An Introduction and Overview to Supervisory Leadership Styles | SOS Podcast

An Introduction and Overview to Supervisory Leadership Styles | SOS Podcast

Supervisors in labor-dependent industries typically rely on authoritative management practices in the performance of their job.  This leadership style is among the least preferred by Gen Z.  In this podcast episode, host Joe White provides an overview of five styles of leadership and shares some thoughts regarding the application of each.


The SOS Podcast is a production of AEU LEAD, an organization redefining how mid and frontline managers are developed.

Joe White:

Welcome, and thank you for joining us. I'm Joe White, and this is the Supervisor Skills: Secrets of Success podcast. For those new to the show, we're glad you're here. For those returning, we greatly appreciate your continued support as a listener. As a podcast host, my commitment to you is to provide ongoing development opportunities that ultimately help you in the performance of your job. The role of mid and frontline management has never been more important, and the challenges facing this group more complex.

My intent with each episode is to leave you with something of benefit and to do so in a manner that limits your time away from the job. 10 minutes of availability once every three weeks and access to the internet are the only requirements for joining our show. To that end, we're taking on a topic today of growing importance and one that has grown of late in terms of internet search frequency. We're covering five common leadership styles, and we'll be giving some insight into the circumstances best suited for the application of each.

While the leadership styles covered in our discussion today are categorically unique, they're often applied in part and in combination of one another. Managers typically have a default style they're most comfortable with. The ability to use what's most fitting in the moment, however, is a key to success and a practice you should consider adopting. In all transparency, we're only going to scratch the surface of this important topic in the time that we have. More than anything, I hope to raise awareness to it and would encourage you to explore it further when you can. Let's get started.

To properly position our discussion, it's important to clarify at the onset what exactly it is that I'm talking about. Whereas leadership is the art of motivating people towards a common goal, one's leadership style involves the means by which this outcome is achieved. A leadership style describes the traits, characteristics, and behaviors supervisors rely on to achieve performance objectives through direct reports. More specifically, it involves the mannerisms used by supervisors to engage with, motivate, and manage employees.

While there are many more, I'm going to limit our discussion today to five of the most widely recognized and studied styles of leadership. The list includes the following:

  • Transformational
  • Delegative
  • Authoritative
  • Transactional
  • Participative

The first on our list is transformational leadership. As the name implies, transformational leaders are visionaries, embrace change, and often see improvement opportunities where others may not. They're most often forward-focused, creative in addressing challenges and have strong communication skills.

Employees are typically loyal to transformational leaders and often report having higher levels of trust in them. Supervisors with transformational skills rely on influence and motivation to achieve performance outcomes through employees. Transformational leadership is ideally suited for dynamic work environments whereby change occurs often, and innovation is needed. It's not a good fit for bureaucratic structures or in situations whereby employees require lots of guidance and ongoing supervision.

Up next is delegative leadership. Often referred to as laissez-faire, it's the most hands-off style of any I'll be covering today. Delegative leaders offer tremendous freedom to employees and encourage independence and creativity in overcoming workplace challenges. They're the least likely to micromanage decisions or to seek control of employee actions. This leadership style requires supervisors to relinquish control and accept vulnerability in the process of doing so. Delegative leadership is ideally suited for remote or distributed workforces. For it to work, employees must have high levels of competency and be fully capable of dealing with a wide spectrum of circumstances they'll face on the job. It's not a good fit for new employees or those lacking the knowledge and experience needed to make business-critical or safety-sensitive decisions.

Our third leadership style is authoritative or is it's often called autocratic. Managers demonstrating authoritative leadership tend to be more hands-on in providing needed guidance and direction. They value dialogue with employees, communicate expectations well, and have comfort in providing feedback needed for growth and improvement. Where authoritative managers have a clear understanding of what must be done, most waste little time deliberating and move forward with decision-making sooner than later.

Authoritative leadership is a great fit for environments whereby decisions must be made quickly. Emergency responders, as an example, often rely on authoritative strategies to efficiently and effectively respond to the wide range of circumstances faced, whereby discipline and consistency are critical to desired outcomes. The one word of caution regarding this leadership style, which is the one most used in labor-dependent industries, involves the tendency of managers to adopt authoritarian practices. Given the scenario, employees are subjected to a "my way or the highway" or management-by-decree experience with their supervisor. Where this exists, morale will be low and turnover high.

Next on our list is transactional leadership. With this stick-and-carrot approach to leadership, managers are most concerned with what it will take to motivate employees most effectively. Relying on rewards and punishments, transactional leaders are focused on operational results and performance targets. Structure, order, and clarity of expectations are high priorities, as is conveying the consequences of failing to meet performance objectives. Employees working for managers that effectively demonstrate this leadership style commonly recognize them as being firm, fair, and consistent.

Transactional leadership works well for highly structured environments whereby performance objectives or quotas are clearly defined. Examples include manufacturing plants or assembly lines where an employee's performance can be directly tied to production outputs. This particular style of leadership should not be used where employees are expected to address a wide variety of circumstances requiring critical thinking or problem-solving skills.

Our fifth and final leadership style is called participative, also known as democratic leadership. This is the style largely preferred by Gen Z, our incoming generation. How much so? By a multiple of seven. That's right, 72% of Generation Z employees prefer the style. There's no other style of leadership even close to it. Per its namesake, participative leadership provides employees the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. Collaboration and dialogue are encouraged as responsibility for achieving operational objectives is viewed as a team effort. Participative work cultures value interdependency. Employees are accountable to their peers and rely on one another for success.

Participative leadership is highly effective where it fits and is fully implemented. It's not for everyone, however, and isn't appropriate in all settings. As an example, gathering input from each team member takes time and can lead to gridlock. Also, there are any number of decisions made by supervisors each day whereby group input provides little to no value. All said, where elements of this style can be utilized, consideration for it should be made. As previously noted, it's the leadership style most preferred by the incoming generation and one we'll be seeing a lot more of in the years ahead.

Familiarizing yourself with various leadership styles is important. Learning to apply what's needed in response to the wide range of circumstances you encounter is a skill you won't develop in a single setting or through the course of our discussion today. For those interested in this topic, I would encourage you to further explore it as time allows. In doing so, you'll learn a great deal about yourself and expand your capabilities for the challenges inherently related to your job.

Thank you for joining us. We greatly appreciate our listeners and hope you'll spread the word about the SOS Podcast. If you found today's topic of value, please share a link to it with others. Also, please rate your experience involving the show with your podcast host or provider. Doing so helps us grow, expand, and reach additional markets. For additional information about AEU LEAD or to follow us on social media, please use the links in the show notes accompanying this episode. That's it for now. Stay safe, and thanks for listening.

Need Longshore Coverage? Click Here


About the Author

As Director of AEU LEAD, Joe White focuses on helping members transform operational goals into actionable plans through a structured change management process. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS). He joined DSS in 2011 to develop the next generation of safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences he’s compiled over a period of nearly two decades. His efforts resulted in the development of The Risk Factor, which is now the flagship instructor-led offering for the consulting division. Combined, Joe has 26 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont. Joe has been published in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine for his prominent work in safety relative to behavioral and neurosciences and is an event speaker at many leading industry conferences including National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expos, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA). Joe is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a B.S., in Safety and Risk Administration.

Related Topics

More Resources

Micromanagement Traits: How to Identify and Avoid Them | SOS Podcast

How to Prepare for and Lead a Group Presentation | SOS Podcast

How to Cultivate Empathy in the Workplace

Defining, Developing, and Demonstrating Social Intelligence | SOS Podcast

The Frontline Supervisor's Role in Shaping Workplace Culture | SOS Podcast