Many business people believe that certain leadership styles are superior to others. However, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. Every leader has a unique personality and background that affects their leadership style. This style may change over time, and even could change to best meet certain situations. Perhaps leaders could think of different leadership styles as tools in a leader’s toolbox.
We’ll go through 9 different leadership styles and theories to assist you figure out what your current leadership style is and how you can utilize it to empower your team to make an impact.
Table of Contents
- What is a leadership style?
- Lewin’s leadership theory
- Emotional leadership theory
- Commanding leadership
What is a leadership style?
The term “leadership style” refers to the methods, tools, and techniques that the head of a team uses to influence the quality and quantity of work done by the other team members.
Leaders, as we all know, have a wide range of duties. They spend their days doing similar things, such as: strategic planning, encouraging people, disciplining rule-breakers, managing external stakeholders, putting out fires, etc. However, since two leaders are alike, the manner in which they handle the same set of tasks might be very different. Or, put another way, the “leadership style” differs.
So what is the best way to categorize these styles?
Lewin’s leadership theory
If you search for leadership theory, you will come across one name repeatedly: Kurt Lewin.
Lewin’s leadership theory is one of the oldest and most commonly used methods for classifying leadership. Kurt Lewin and his team of researchers defined three leadership styles in 1939: authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire. Their complete study was published in The Journal of Social Psychology, setting off a domino effect that encouraged psychologists to do more research on the subject.
Authoritarian (autocratic) leadership
Leaders who are authoritarian, also known as autocratic, have complete command and authority over their followers. The decision-making process is centralized, which means that the most important choices are made by a single individual. An authoritarian leader sees the broad picture but only works with the rest of the team on a task-by-task or as-needed basis. Information flows up, while decisions flow down.
While you would think that an authoritarian boss is unpleasant, this isn’t always the case. The leadership style refers to how decisions are made, rather than the manner in which they are made.
The following statements can be used to describe an authoritarian leader
- What I say goes
- My viewpoint is usually correct in business conflicts
- Too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the soup
- I worked hard to get to where I am, and if someone on the team wants to be the boss someday, they have to pay their dues
Advantages of authoritarian leadership:
- Decisions are made quickly
- Work is completed efficiently
- Tends to work well when the leader is the most talented member of the team AND is respected by the team
Disadvantages of authoritarian leadership:
- Does not encourage creativity
- Less likely to produce innovation
- Could cause retention issues if team members don’t feel that their ideas are valued
Participative (democratic) leadership
This style of leader leads by consensus. They consider all viewpoints and encourage collaboration. They “empower” their team by delegating decision-making authority to whoever has the highest likelihood of success, regardless of rank or title.
Participative leaders are not apart from the team, rather they are a part of the team. They spend their time and energy on the development of their teammates because they know it will help them achieve their final objective.
According to Lewin’s research, this is the most effective leadership style because it makes the best use of everyone’s potential.
The following statements can be used to describe a participative leader.
- When there is a disagreement, we should listen to everyone’s viewpoint and select the best one
- I encourage individuals who have different viewpoints since it will improve the final result
- My job is to make sure that everyone on the team lives up to their potential
Advantages of participative leadership:
- More innovative solutions and ideas
- High commitment of group members
- High retention and promotion rates
Disadvantages of participative leadership:
- Less efficient / decisions come more slowly
- Tends not to work with an unskilled labor force since they need to be told what to do
- Sometimes the loudest person’s idea wins out over the best idea
Delegative (laissez-faire) leadership
Delegative leaders provide very little direction to their subordinates. They provide team members total autonomy over decision-making.
Delegative leaders distance themselves from the group and refuse to engage in or disrupt a project’s present path. Their remarks are few and far between.
The following statements can be used to describe a delegative leader.
- The group can choose what is best for them, but I am expecting a fantastic final product
- Others in the company can make decisions without my input
- I’ll share resources with my team. After that, I’m looking for self-starters who can make decisions on their own
- Those who have opposite viewpoints can work out their differences on their own
Advantages of delegative leadership:
- If all group members are qualified specialists, delegation leadership might be useful
- Works well with independent workers
Disadvantages of delegative leadership:
- Roles and responsibilities are often unclear
- Consequently, things can “fall through the cracks” and cause projects to fail
Emotional leadership theory
Daniel Goleman’s six leadership styles are another notable leadership theory. Goleman collaborated with Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee on the book “Primal Leadership” to emphasize the importance of self awareness in leadership.
Goleman identifies six leadership styles, how they are employed, and how they influence the team environment.
Visionary leadership shares the same concept with Lewin’s authoritative leadership style. Visionary leaders have long-term goals and may inspire and encourage others.
This style of leadership is most effective when there is a significant shift in the organization or when a clear direction is required. In this situation, individuals are searching for someone they can rely on to lead them into the unknown.
It is less successful when other team members are specialists with opposing opinions to the leader’s. These team members will not want to blindly follow a leader with whom they disagree.
Advantages of visionary leadership:
- Team members are inspired and understand their duties
- Minor issues do not demotivate the leader since they are focused on the final objective
- Visionary leaders are good at developing contingency plans to handle challenges posed by external variables such as politics or global events
Disadvantages of visionary leadership:
- Teams have a lack of short-term focus
- Vision may be lost when it becomes too tied with the leader’s personality
- Visionary leaders may reject the suggestions of other group members
A coaching leader can recognize the talents and flaws of other team members and coach them to better. They can also connect these talents to the company’s objectives.
Coaching leadership is effective when the leader is innovative, ready to cooperate, and able to provide detailed feedback. It is also critical for the coach to know when to step aside and let the person have autonomy.
Advantages of coaching leadership:
- Coaching leadership may create an inspiring atmosphere
- There are clear expectations in place, allowing team members to grow their skills
- This leadership style provides organizations with a competitive edge since it produces talented employees who are productive and ready to train others
Disadvantages of coaching leadership:
- It requires time and patience
- It only works if people are willing to accept this kind of leadership
- Coaching leadership can be perceived as micromanaging when done improperly
Affiliative leadership prioritizes relationships. An affiliative leader’s goal is to bring people together. This charismatic leader tries to develop and cultivate relationships in the workplace, resulting in a more collaborative and happy work environment
An affiliative leader is useful when forming a new team or dealing with a crisis, as both of these circumstances need trust. When a leader concentrates too much on being a friend and is less concerned with productivity and corporate goals, this leadership style can be destructive.
Advantages of an affiliative leader:
- Boosts team spirit
- Interpersonal conflict is rapidly resolved
- Team members are less stressed because they feel valued
- Cultivates close-knit teams that are empowered to assist one another
Disadvantages of affiliative leadership:
- A lack of clear responsibilities might result in underperformance by some team members
- Affiliative leaders are hesitant to express negative things that would affect the growth of others
- The organization’s aims are frequently overlooked
- Team members become emotionally dependent on the leader. If the leader changed teams or left, the rest of the team would be lost
Democratic leadership is similar to Lewin’s participative leadership. Everyone in the team is encouraged to engage and offer ideas. As a consequence, even if the leader has the last word, the team feels empowered.
Democratic leadership works best in high-skilled teams where all members can contribute meaningfully. It has less of an influence on junior teams that lack expertise and understanding on the subject. It should also not be applied in cases that need urgent response.
Advantages of democratic leadership:
- Promotes creativity and innovation
- Create a high level of employee involvement and trust
- Contribute to greater responsibility and productivity
Disadvantages of democratic leadership:
- Less efficient / decisions come more slowly
- Team members may lose trust if the leader makes a choice without their involvement
- Democratic leadership is ineffective if team members are not skilled
A pacesetting leader is someone who leads by example in terms of productivity, performance, and quality. Members of the team are expected to follow in their footsteps. If team members are unable to keep up, pacesetting leaders will take over and ensure that the work is completed appropriately.
Pacesetting leadership is effective when the leader establishes clear expectations and inspires team members to achieve deadlines. When team members stop believing in their leader and become anxious, overworked, or unmotivated, it fails.
Advantages of pacesetting leadership:
- Pacesetting leaders are able to achieve business goals on time
- Issues can be recognized immediately due to progress reporting
- Team members respect the leader as a member of the team, not just the leader of the team
Disadvantages of pacesetting leadership:
- Long term vision can suffer, since the leader is more likely to get stuck in tactical issues
- Team members might feel smothered and micromanaged
- A heavy emphasis on outcomes and deadlines might result in a loss of creativity
Commanding leadership is related to Authoritarian leadership. The leader in this approach has certain aims and objectives that they express to the team and expect others to follow. They established processes and rules to provide structure.
When other team members lack skills or competence, commanding leadership is often applied. The structure is required in this situation for the participants to know how to fulfill their responsibilities. It is also effective in emergency situations where there is no time for debate.
Advantages of commanding leadership:
- Clear objectives and expectations can boost work performance
- Effective during crisis situations
- Helpful in low-skill or an inexperienced team
Disadvantages of commanding leadership:
- This leadership style may fail when the leader is not more experienced than the group
- Collaboration is non-existent, which discourages innovation
- Employees may become disengaged and team morale may suffer
- Since decisions all fall on the leader, bottlenecks can occur
As you can see, there are several leadership viewpoints and theories, and we have explored 9 of them. We have also described the advantages and disadvantages of each style. There is no best leadership style that applies to 100% of situations. To fulfill the organization’s goals, competent leaders will identify the proper style for themselves, their team, and the business situation.