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The Wide Variety of Leadership Coaching Styles

When looking for new and innovative ways to coach your team members, there’s no better place to learn than sports. There are many different ways to coach people, each with its strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes experimentation is needed to determine which coaching style will work best for your employees, and an amalgamation of two or more may be required.

Simply put, different people respond to different coaching styles in different ways. Some may appreciate an autocratic leader’s brash and forceful approach; others may favor a more democratic decision-making process. In the end, results are all that truly matter, but getting there effectively through a specific coaching style is truly a battle all its own. Without further ado…

The 4 Main Coaching Styles

1. Autocratic

Autocracy, or the absolute rule under one person, is a famous governing style in many countries worldwide. In the world of sports, many have written about Nick Saban’s bold and often harsh coaching style. Still, despite its general appearance of iron-fisted rule, autocratic leadership has proved to be the path for so many people, teams, businesses, and countries. Coaches such as Vince Lombardi moved mountains and won championships, creating a successful coaching model (for better or worse) that has been replicated everywhere.

Not everyone is a fan, though.


  • Top-down coaching
  • Demands excellence
  • Little room for error, extremely high expectations


  • No outside input
  • Authoritarian rule

2. Holistic

This style of coaching revolves around coaching the person as a whole. This could mean thinking of the person as… well, a person rather than just another cog in the wheel. This humanitarian-focused approach may be suitable for morale but can lead to acceptance of less-than-stellar performance. We’d argue that this, combined with one of the other coaching styles, would be the best approach as this doesn’t put near enough focus on actual measurable performance increases.


  • A more gentle coaching approach
  • Thinks of players or employees as humans first
  • Can make players comfortable with their flaws


  • Does not demand utmost excellence
  • May not achieve best results due to less focused direction

3. Democratic

The democratic approach to coaching allows everyone to have a voice in decisions. In basketball, Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) was famous for his team-oriented coaching style.

“For culture to really be substantive and sustain, you need to empower people at every level. Everyone is important, has ownership, and has the opportunity to lead.” — Coach K

This coaching style ensures that every team member has a say and guarantees that their opinions and views are heard and respected equally. A thought experiment: Can democracy work when the goal is to win? Whether in sports or business, “too many chefs, not enough cooks” is a real problem. Giving everyone an equal say doesn’t necessarily lead to the best performance. While there are surely lessons to be learned from failure, growth through failure, if not tamed, could lead to disastrous results later on.

Democratic coaching can also lead to mutiny.


  • Everyone’s opinion is valued
  • Truly makes everyone a team player
  • Can generate new ideas


  • Players could turn on the coach
  • “Learning from failure” approach may cause stagnated or lackluster performance

4. Laissez-faire

In many ways, this hands-off coaching style is similar to the holistic coaching method, with one key difference. Where holistic coaching looks at the player or employee as a person first, laissez-faire assumes that players or employees will be self-motivated and take care of their responsibilities automatically.

We suppose this could work in some scenarios. However, without a dedicated leading voice, it’s all too easy for this style to get messy and unproductive.


  • Freedom to do as you please within reason
  • Potentially less stress for a well-motivated team
  • Accountability is up to players or employees


  • Little to no direction
  • It’s possible that players or employees may gravitate away from a coach who does little more than exist

Coaching Conundrum

As you can see, there are many different coaching styles, and this list only scratches the surface. If your company is looking for a quality leadership coaching program to bring out the best in your team, don’t hesitate to contact us.