An Overview of Executive Leadership Styles and Traits

Winston Churchill, the prime minister of England during World War II, was instrumental to winning the war for the Allies because of the strategic blend of leadership styles he used. According to’s “11 Great Leaders: How They Achieved Success,” Churchill transitioned seamlessly between various leadership styles depending on the situation.

When Churchill met with the leaders of other Allied nations, he would exhibit the characteristics of a collaborative leader, willing to work together to achieve a common goal. When addressing the public, though, he would empower the British people and set challenging expectations for his fellow citizens.

Churchill’s example is can be useful for business students aiming for a leadership role. Pursuing an Executive Master’s of Business Administration degree  at the Carson College of Business at Washington State University means setting a leadership position in one’s crosshairs. But attaining a leadership position and keeping a leadership position are 2 different things. A fluid leadership style is necessary if one wishes to become a strong, effective leader in today’s business environment.

A Brief Introduction to Popular Leadership Styles

Researcher Daniel Goleman identified the following leadership styles in his noted Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, “Leadership that Gets Results.”

• Authoritative – Focusing on goals by challenging the team to succeed. “The authoritative leader mobilizes the team toward a common vision and focuses on end goals, leaving the means up to each individual,” explains competitive sports writer Robyn Benincasa in “6 Leadership Styles, and When You Should Use Them” on “Authoritative leaders inspire an entrepreneurial spirit and vibrant enthusiasm for the mission.”

• Pacesetting – Fast-paced leading of motivated teams by example. “The pacesetting leader sets both high standards for themselves and those they are leading,” according to’s blog post on pacesetting leadership. “One of the key attributes of this style is the ‘lead by example’ approach. They don’t ask their followers to do anything they wouldn’t do themselves.”

• Democratic – Convincing subordinates to take ownership of a plan through participation. “The democratic leader holds final responsibility, but he or she is known to delegate authority to other people, who determine work projects,” explains business writer Ahmed Raza in his blog post, “12 Different Types of Leadership Styles” on “The most unique feature of [democratic] leadership is that communication is active upward and downward.”

• Affiliative – Fostering feelings of belonging and unity among subordinates. “Affiliative leaders inspire teamwork, feelings of togetherness, and an overall sense of harmony,” says business leadership authority Joanne Trotta in her LinkedIn blog on affiliative leadership. “Affiliative leaders cultivate strong feelings of trust and togetherness, which can lead to improved innovation and creativity.… With affiliative leaders in charge, employees always understand their value and importance to the team.”

• Coaching – Teaching and supervising subordinates in an effort to boost their strengths and skills. “The coaching style works particularly well when employees are already aware of their weaknesses and would like to improve their performance. Similarly, the style works well when employees realize how cultivating new abilities can help them advance,” Goleman explains in the original HBR article.

• Coercive – Fast-paced leading, demanding compliance, without consulting subordinates. “Managers with a coercive leadership style exert tight control over employees and rely on the threat of negative consequences to ensure compliance,” says human resource authority Lynne MacDonald in her blog post, “The Effects of a Manager’s Leadership Style” on “This style of management can be successful in crisis situations.”

The best leaders will master several styles and choose the best approach as each
situation arises. Goleman even writes that, “Leaders who have mastered 4 or more—especially the authoritative, democratic, affiliative, and coaching styles— have the very best climate and business performance.”

Traits that Lead to Effective Leadership

In addition to the 6 common leadership styles, certain traits are also useful for aspiring leaders. The United States Marine Corps’ training is renowned for having one of the most intensive leadership development programs in the world. Part of the training involves a list of 14 traits that can help leaders earn the respect, confidence, and loyalty of their coworkers.

The traits, as outlined in the Marine Corps Handbook, are: bearing, courage, decisiveness, dependability, endurance, enthusiasm, initiative, integrity, judgment, justice, knowledge, loyalty, tact, and unselfishness. In the corporate world, these traits can easily be translated from a military setting to a corporate one, yielding positive results.

Washington State University’s EMBA Degree Program

The Washington State University Carson College of Business offers an online Executive MBA program that provides students with the knowledge, skills, and training to rise to the top of any industry as strong, influential business leaders. Coursework includes managerial leadership and productivity, organizational design, and management of innovation. Contact us for more information.

Recommended Reading:


• 11 Great Leaders: How They Achieved Success –
• Leadership that Gets Results –
• 6 Leadership Styles, And When You Should Use Them –
• Pacesetting Leadership –
• 12 Different Types of Leadership Styles –
• Affiliative Leadership –
• The Effects of a Manager’s Leadership Style –
• Marine Corps Leadership Traits –