Five Steps to Examine and Improve Your Leadership Style

    By Laura Casci, Head of Delivery, Scotland

    Laura Casci

    This post is based on a talk given by Laura Casci, Head of Delivery BJSS Scotland, at the DIGIT Leader Summit 2023.

    Anyone that finds themselves in a leadership position should ask themselves the following question: Am I a good leader?

    I’ll be honest, if there’s a topic that makes me slightly nervous it’s this one, because I do feel like a bit of an imposter sometimes. This is a natural thing for most people because many of us actually haven’t explored this question at all.

    However, if you examine your own leadership style, it’s possible to improve it. And over the years I’ve developed a five-step process to determine which leadership style you embody, understand the leadership style required by your team, adapt if necessary, empower your team to provide feedback, and turn this into a repeatable cycle of learning to make you a better leader overall.

    Step 1: Determine

    According to psychologist Kurt Lewin, who is one of the modern pioneers of social, organisational, and applied psychology, there are four distinct leadership styles.

    The first step in becoming a good leader is to find which of these four styles of leadership are inherently reflective of you. The four styles are:


    • Autocratic: An autocratic leader is someone who takes complete leadership over a team and its direction. Some famous examples in the modern day are Bill Gates of Microsoft, or Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla, along with some grim historic examples such as Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. While many of these leaders accomplished much (both good and bad) in an agile manner, they did it with little to no consultation with their subordinates, and directed their team to a tee.

    • Democratic: A democratic leader is someone who actively involves the people being led into the process, seeking out conversation and feedback on decision making. Famous examples of democratic leaders are Apple CEO Tim Cook, or former CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey. Democratic leaders capitalise on high functioning teams to bring out the best in the company through input on every level.

    • Transformational: A transformational leader is someone who drives a team based on a vision or a goal. It is someone who can clearly communicate that vision and inspire their workers to follow them in its pursuit. Famous examples of transformational leaders are Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, along with some impressive historical leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela. Transformational leaders ride the shared vision of their team for optimal output. They inspire their followers through a shared goal.

    • Laissez-faire: A French term which basically means letting go of the reins, this leadership style which has worked for leaders such as Warren Buffet and former US President Herbert Hoover. The laissez-faire leader surrounds themselves with a trustworthy team and lets them complete their jobs with minimal oversight, empowering them to be their own leader.

    Step 2: Understand

    Once you have identified which leadership style you are innately good at, you must next seek to understand what sort of leadership your team requires.

    While you may have an inherent leadership style, a good leader is one who adapts their leadership style to suit the situation.

    While the four leadership styles above have their benefits, they may also inhibit parts of your team’s productivity. For example, if your company is looking to deliver a product in a short timeline, a transformational or autocratic leader might succeed whereas a laissez-faire or democratic leader would not.

    This is why it is important to identify the shortcomings of your leadership styles:

    • Autocratic: A team may grow to feel micromanaged and not allowed to express themselves or work to their potential.

    • Democratic: The loudest voices in the room often prevail, which may not be the best idea available. Also, not all teams are high functioning and decisions may take a long time to come under this leadership style.

    • Transformational: This leadership style can quickly burn out a team and cause confusion if it is not built on a strong vision. Additionally, hard workers may not feel as if they are appreciated and those who don’t work as hard may be ostracised by their peers.

    • Laissez-faire: Can lead to non-delivery if team members are not clear on the direction of the goal.

    Step 3: Adapt

    After learning your leadership style and understanding the needs of your team, the next step is simply to adapt your leadership style to meet the needs of your company.

    There is no one hard-and-fast answer to leading your team, the different styles are more like careful formulae geared towards certain strengths and weaknesses. This means you must recognise when it is time to adopt different leadership styles.

    For example, in small bursts of productivity, become a transformational leader by mobilising your team through a shared vision. In times which demand creativity and collaboration, become a democratic leader and let everyone have a say.

    If your industry is undergoing major changes and split-second decisions are needed, do not be afraid to become an autocratic leader. Finally, when your team is confident and productive, let them be their best selves without your direct input. Monitor them lightly in a laissez-faire style.

    Step 4: Be Brave (ask)

    Unfortunately, thinking you’re a good leader means nothing if your team doesn’t think you are. This is why it is important to give your employees chances to speak up anonymously and safely.

    Bravery is one of those descriptions of leadership styles that we discussed. But I personally think bravery is essential in a leader, it really helps us make those difficult decisions, and helps us have those difficult conversations.

    I’d suggest, as we do at BJSS, to conduct a yearly survey which includes a question about the trust they have in the company’s leadership. Then follow up with the respondents to ask what qualities they define a leader as having, if they think you’re a good leader and, finally, what leadership qualities they think you have.

    By asking this, you’re able to see not only if your leadership style is effective, but what you team expects in a leader and if you are meeting your goals.

    Step 5: Learn

    The final step is somewhat repetitive in that it asks you to constantly learn from the feedback given from your peers and restart the introspection on your leadership style. By asking your employees, you may uncover that the way they want to be led does not match with your inherent style or the style you believe best fits your company’s goals.

    This challenge of constantly learning and adapting your leading style is one many great leaders throughout history have taken, and one that will kickstart new stages of potential from your team.