Leadership styles encompass the behavioral qualities of a leader. These qualities are commonly used to direct, motivate, or manage groups of people. Some of the most recognized leadership styles include Autocratic, Democratic, or Laissez-Faire leadership styles.
Understanding leadership styles
While there are many great leaders in the world, each leader could attribute their success to a somewhat unique blend of qualities.
Some of these qualities are expressions of a leader’s personality, while others are embodied by the organization itself.
As a result, little was known about leadership styles until a 1939 study led by psychologist Kurt Lewin. In the study, Lewin identified three distinct styles:
Authoritarian leadership (Autocratic)
Encompassing leaders who provide clear expectations on what needs to be done and how it should be performed.
Authoritarian leaders make decisions independently and exercise total control over subordinates.
This form of leadership is suited to situations that call for rapid decision making or where the leader is the most knowledgeable person in a group.
However, these decisions tend to be lacking in creativity and can cause dysfunctional, hostile environments.
Participative leadership (Democratic)
Lewin found that participative leadership was the most effective.
Leaders exhibiting this style offer guidance to subordinates while encouraging member input – which tends to be of a higher quality.
Although the leader reserves the right to make the final decision, subordinates nonetheless feel engaged in the decision-making process.
As a result, they are more likely to work toward company goals with commitment and passion.
Delegative leadership (Laissez-Faire)
The least productive of Lewin’s three leadership styles.
Study participants tended to make unreasonable demands of the leader and did not display cooperation or the ability to work independently.
Indeed, delegative leaders mostly leave the decision-making process to group members.
While this style is commonly seen in start-ups, poorly defined roles usually lead to a lack of motivation and group consensus.
Without adequate leadership, subordinates lack accountability and make little progress in producing meaningful work.
Additional leadership styles
In the decades since the original Lewin study, several other leadership styles have been identified to reflect modern, dynamic businesses.
Some may deliberately choose to adopt a mix of several different styles depending on the context.
Some of the more common include:
First developed during the late 1970s and seen as one of the most effective modern styles.
Leaders are typically passionate and emotionally intelligent.
Transformational leaders have a vested interest in their subordinates and the company as a whole.
They also tend to delegate important tasks and inspire others with infectious enthusiasm.
Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs exemplify the transformational leadership style.
Where subordinates obey their leader on the proviso that they are compensated for doing so.
Job satisfaction is typically low under transactional leadership because compensation can be removed for non-compliance.
Many experts view this form of leadership as a management style because the focus is on short-term tasks.
Some military commanders and professional sports coaches use transactional leadership.
The most effective at delivering fast results.
Pacesetter leaders focus on setting high-performance standards and hold subordinates accountable for achieving goals.
Given the motivational nature of the style, it is better suited to fast-paced, high-pressure environments where employee energy needs to be high.
Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch is a great example of pacesetter leadership. Welch believes that leaders need to focus on setting a good example and be obsessed with efficiency.
- Leadership styles encompass certain behavioral qualities that are used to motivate or manage subordinates.
- Leadership styles were first studied by psychologist Kurt Lewin in 1939. The results of his study found that leadership could either be authoritative, participative, or delegative in nature.
- Leadership styles have evolved since the original study to encompass modern businesses that may need to exhibit more than one leadership style. Transformational leadership, embodied by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, is widely regarded as one of the most effective.
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