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What Is Your Leadership Style?

What Is Your Leadership Style?

by Benjamin Erikson-Farr

Story Highlights

  • The best leaders use their unique talents to succeed
  • Every leaders’ dominant strengths fall into one of four leadership domains
  • Gallup launches Leading With Strengths, an in-depth look at the world’s most influential leaders

What is my leadership style?

All great leaders have asked themselves this important question. Your leadership style can determine everything from how you make decisions to how you treat the people on your teams. It’s no exaggeration to say it shapes your future as a leader.

But how will you determine your leadership style? Trial and error? If you’re struggling to describe your leadership style, will you model yourself after a leader you admire? Or maybe you’ll pick a style that’s popular and run with it, like one of the following: 

  • the laissez-faire leadership style
  • the participative leadership style
  • the transformational leadership style
  • the autocratic leadership style

Common styles like these all describe potential ways to lead, yet many leaders hesitate to adopt them wholeheartedly because of the potentially negative connotations each has. Worse yet, they each may produce unique but equally negative outcomes.

Fortunately, there’s a better way to lead. To help you discover a leadership style that uniquely fits your strengths and allows you to thrive with a positive identity, Gallup has identified four strengths-based leadership styles.


Because they are based on CliftonStrengths, these styles don’t tell you the “right way” to lead but reveal how you can make the greatest impact with your natural talents as a leader. And, instead of encouraging you to mimic another leader’s approach, Gallup’s approach to leadership gives you the tools to embrace who you already are -- the best leaders know and embrace their own strengths rather than imitating someone else’s style. 

Gallup studied more than 20,000 senior leaders and over 1 million work teams to discover the keys to being a more effective leader and identified four domains of leadership. Every leader is dominant in one of these domains. Every leader can be highly effective by leading with their dominant domain. Here are the leadership domains and the associated leadership style: 

Domain: Relationship Building >> Leadership Style: People-Oriented Leader

Domain: Executing >> Leadership Style: Process-Oriented Leader

Domain: Strategic Thinking >> Leadership Style: Thought-Oriented Leader

Domain: Influencing >> Leadership Style: Impact-Oriented Leader

graphic showing domains of leadership and related leadership style

It’s important to note that each of these styles has the potential to achieve excellence in its own way. Leaders with different styles may need to reach the same leadership outcome but will achieve it in a way that’s unique to their strengths and style.

For instance, Process-Oriented leaders may not have the same strengths as People-Oriented leaders, yet they can still have great success in building relationships. They’ll just use a different set of strengths to do it than People-Oriented leaders. Thought-Oriented leaders may not have the strengths of an Impact-Oriented Leader but will still be equipped to make a great impact using their Strategic Thinking CliftonStrengths themes.

CliftonStrengths determines where you focus your attention and energy most of the time, not the outcomes you can or cannot achieve.  

Each leader must understand and develop their style and talents by using the following three steps to become a true strengths-based leader.

  1. Know your leadership style.
  2. Deploy and develop your leadership style.
  3. Be aware of your leadership weaknesses and have strategies to mitigate them.

The purpose of this article is to help identify your own leadership style and create awareness around your potential leadership weaknesses. However, for true development, Gallup recommends a combination of formal leadership development programs, coaching, mentoring, 360 feedback and team engagement surveys. Gallup also recommends learning from other leaders -- to observe seasoned leaders and discover how they succeed with their strengths, explore Leading With Strengths, Gallup’s series in which the world’s more influential leaders share their stories.

But if you’re looking to immediately boost your development as a leader, knowing your leadership style and practicing it while managing your weaknesses is a great place to start. If you’ve already discovered your CliftonStrengths, review your report to get a clearer sense of how you lead. Then use the sections below to learn more about your leadership style.

The People-Oriented Leader (Relationship Building Domain)

People-Oriented Leader Strengths:

Gallup has found that when an employee can strongly agree that “my supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person,” there is a marked improvement in customer engagement, safety incidents, absenteeism and more. The People-Oriented Leader moves the needle on this measurement by bringing the following to the table:

  • You are the glue that holds your team together. You might get to know each employee as a person, or maybe you create an environment where all feel included.  
  • You build trust. You genuinely care.

People-Oriented Leader Weaknesses:

  • People over performance. You justify below-average team members’ failures because they are a “good person” or “doing their best.” Over time, you disengage top performers and miss organizational objectives.
  • Shoulder to cry on. You are empathetic and respond compassionately when an employee is struggling or experiencing burnout. However, you do not systematically address the root causes of the problem, which creates a vicious cycle of victimhood.

The Process-Oriented Leader (Executing Domain)

Process-Oriented Leader Strengths:

Gallup has found that less than half of employees know what’s expected of them at work, causing increases in turnover and safety incidents as well as a drop in productivity. This is where the Process-Oriented Leader shines, notably exhibiting the following characteristics:

  • You set the pace for the team. When necessary, you roll up your sleeves and work alongside your team.
  • You create systems and processes so that work gets done efficiently. You create clarity so that work gets done effectively.

Process-Oriented Leader Weaknesses:

  • Process over people. You become rigid in the system, which limits the potential and development of your best team members.
  • Lack of agility. Your insistence on following the right process can mean that you are too slow to respond to customers and innovate on new ideas.

Gallup’s approach to leadership gives you the tools to embrace who you already are -- because the best leaders know and embrace their own strengths rather than imitating someone else’s style.

The Thought-Oriented Leader (Strategic Thinking Domain)

Thought-Oriented Leader Strengths:

Gallup has found that when employees feel their “opinions seem to count,” turnover and safety incidents decrease while productivity increases. If you’re a Thought-Oriented Leader, hearing people’s ideas is a specialty of yours. So are the following:

  • You see the big picture and anticipate the future. You think deeply and identify root causes.
  • You are open to new ideas and innovative approaches.

Thought-Oriented Leader Weaknesses:

  • Ideas over actions. You are paid to get results, not to simply think about them.
  • Lack of clarity. You get lost in your own thoughts and ideas. Your team can lose focus and clarity as a result.

The Impact-Oriented Leader (Influencing Domain)

Impact-Oriented Leader Strengths:

Gallup has found that when people feel connected to the mission and purpose of their organization, absenteeism and safety incidents drop and quality rises. By exercising their Influencing themes, Impact-Oriented Leaders inspire team members to believe in something bigger, like your organization’s purpose. if you’re an Impact-Oriented Leader:

  • You set the high bar and push performance to new levels of excellence.
  • You build a constituency to move your agenda forward. You inspire people to follow your cause and your mission.

Impact-Oriented Leader Weaknesses:

  • Never good enough. Your standards are impossibly high and you risk burning out and/or losing your best performers.
  • Lack of follow through. Your team will follow you anywhere you want, but if you change where you are going too often, then people will stop believing in you.

The More You Practice, the More You Grow

As with all of your most dominant CliftonStrengths themes, practicing your leadership style will promote its development, and the potential for growth is enormous. Rather than modeling yourself on leaders you respect or trying to mold yourself in a style that’s popular at the time, focus on developing your own unique style based on your CliftonStrengths leadership domain.

It could mean the difference between wasting years trying to develop talents you don’t abundantly possess and succeeding because you’re practicing a leadership style you’re well-suited for.

Keep growing into the leader only you can be.

CliftonStrengths® and each of the 34 CliftonStrengths theme names are trademarks of Gallup. Copyright © 2000 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved.


Benjamin Erikson-Farr is Director of Learning & Development at Gallup.

Top 5 CliftonStrengths: Analytical | Connectedness | Learner | Achiever | Relator

Klayton Kasperbauer contributed to this article.

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