are able to achieve the goals that are set. (Northouse, P. 2016)

Strengths of the path-goal leadership approach include; it has a theoretical framework and it is a model that shows how leaders help followers succeed. There are more weaknesses to this approach than strengths. Some weaknesses include, its hard to use in given organizational settings, there isn’t research that supports the full picture of the theory, it doesn’t show how leaders behaviors affect followers motivation levels, this approach is very leader oriented and there is no follower involvement in the leadership process. (Northouse, P. 2016)

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is the most encompassing approach, it is a process that shows how leaders can inspire followers. These leaders need to be adaptive to the needs and motives of their followers. (Northouse, P. 2016) These leaders expect change and are good role models. They create and articulate clear visions, they allow followers to meet high standards, they can be trusted, and they organize. (Northouse, P. 2016) Burns (1978) and Bass (1985) are given credited for the transformational leadership approach as well as Bennis and Nanus (1985) and Kouzes and Posner (1987) are representatives.

Transformational leadership is assessed with the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ). This questionnaire measures a leader’s behavior in seven different categories; idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration, contingent reward, management by exception and laissez-faire. (Northouse, P. 2016) Those with strong transformational leadership skills have high scores in individualized consideration and motivation. (Northouse, P. 2016)

The transformational approach is a valuable and widely used approach it has many strengths which include; strong intuitive appeal, it shows the importance of followers in leadership process, it expands to include growth of the followers and it emphasizes on morals and values. Although there are several strengths to the transformational approach there are also weaknesses, such as; there is a lack of conceptual clarity, it mimics a trait like quality, it appears to show “heroic leadership” bias and it is used in negative ways by the leader. (Northouse, P. 2016)

Adaptive Leadership

The adaptive leadership approach helps people change and alter themselves to new situations. This approach is credited to Heifetz (1994) who stated that leaders do not solve problems for others, but they encourage others to solve them their selves. This approach is concerned on how the followers adapt not the leaders. The adaptive “leaders’ behavior should inspire learning, creativity and adaptation by followers in situations” (Northouse, P. 2016 p. 292)

Within adaptive leadership there are three different situational challenges; technical, technical and adaptive and adaptive. Technical challenges are situations in the workplace or the community. Some challenges are both technical and adaptive, this means the “challenges are clearly defined but do not have distinct straightforward solutions within the existing organizational system.” (Northouse, P. 2016 p. 262) The adaptive challenges are problems that are hard to identify. These challenges can not be solved by the leader’s authority or expertise. Adaptive challenges insist that the leader encourages others with support to overcome these challenges.

There are six leader behaviors that play a role in the process of an adaptive leader; get on the balcony, identify adaptive challenges, regulate distress, maintain disciplined attention, give the work back to people and protect leadership voices form below. (Northouse, P. 2016) Get on the balcony is a metaphor it helps the leader see the big picture. Identify adaptive challenges is when the leader examines and analyses the challenges. The next behavior is regulate distress, adaptive leadership calls for change which can cause stress, but the leader needs to monitor and keep it within range. Then is maintain disciplined attention, which means the leader needs to inspire people to focus on the work they need to do. Next the leader needs to give the work back to the followers, people need leadership and need direction, but too much can be a bad thing. Finally comes protect leadership voices from below, this suggests that leaders need to listen and be exposed to ideas.

The strengths of the adaptive leadership approach include, that it clearly defines leadership as actions leaders should take to get followers to work at their best abilities, it shows how leaders can help people confront and adjust their values in order to adapt and succeed, it provides a useful and practical set of ideas for leaders and it showcases the role environment plays in the leadership process. (Northouse, P. 2016) The weaknesses include, little empirical research on this approach, the conceptualizations need refined, interpreting prescriptions of adaptive leadership is overwhelming and it does not show that doing adaptive work leads to useful outcomes. (Northouse, P. 2016)

Characteristics of a successful Transformational Leader

When thinking of a transformational leader that I have had in the past, my special education administrative director comes to mind. She was a very confident woman; she was very well educated and wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she thought was right. She was a very influential person; she saw potential in people, and she pushed them to be a better person. She is the one that nudged me to go to school for my PhD. She always looked out for my best interest. She actually found my new job for me and had me apply, she knew I wasn’t happy in the position I was in and she didn’t want to see me wasting my talents, so she had me apply for a new position and promise that we would remain friends. She has taught me many things in the two years that I worked under her and I will never forget the impact she made on my life.

Transformational leaders should be able to transform the followers within the organization (Quin, J., Deris, A. Bischoff, G., & Johnson, J.T. 2015). All followers come from different backgrounds with different believes, it is the leaders’ responsibility to find a common ground so that everyone focuses on the same goals. She treated everyone on her team with the utmost respect, but she also treated us all differently, she knew what support each one of us needed and she provided accordingly. She knew when we just needed to vent about something, and she also knew when she needed to get things done. She held all of us to our highest potential and we had a great team of teachers, we were always being recognized for our work and our ability to work together as a team. We could go to our leader about anything and if she couldn’t fix the problem, she would hear us out and ask us how we thought the situation could be fixed. She challenged us to think outside the box and try to come up with our own solutions to any problem that we came across.

Some teachers on our team didn’t like this leader, they should she made us work to hard. However, these people who didn’t like her respected her and did as they were told, because of the way this leader carried herself. Those who didn’t like her she showed a different side to and they saw she meant business. She was a very dominant person; she was very tiny in structure, but she was a very strong leader.

This effective leader had a hard job. It is hard enough to be an educational leader with all of the demands and responsibilities, but she was our leader in a charter school. Charter schools are expected to be a better environment for students and staff. Being a leader in a charter school is always changing the demands, and they are required to meet their charter in order for it to be extended. (Leahy, M. M., & Shore, R. A., 2019). Not only do charter educational leaders need to have the skills and characteristics of a transformational leader, they also need to possess characteristics of a situational leader and need to be dedicated to their charter. Charter school leaders have to factor in another obstacle, not only do they need to lead the students and staff in the right direction, they need to maintain true to their charter, or the school could lose its charter and be shut down. (Leahy, M. M., & Shore, R. A., 2019). There are high demands on a leader in any setting, but my previous leader was able to hold up to the expectations of her team and her leadership.

Applying to Educational Leadership

The situational approach of leadership can be used within educational leadership, because different situations always arise. An educational leader needs to be flexible and needs to know their followers needs rather it is a teacher, a student or a parent. An educational leader has many different followers and that educational leader needs to be able to lead each follower. In the educational setting there will be all different styles of leadership depending on who the leader is working with. What style works for one may not work for another.

The achievement-oriented leadership within the path-goal theory can be used within the educational setting. Educational leaders need to have an idea of what direction they plan to take their team and can show them the way. Directive leadership would also be used, because the educational leader at times will need to tell people what to do and how to do it in order to get to the result.

Transformational leadership can be found in an educational leader, because an educational leader should be inspiring all their followers to be the best they can be. The educational leader needs to adapt to each followers’ individual needs and help mold them into a better person. Studies show that transformational leadership within the educational setting produces the higher achievement outcomes. (Kovach, M. 2019).

Followers within the educational setting need to be adaptive, education is always changing as new leadership and new laws are put into place. The followers need to stay up with the times and be able to change. An educational leader needs to help make the change less stressful and see the bigger picture.

There are many types of leaders with many subcategories. Educational leaders need to assess the situation and know their followers and perform to the best of their ability. Each leadership approach has strengths and weaknesses, there isn’t a right or wrong answer to what type of leader to be. With the educational laws continuing to change and as more court cases continue and new acts are put into place more demands are placed on the leader in the educational setting. Many believe that principals are not being taught the skills they are needed in order to be a successful educational leader (Quin, J., et al., 2015).


There are four different kinds of leadership approaches; situational, path-goal, transformational and adaptive. Within each approach there are several subcategories that makes each approach more complex. There is not a perfect leader, each situation and follower call for a different leader. Once size fits all does not work within leadership. A leader needs to be able to change with each situation and know their followers and what their followers need. It is difficult being an effective leader, but it can be done.


  • Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: Free Press. Bennis, W. G., & Nanus, B. (1985). Leaders: The strategies for taking charge. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Heifetz, R.A. (1994). Leadership without easy answers. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.
  • Kovach, M. (2019). Transformational leadership produces higher achievement outcomes: A review in education and military contexts. AURCO Journal, 25, 137-147.
  • Leahy, M. M., & Shore, R. A. (2019). Changing roles in sustaining successful charter school leadership in high poverty schools: Voice from the field. Journal of School Choice, 12(2), 255-277.
  • McCleskey, J. A. (2014). Situational, transformational, and transactional leadership and leadership development. Journal of Business Studies Quarterly, 5(4), 117-130
  • Northouse, P. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice. 7th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA Sage.
  • Quin, J., Deris, A. Bischoff, G., & Johnson, J.T. (2015). Comparison of transformational leadership practices: Implications for school districts and principal preparation programs. Journal of Leadership Education, 14(3), 71-85.

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