Leadership traits tell who a leader is as leader. Leadership styles tell what a leader does in the process of leading. In this article we are going to explore the leadership styles found in the research of three different researches:
- Kurt Lewin
- Renis Likert
- Daniel Goleman
Each of these individuals discovered a different set of leadership styles. While there is a great deal of overlap, they all allow you to view leadership from a different vantage point. In addition to these three, there are many other researchers who have developed many other systems for categorizing leadership styles. Each has a slightly different emphasis and perspective on how to view the way people lead.
There is no “correct” point of view in examining leadership styles. Each view is valuable and emphasizes different aspects of leadership in different environments. As a leader, a study of different leadership styles can help give you better perspective and make you more conscious about what methods you utilize to lead others.
In matters of style, swim with the current;
In matters of principle, stand like a rock.
~T. Jefferson (leadership quotes)
A good leader is not going to be stuck using a single leadership style. Leaders will consciously or unconsciously shift between and blend leadership styles in order to best achieve their goal. The most valuable thing you can get out of this article is a better understanding of what your default style is, its weaknesses and strengths, and the ability to deliberately choose an appropriate leadership style when faced with a new situation.
2 Kurt Lewin’s Leadership Climates
In 1939 a German-American psychologist named Kurt Lewin categorized the environments in which people experience leadership into three different approaches. These approaches depend on the style of the leader and the result determines what Lewin described as the “leadership climate” of an organization.
The three different styles or climates are:
- Authoritative / Autocratic
- Democratic / Participative
- Laissez-faire / Delegative
These three styles determine how a leader directs works and interacts with subordinates in giving praise and criticism Just like climates in weather, leadership styles can shift to adapt to the situation. A leader’s style is usually going to be a combination of styles with a emphasis on one in particular.
2.1 Authoritarian Leadership
An authoritarian leadership style is also referred to as an autocratic style. In this leadership style the leader makes the decisions with little or no input from the people who will be doing the actual work. In Lewin’s study he found that this leadership style led to the most discontent and produced the least creative solutions. He also found that it was difficult to make the switch from an authoritarian leadership style to a participative leadership style while the reverse was not so difficult.
Often an authoritarian style is associated with a abusive leadership. While the autocratic style can be done in an abusive manner, it is important to realize that a leader can use the autocratic leadership style without being abusive. In fact, there are some situations that call for an authoritarian style as the most effective.
For example, when the leader is the only one with the technical skills and knowledge to make a particular decision, the autocratic style may be in the best interest of the organization. In such a case, additional discussion and input from the subordinates would be unlikely to alter the decision made. Other situations that require an authoritarian approach would be time sensitive decisions where group input would be detrimental.
Typically symphony orchestras follow this style of leadership. The conductor makes the decisions and tells everyone what to do. The conductor picks the music and decides how each musician is to play it. The second violinist isn’t asked her opinion on how loud a particular passage should be and the percussionists don’t take a vote on the tempo.
Obviously this has certain advantages. The conductor is in the best place to hear the sound as a whole while the individual musicians are not. The conductor is also likely to be the most skilled in dealing with the piece of music as a whole while the individual musicians are most skilled at their particular instrument. There are some orchestras that take a different approach. Most notable is probably the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra which we will discuss in more detail under the other leadership styles.
The important thing to remember about an autocratic, authoritarian style of leadership is that it is not innately bad. It can be very effective and a very important style to use—even if it is not your primary way of leading. The ability to switch styles as necessary to get the best results is a sign of a well rounded leader.
2.2 Participative Leadership
Participative leadership is also known as democratic leadership. In this leadership style, the leader consults with the group in order to make decisions. Subordinates have input and are given choices. The leader is still heavily involved in guiding the decision and usually retains the right to override team made choices as necessary.
Most leaders who make use of a democratic leadership style will still switch to the autocratic style occasionally when it is necessary or when a certain circumstances requires an autocratic decision to be made.
Most people are happiest with a participative leadership style and it usually produces the greatest motivation and creativity. In some studies with children, the democratic style was less productive, but the quality of contributions was much higher than when under an autocratic style of leadership. This is an important point to note. Different changes in leadership style can produce different results. By tailoring your leadership style toward the desired end result you can better achieve organizational goals.
For example, the study involving children suggests that when the volume of work is most important and autocratic leadership style may be appropriate, but if the quality of each person’s contribution is desired, participative / democratic leadership may produce better results.
I previously mentioned the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. They are typically known as a leadershipless or conductorless orchestra. They make their decisions as a group and there is no conductor in charge. Of course this is very different from the way most orchestras are run and their style of leadership falls somewhere between participative and delegative. While they don’t have a conductor, the group self-organizes to give a particular person a leadership role for a particular piece of music. In this way there is a leader responsible for each piece, but each piece gets a different leader. The musician given responsibility for a piece of music acts in a much more participative style rather than the autocratic style typically used by conductors.
2.3 Delegative Leadership
Deligative leadership is also referred to as the laissez-faire leadership style. This style is characterized by leaders who leave most of the decision making process up to their teams with very little input. Leaders who use this style of leadership typically take a hands-off approach.
This style is generally less effective than the autocratic or democratic styles. In situations where the team is highly skilled, delegative leadership can work, but if too much of the decision making is handled in a laissez-faire way, it can be detrimental to motivation. Since the leader is not closely involved, positive feedback for a well done job is often lacking. Motivation can suffer when positive actions don’t result in some type of positive feedback. On the flip side, a lack of criticism, suggestions and directions can damage motivation as well.
If you ever hear someone complain that it doesn’t matter whether they work hard or not, they are probably working under a deligative leadership style with little feedback in an environment that lacks good motivational input.
As mentioned above a delegative style can create an environment like Orpheus Chamber Orchestra enjoys. However, for this to be effective, the team must self-organize which basically means they take the freedom of the delegative approach and use it to create a participative environment. The take away from this is that people need leadership, but it doesn’t have to be forced on them. When you leave a team without leadership or with the freedom to do whatever they way, the most effective way for them to function is to create some type of leadership structure and at a minimum put different people in charge of different areas.
3 Renis Likert’s Management Systems
In the 1960s Renis Likert outlined four systems of management to show how managers and subordinates interact. The four systems are:
- Exploitive Authoritative
- Benevolent Authoritative
Likert used his studies to create a model that successfully predicted the performance of organizations in the future based on the current management systems that were in place.
In an exploitative system, subordinates follow the decisions of their leaders with little or no input. Aversion to negative consequences and punitive measures are the main motivating factor. An exploitative system falls under the authoritarian leadership style by Lewin, but it typically a negative working environment.
Exploitative systems typically have very poor communication and very little teamwork. Instructions come down from the person in charge and are given to the people doing the work, but there is very little feedback going up the chain of command. This means that leadership is operating without the benefit of knowing what is really happening in the work process.
It is interesting to note that there is also very little horizontal communication in this system. The environment created doesn’t lend itself well to communication among peers which leads to very little teamwork even within groups that work together. The environment created by top leadership creates a teamwork disfunction even at levels where workers could do otherwise.
The benevolent system also falls under the authoritarian style, but the negative factors are replaced with positive rewards as the primary motivating factor. This system will typically have more communication and more teamwork than the exploitative system, but still ranks relatively low on both factors.
The differences in motivation leads to a better more positive view among the workers. In some cases it may result in a higher degree of loyalty to the organization. However, the problem with information not traveling back up the chain still exists and leadership still lacks the data necessary to make the best decisions.
This system involves a blend of Lewin’s authoritarian and participative style of leadership. There is more collaboration between leaders and their subordinates than either of the purely autocratic systems, but collaboration is usually limited to only certain areas. In many cases, communication appears to be flowing back up the chain of command, but subordinates are very careful what information they divulge. The culture of this system rarely makes workers feel free to express the truth when there are problems because there is not a strong sense of teamwork between different levels of the chain of command.
However, compared to the two authoritarian styles, this stye enjoys significantly more trust with subordinates and creates a great deal more communication—even if some of it is filtered. This facilitates a much higher degree of teamwork than the other styles in Likert’s model. This team work occurs both up and down the hierarchy and laterally among peers.
The participative system matches nicely with the participative climate from Lewin’s research. In this system there is much more interaction between leaders and subordinates and communication flows freely. Motivation is based on rewards as well as the desire to perform well at mutually agreed upon tasks toward mutually agreed upon goals.
One of the biggest differences between this system and the consultative system is the degree of trust subordinates have for upper leadership. In the consultative system, workers are much more comfortable sharing bad news because there is less fear of reprisal on the bearer of the message. Problems are viewed as things that need to be fixed by the entire chain of command instead of something that needs to be blamed on someone.
In Likert’s model, this is the optimal system when trying to maximize production. It is characterized by a shared sense of responsibility at all levels of the organization, free flowing communication and significant teamwork both up and down the chain of command and across—between peers and separate teams.
4 Daniel Goleman Leadership Styles
Daniel Goleman is the author of Primal Leadership which categorizes leadership into six styles. These styles are:
- Visionary / Authoritative
- Commanding / Coercive
4.1 Visionary/Authoritative Leadership Style
A visionary leadership style focuses on the vision or where the organization needs to go while leaving the actual details up to the team. If an organization needs to go from point A to point B a visionary leader will be best at defining what point B actually is. However, they may be less adept at creating a good map showing how to navigate from A to B or in defining the necessary processes to support such a transition. (It is worth noting that until recent times, the term visionary had negative connotations of an impractical dreamer.)
Still with many organizations this type of leadership is very effective because it holds people accountable for their results toward a goal without getting in the way of how they want to work. It is particularly effective when an organization lacks a clear vision or when a change of direction is necessary. It can be less effective when working with a group of experts with a great deal of experience and in situations where the goal is easily defined. In those cases the team may question the value provided by the leader if there is no contribution to the actual process of achieving the goal.
4.2 Coaching Leadership Style
A leader who adopts a coaching style of leadership will do best working one-on-one with employees, helping them improve their skills, mentoring them and helping them better understand the goals of the organization and how those goals relate to their own personal development desires. The leader is focused on encouraging subordinates to try different suggestions while providing feedback and helping interpret the results and consequences of their decisions and actions.
This type of leadership can be very effective with employees who are looking to improve their skills and develop their careers. However, leaders need to be very careful not to slip into becoming too “hands-on” and micromanaging. Coaching leadership needs to steer subordinates but still give them the ability to make their own decisions and learn from small failures. The leader needs to be good at giving feedback and evaluating performance in a positive way.
4.3 Affiliative Leadership Style
Leaders who practice this style of leadership focus on group dynamics. Their goal is to create strong teams that work well together. This style focuses on lowering stress levels and creating good relationships between members of the team. This type of leadership is especially effective when there have been problems within the organization and morale and trust is low.
New leaders coming in to an organization after a catastrophe will find this style of leadership especially effective. It provides a strong foundation of trust and helps meet people’s need to be understood and valued. In most situations leaders will benefit from making use of the affiliate leadership style in addition to other styles.
4.4 Democratic Leadership Style
Democratic leadership involves allowing the group to collaboratively decide on the direction and goal. This style focuses on getting input from everyone and a high degree of involvement. Leaders skilled in this area are adept at pulling out contributions from quiet members of the team and making sure that everyone contributes their opinion to the decision making process.
In situations where a leadership role doesn’t come with any formal authority, democratic leadership can be the only viable approach. Since the focus is on getting consensus, it works well when the leader can’t unilaterally make a decision on their own. Regardless of whether the leader has authority or not, the democratic style of leadership can help establish a deep commitment to the plan, goal and vision by team members that is difficult to replicate using more authoritative styles.
4.5 Pacesetting Leadership Style
Pacesetting leaders focus on performance and typically set extremely high goals. This leads to an environment that is intensely focused on improvements or at least improvements as defined by the leader. This type of approach can get fast results from a competent skilled team, but over time the results of exclusively using this form of leadership is negative.
Pacesetting leaders leave very little room for input from the rest of the team. This style can be a good way to quickly win a war or get things done quickly, but it overlooks the value of other members. Ignoring other’s input will make it particularly difficult for the leader to recover from any mistakes.
The redeeming quality of pacesetting style leadership is that the leader is usually setting high standards that are in keeping with their personal standards. In other words, they achieve very high performance for themselves and want others to do the same. If coaching sits beside subordinates and helps guide them forward, pacesetting charges forward while telling everyone else to keep up.
In some ways pacesetting style leadership has some of the attributes of commanding/coercive leadership, but with the positive aspect of leading the way. Still the long term results of pace setting is negative.
4.6 Commanding/Coercive Leadership Style
As the name implies this is the leadership style typically associated with the military. It differs from the Visionary/Authoritative style in that instructions tend to be much more detailed instead of just focused on the end result. It differs from the Pacesetting style in that in that pacesetters are generally asking others to follow their lead and keep up, while command/coercive leaders are usually sending people out.
Generally this is a negative style of leadership, but there are some situations where it can be effective. The military is one good example. Situations that require quick decisions to deal with a crisis are places where this style might be an effective choice.