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7 Types of Supervisors and How They Lead

Being a leader is an honor and privilege. As a leader, you are given the responsibility of guiding a business or other organization toward success. You are also able to motivate, teach, and reward those around you who help your business move forward.

Leaders and supervisors are in a unique position. On the one hand, they need to make sure that their organization’s goals are reached. They also need to ensure that the team they are working with is valued, happy, and works together in harmony. Trying to balance the two is one of the many responsibilities of a supervisor that many potential leaders miss.

Whether you are an entrepreneur, supervisor, or employee, it is important to know the different types of supervisory leadership styles out there. For entrepreneurs, knowing these can help you be a better leader. Understanding these types of styles can also help you when hiring supervisors for your business.
For supervisors, knowing these types is equally important. When you understand the type of supervisor you are, you can better play to your strengths. Or, you can focus on improving your weaknesses.

As an employee, there are benefits as well. By recognizing these supervisor types, you can better communicate their effectiveness to your supervisor. You can offer feedback or suggestions on how these types of supervision management influence your work.

There are many qualities of a good supervisor. Just because a person is considered a type of supervisor doesn’t necessarily mean they are a good or bad one. It is all in how the person leads and the way they use that particular style of supervision. Here are 7 types of supervisors.

Autocratic Supervisors

Autocratic supervision is a type of supervision where the leader demands a high degree of control and authority. It is also sometimes called directive supervision. In this type of leadership, the supervisor makes decisions unilaterally and expects employees to follow their directives without question.

They primarily focus on one thing: task completion. Supervisors who practice this type of supervision place little emphasis on the development of the employees or the fostering of a supportive work environment.

This may seem to always be an ineffective way of supervising. However, autocratic supervision can be effective in some situations. For example, when quick decisions and strict adherence to rules and procedures are necessary.

This approach is best suited for organizations with a hierarchical structure, as well as businesses with a high-stress environment. The reason being employees need clear directives to perform their jobs well.

However, it can lead to decreased employee morale and job satisfaction. Also, this type of leadership can stifle creativity and innovation. Autocratic supervision is best used with caution. Supervisors need to take into consideration the organization’s culture and the nature of the tasks being performed.

Democratic Supervisors

The next type of supervisor is the democratic supervisor. This type of supervision emphasizes the involvement of employees in the decision-making process. Unlike autocratic supervisors, democratic supervisors will ask others for their input.

Supervisors using this approach encourage open communication, collaboration, and shared decision-making. They value the opinions and ideas of employees.

Employees who work under democratic supervisors usually report higher job satisfaction. They are also more committed as they feel a sense of ownership for the company’s growth. Democratic supervision is particularly effective in environments that require creativity, such as in industries of research and development, marketing, or product design.

However, there are some downsides to this approach. One is that the collective decision-making process can consume valuable time since there are many more people involved. This type of supervision also creates uncertainty in leadership. When a decision is made collectively, leaders may be blamed if the decision turns out badly, even though they were not the ones who chose the solution.

Laissez-faire Supervisors

Laissez-faire supervision, also known as hands-off or permissive supervision, is a style in which supervisors operate with a minimal level of direct supervision. This allows for a high degree of autonomy granted to employees. Supervisors adopting this approach provide general guidance and resources, allowing employees to make decisions and manage their work independently. These types of supervisors trust their team to do the work without constant oversight.

Laissez-faire supervisors can be effective in organizations where employees are highly skilled. If everyone already knows what they are doing and is motivated, they do not need to be closely watched. You’ll often see this type of supervisor in the technology, academia, or creative fields. Laissez-faire leaders also great for morale and retention. That’s because micromanaging can lower morale and job satisfaction.

One drawback to this type of supervisor is the lack of involvement. Since these supervisors are not involved in the work of their employees, they are often not aware of the challenges, roadblocks, and other issues their employees are experiencing.

Another downside is that some employees do need direction. If you have employees who need external motivation, guidance, and feedback, a laissez-faire supervisor may become frustrated by this leadership style.


Transformational Supervisors

Transformational supervision is focused on inspiring and motivating employees. This type of supervisor wants employees to achieve their full potential. Transformational supervisors encourage their teams to go beyond their perceived limitations. Supervisors using this approach serve as role models. They usually exhibit qualities such as vision, charisma, and emotional intelligence. They work to create a positive work environment, fostering trust, communication, and collaboration among team members.

This type of supervision is particularly effective in dynamic and competitive industries, as these types of supervisors can inspire employees to embrace change, take on new challenges, and develop their skills and abilities.

Although it seems like this leadership style has no drawbacks, there are a few to be aware of. A disadvantage is that transformational supervisors can focus too much on “the big picture.” While seeing the big picture is great for taking a business to new heights, employees concerned with day-to-day tasks can grow annoyed with the lack of guidance in that area.

Another disadvantage is the possibility of losing employee buy-in if the employees do not agree with the vision. Since transformational supervisors are vision casters, they paint a picture of future potential. But when staff members do not agree with the future the leader is moving the organization towards, conflicts can arise.

Transactional Supervisors

Transactional supervision is based on the principle of the exchange of rewards and penalties. These types of supervisors are good at focusing on clearly defined tasks, goals, and performance expectations. Supervisors using this approach establish a system of rewards for good performance and penalties for poor performance. They tend to micromanage and closely monitor employees’ work, providing feedback and addressing issues as they arise.

This type of supervision can be effective in environments where employees need clear direction and performance expectations to achieve their tasks. Transactional supervision may be suitable for organizations with a strong emphasis on efficiency, productivity, and measurable outcomes, such as manufacturing.

However, the focus on rewards and penalties can sometimes lead to short-term thinking. This could ultimately backfire on the transactional supervisor. Employees may prioritize meeting performance targets over exploring new ideas and strategies.

Bureaucratic Supervisors

Bureaucratic supervisors tend to focus on the importance of roles, procedures, and structures. They also often emphasize adhering strictly to established policies and guidelines. Much of their time and energy is spent ensuring employees follow the same rules and protocols in their work.

They focus more on maintaining order, consistency, and control within the organization. This type of supervision can be effective in large organizations. For example, government agencies or highly regulated industries. Bureaucratic supervision helps to minimize the risk of errors, resulting in better stability and predictability.

However, bureaucratic supervision can also lead to rigidity. Bureaucratic supervisors usually practice inflexibility and resistance to change. Additionally, their commitment to rules and procedures may stifle the creativity of others.

Employees may become overly dependent on the established protocols, hindering their ability to think critically, solve problems, or adapt to new situations.
Unknowingly, bureaucratic supervisors may cause employee morale to decrease. This may be because employees feel constrained by strict rules and hierarchical structures.

Situational Supervisors

Situational supervisors, also called flexible supervisors, employ a supervision style that is adaptable and versatile. As the name suggests, they adjust their leadership style to fit the situation.

For employees, this type of supervisor is great, as they receive the right level of guidance and support based on their needs. This can keep employees happy, knowing that their supervisor will adjust to them.

However, for the supervisor, this style may be more difficult than all of the others. The situational supervisor’s job can be much more demanding. The reason being that it requires a deep understanding of their employees’ needs and the tasks being performed.

It may also require more time and effort. Supervisors need to constantly monitor and adjust their supervisory style. This constant back-and-forth can lead to higher stress and burnout. It may also be more difficult for the supervisor to reach the company’s goals because of having to continuously adjust based on employee circumstances.


As you can see, there are many types of supervisors. All of them can be effective in their roles. And there are many challenges each supervisor faces. Some can help an organization meet its growth goals, while others can help improve employee morale and company culture. The best approach is to ensure a supervisor is serving the correct role in the appropriate organization. Supervisors thrive when they are placed where their style can best be utilized. Conversely, supervisors who are in the wrong role or at the wrong organization will flounder, often finding themselves at odds with other leaders and their employees.

To maximize the effectiveness of supervisors, it is crucial to understand the different types of supervisory styles and their strengths and weaknesses. This understanding enables organizations to select and develop supervisors who are best suited to their specific needs and goals. Furthermore, by being aware of their supervisory style, supervisors can capitalize on their strengths while working on improving their weaknesses. In doing so, they can become better leaders and create a more positive and productive work environment for their employees.

Also Read:

How to Be a Good Supervisor: 8 Things to Start Doing Today

Thomas Martin
Tom is a member of the Editorial Team at StartUp Mindset. He has over 6 years of experience with writing on business, entrepreneurship, and other topics. He mainly focuses on online businesses, digital publishing, marketing and eCommerce startups.

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Tom is a member of the Editorial Team at StartUp Mindset. He has over 6 years of experience with writing on business, entrepreneurship, and other topics. He mainly focuses on online businesses, digital publishing, marketing and eCommerce startups.

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