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4 Emerging Leadership Styles and Why You Should Care

Uncertainty tests espoused values. It's a trial by fire. Unfortunately, new evidence suggests most leaders are not weathering this test well. Gallup's global workplace study found that only three in ten employees are engaged, and over half are quietly quitting. McKenzie & Company found that less than half of the workforce experiences a positive workplace climate, and only 38% of employees believe that business puts people before profits. According to CEOs representing America's top companies, shareholder value is no longer the primary objective. Taking action amid increasing uncertainty with an increasingly diverse workforce requires leaders to adapt. As the adage goes, what got you here will not get you there. If you are not continually growing, you are falling behind. Here is what you need to know about the similarities and differences in motivations and characteristics behind four emerging 21st-century leadership styles.

A reimagined business purpose

Did you hear? The purpose of business changed. The Business Roundtable, made up of 181 prominent US CEOs, has recently restated the purpose of a corporation.

The purpose of business is "investing in employees, delivering value to customers, dealing ethically with suppliers and supporting outside communities." Fitzgerald

While attention-grabbing, it's not too shocking, given that value creation comes from serving multiple stakeholders. Here is a short video discussing the change and its merits.

It is not new for the Business Roundtable to suggest that investing in employees and communities is essential to generating shareholder value. However, because words matter, they decided that the current language was inconsistent with how CEOs strive to run modern businesses.

The change has generated some debate. In response, members have clarified that the new purpose statement is not abandoning capitalism but a call to action to ensure benefits are shared. The desire is to encourage boards to focus better on creating long-term value by serving investors, employees, communities, suppliers, and customers.

Why your leadership style matters

I am a scientist by training, and my hypothesis is that leadership habits are life-changing. Effective leadership affects the personal and professional results you achieve and the quality of your life.

The costs of poor leadership often manifest in the workplace as low employee engagement, a lack of team cohesion and collaboration, high employee turnover, and failed execution.

Good leadership can make a success out of a weak plan, but ineffective leadership can destroy a business with a great strategic plan.

According to Jim Collins in the book Good to Great, a review of 1,435 companies studied over more than forty years revealed that leadership effectiveness accounts for up to 6.9 times greater returns than market averages.

Emerging Leadership Theories and Styles

Leadership style refers to a leader's inner game characteristics and outer game habits when leading. Servant leadership, transformational leadership, authentic leadership, and spiritual leadership are emerging 21st-century leadership styles gaining increased attention.

The following comparisons highlight the differences between each style's motivations and characteristics to provide a better understanding of leadership style.

Comparing Servant Leadership and Transformational Leadership

While similar to servant leadership, the central focus of transformational leadership is organizational benefit, while servant leadership's primary focus is serving others (see Table 1).

Comparing Servant Leadership and Authentic Leadership

In contrast to servant leadership, authentic leadership focuses on the leader being who they were created to be. Authentic leadership and servant leadership share similarities of leading with the heart and humility. However, the critical difference between these two leadership styles is the difference in the leader's focus (see Table 2).

Comparing Servant Leadership and Spiritual Leadership

While spiritual leadership and servant leadership share the most similarities among the four leadership styles, they are distinctly different. Spiritual leadership focuses on motivating, which is very different from servant leadership. Both spiritual leadership and servant leadership styles share the characteristics of love, vision, and altruism (see Table 3).

In summary, Servant Leadership is a choice to serve first, placing the good of the follower ahead of self-interests. Transformational leadership taps into followers' motivations to better achieve the goals of the leader and followers. Authentic Leadership is about the leader and leadership being real, as implied by its name. Spiritual Leadership incorporates calling and membership with vision and value congruence to motivate the leader and follower.

The world desperately needs a new approach to leadership, and these four distinct emerging leadership styles provide answers. What is your real leadership challenge?

Are you ready to better understand your leadership style and maximize your potential?

  1. Take our Leadership Style Inventory assessment. Leaders discover their preferred leadership style through forced-choice responses to various real-world leadership scenarios. You'll receive a personalized one-page report that will give you a new understanding of your leadership style.

  2. Engage in a powerful virtual or in-person executive coaching partnership. Our executive coaching programs are tailored to address your leadership goals and development needs. In addition to the leadership style inventory, coaching consists of a pre/post leadership 360 survey to reveal blind spots and hidden strengths and measure your growth. A typical program includes nine to twelve coaching sessions.

  3. Apply your new leadership insights. Now, it's time to use what you have learned to maximize your leadership potential and get more out of life and work.

Inquire about pricing and learn more about the leadership style inventory and executive coaching.


Bennis, W. G. (1959). Leadership theory and administrative behavior: The problem of authority. Administrative Science Quarterly, 4(3), 259- 301.

Bass, B. M. (2000). The future of leadership in learning organizations. Journal of Leadership Studies, 7(3), 18-40.

Fitzgerald, M. (2019). The CEOs of nearly 200 companies said shareholder value is no longer their primary objective. CNBC Markets.

Fry, L. W. (2003). Toward a theory of spiritual leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 14(6), 693-727.

George, B. (2003). Authentic leadership: Rediscovering the secrets to creating lasting value John Wiley & Sons.

Greenleaf, R. K., & Spears, L. C. (2002). Servant-leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness (25th-anniversary ed.). Paulist Press.

Northouse, P. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice seventh edition. Sage.

Patterson, K. (2003, October 16). Servant-leadership: A theoretical model [PDF]. Regent University School of Leadership Studies Servant-leadership Research Roundtable.


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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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