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  • Dr. Jeff Doolittle

4 Emerging Leadership Styles and Why You Should Care

The pandemic has disrupted the world, and it has been "trial by fire" for many leaders. The crisis has served as a validation test for espoused corporate values. Unfortunately, too many leaders and organizations have not weathered the COVID validation test well. According to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, today's reality is that more than half of employees are anxious about long-term job stability. Even worse, only 38% of employees believe business is putting people before profits. The reason this is so concerning is that trust is the foundation of the leader-follower relationship, and the CEOs of almost 200 companies agreed that shareholder value is no longer the main objective.

According to a group of chief executives from 181 major US corporations, the reimagined purpose of a corporation is "investing in employees, delivering value to customers, dealing ethically with suppliers and supporting outside communities" (Fitzgerald). No longer is the principal function of a corporation to serve its shareholders and increase profits. Instead, there is a new standard of corporate responsibility.

eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s philanthropic investment group has challenged corporate America to reimagine capitalism to "ensure that people who have been historically and systematically marginalized by structural racism, colonialism, paternalism, and indifference will have the opportunity, power, and the self-determination that comes from economic prosperity and a vibrant, fair, and responsive democracy" (Omidyar Network Report).

Our modern, complex, and diverse workforce operating in a digital age necessitates leaders to adopt a new leadership style. The following is one of my favorite quotes from the pioneer of the modern field of leadership studies.

"Probably more has been written and less is known about leadership than any other topic in the behavioral sciences" (Bennis).

New Emerging Leadership Theories and Styles

As the adage goes, what got us here will not get us there, and it is vital for today's leaders to learn more about new emerging leadership styles and theories.

Servant leadership, transformational leadership, authentic leadership, and spiritual leadership are four new emerging leadership styles and theories gaining increased attention globally. The following tables compare the motivations and characteristics behind each leadership style. The comparisons reveal the distinct differences that contribute to a better understanding of leadership.

Servant Leadership and Transformational Leadership

While similar to servant-leadership, the central focus of transformational leadership is for organizational benefit. The primary focus of servant-leadership is on service to others.

Servant Leadership and Authentic Leadership

In direct 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.

Servant Leadership and Spiritual Leadership

While spiritual leadership and servant-leadership share the most similarity between the four leadership styles, they are distinctly different styles. The focus of spiritual leadership is motivating, which is very different from servant-leadership. Both spiritual leadership and servant-leadership styles share the characteristics of love, vision, and altruism.

The world is in desperate need of a new approach to leadership and these four distinct emerging leadership styles provide answers. Read more about servant-leadership and How to Lead a Complex Workforce in Today's Digital Marketplace.

Are you interested in better understanding your own leadership style?

Visit our Organizational Talent Consulting website to learn more about a leadership style inventory assessment you can use to measure your preferred leadership style and receive individualized executive coaching.


Bennis, W. G. (1959). Leadership theory and administrative behavior: The problem of authority. Administrative Science Quarterly, 4(3), 259- 301. doi:10.2307/2390911

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 just said shareholder value is no longer their main objective. CNBC Markets.

Fry, L. W. (2003). Toward a theory of spiritual leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 14(6), 693-727. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2003.09.001

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.

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


Register for an upcoming FREE webinar Servant Leadership: Skillsets and Mindsets for Success and Significance.

Here is what you can expect:

• What is Servant Leadership?

• Contemporary Leadership Theory Comparisons

• Servant Leadership Value

• The 5 Best Resources on Servant Leadership

If you register today, we’ll send the recording as an added bonus at no charge. Use this site to find registration links for upcoming leadership development webinars:


About the Author:

Jeff's knowledge and expertise include leadership development, servant leadership, and coaching to grow individuals and organizations. Jeff has experience from start-ups to Fortune 50 public, Forbes 25 private, for-profit, and non-profit organizations across diverse industries. Jeff Doolittle is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI. He can be reached at or by calling (616) 803-9020. Visit his blog at for more ideas to stimulate individual, team, and organizational effectiveness.

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