What It Takes to Be a Leader

Strength and InfluenceFeatures
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Is your group falling apart at the seams and prepared to mutiny? Do they want you to walk the plank? The second is a rhetorical question (or is it?).

Being a leader is a very tricky role to handle no matter what situation, and you have to tread carefully to most effectively complete the task at the end of the day. However, there are specific styles you can follow. Depending on the situation, you can identify which way will be most effective. A combination of these styles is optimal, and it is always helpful to know what you need to combine for which situation.

First, you need to understand what sort of leader you currently are to pinpoint where you might be going wrong in your situation. A popular way to categorize your personality as an authority is the DiSC method: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness. A dominant leader is direct and focused on their task. They are determined to accomplish results, love challenges, and make sure their environment is the way they want it to be. An influential one tends to be well-liked, prioritizes the opinions of their subordinates, and is very warm and persuasive. Steady leaders value stability over all things and emphasize collaboration and giving support. And a conscientious boss loves competent and accurate workflow no matter the circumstance.

All kinds of leaders have their faults. Those who dominate may also tend to be impatient and lack adequate concern for their group. Leaders who align with the influential personality usually need to work on researching facts and being more direct. Stability-loving leaders often struggle to adapt to change. Leaders who value conscientiousness may have trouble having fun or making quick decisions.

Once you identify which kind of leadership personality you are applying right now, let us look at what type of leadership style will help you get your group back on track. The main types that are acknowledged by experts are authoritarian, democratic, laissez-faire, transactional, and transformational. These are different ways you can learn to lead your team to solve specific situations.

The authoritarian and democratic styles are complete opposites, and one is not necessarily better than the other. Be careful, because running a full-on authoritarian regime isn’t recommended. Authoritarian leadership seems scary and can border on tyrannical if overused, but it works well when deadlines are near. This variety allows the captain to make quick decisions that can be carried out speedily and functions best when the superior is the most skilled member of a team. One example of this kind of leadership is Harriet Tubman in the Underground Railroad. She led hundreds of slaves north to freedom through abolitionist houses and careful planning but had to make sure everyone followed directions. All of their lives were at stake if they refused to obey her. Democratic management is often seen as the best path, as there is input from all team members. When a magazine asks for new ideas for columns that will do well, all group members are welcome to share their opinion. Democratic leadership inspires creativity as well as a sense of equality between the team members, even though the one with authority makes the final decision. However, using the democratic method is very difficult for a leader to manage when deadlines are nearing.

Likewise, laissez-faire and transactional are drastically different styles of leadership. In the laissez-faire method, the chief officer leaves the team to do their jobs and exists solely for the team to ask for advice. For example, when there are a couple of weeks until deadlines and everyone is working on writing and artwork, superiors do not need to keep checking on their team because their direction is not necessary when everyone knows what they are doing. And when a team is almost independent and experienced, a leader is more of a supervisor. It functions when the followers are skilled, but can be detrimental to progress if they require constant guidance. Unlike laissez-faire, transactional leadership is very focused and driven. Each member of the team has clear instructions and expectations on what to do in a particular time frame. When it is time to organize dates and meet for editing and revision, this kind of leadership is the most efficient. You would make sure every single project is reaching its final stages and nearing completion. Productivity and goal-setting drive this method, yet it could damage internal motivation in a group member if improperly implemented.

Lastly, transformational leadership seems to be the most foolproof way to motivate a team. The transformational method is demonstrated when a creative leader shows a clear vision to their followers, motivates their group with their infectious passion, and offers the team support and guidance to help each team member reach their highest potential. The group, in turn, feels the urge to trust their director and strive to emulate the qualities they have. This method can seem stellar, but it depends on what vision is painted by the boss. It can reduce individual members' creativity to a small extent, but it seems to make the team and the leader happy. Transformational leaders are those who lead movements. Malala Yousafzai is a stunning example of transformational leadership as she uses her influence to show a clear vision: educate more girls.

All in all, if the productivity of your team is unsatisfactory, identify what kind of a leader you currently are, then look at the different leadership styles to decide what will help your situation. Your leadership should not consistently be using one method, because all situations cannot be solved with only one approach. You cannot implement these styles singularly, and a combination is ideal. My personal opinion is that one should use the transformational method a majority of the time. But before establishing their vision, a leader should be democratic in trying to create one for a group so that the group agrees with the given goals. Then, the superior should act transactionally when assigning tasks, and use the laissez-faire method while the team is working. When deadlines are coming up, they should be slightly authoritative to make sure their group gets the work done.

I have formed this opinion after analyzing my disastrous time as the captain during the explorer unit in fifth grade, in which I was so dominating that members of the team refused to cooperate. But by the end, I was behaving in a more transformational way by clarifying goals, and it lessened the tension. Dominance is necessary during deadlines, but not always. I should have let my team come up with their ideas as well instead of consistently pushing my own onto them; I could have been able to trust them more.

As you can see, every situation is not definite in management, and everyone has their personal beliefs when it comes to the style of leadership they use to handle them. First, pinpoint what you value as a leader: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, or Conscientiousness. Once you understand your values and analyze your situation, take the course of action that best aligns with your preferences and the needs of the team. No matter what, your leadership should be effective. The terms given in this article are umbrella terms, and no person fits into one category only, but having these definitions should clear up confusion on how to be a functional leader. After reading this article, I hope that you have become enlightened on how to behave as a leader and which situations are most appropriate to act in a certain way. Hopefully, your crew will let you back on the boat.


“DiSC Profile - What Is DiSC®? The DiSC Personality Test and Profile Explained.”, 2010.

“Organizational Behavior and Human Relations.” Lumen Learning.

Tracy, Brian. "5 Different Types of Leadership Styles." May 11, 2017.

Pragya Natarajan is a tenth grader at Cupertino High School in California. Her hobbies are running, reading, writing, and painting. Her favorite color is red, and she loves covering things in duct tape.

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