Do you know your leadership style? Just like awareness of your communication style and Myers-Briggs type, knowing your leadership style can help you understand your strengths and weaknesses and how to most effectively interact and perform in a situation. There’s no right or wrong style, but there are leadership styles that are more effective than others in a situation, company culture or environment. Your leadership style is the behaviours you exhibit when motivating, directing and leading a group of people.
Lewin’s Leadership Styles
Psychologist Kurt Lewin, one of the pioneers of social and organisational applied psychology, and a group of researchers identified three leadership styles—autocratic, democratic and laissez-faire—in 1939.
Lewin and team assigned school-aged children to one of three groups to complete an arts-and-crafts project where the leader either practiced an autocratic, democratic or laissez-faire leadership style. The researchers observed the behavior of the children as they interacted with each style. Ultimately, they found that the democratic style of leadership was most effective at inspiring others to perform well.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common leadership styles.
In this style of leadership, there is a clear distinction between the leader and followers. The autocratic leader makes decisions without consulting the group and provides clear expectations about what, how and when things should be done. While this leadership style allows for less creative decision-making and often gets characterized negatively, it’s the best style when a situation calls for rapid decision-making and decisive actions. As you might suspect, this is a common leadership style in military organizations.
In democratic leadership, otherwise known as participative leadership, a leader offers guidance to the individuals in the group, but they also have the chance to offer input and feel like an important part of the team. Ultimately, the leader reserves the final say in a decision. Although individuals feel valued, the decision-making process can be slower, therefore, this is not a good style in a situation where quick decision-making is vital. In Lewin’s research, this was the style found to be most effective.
Lewin referred to this style as delegative leadership and found this to be the least productive leadership style. Laissez-faire leaders are very hands-off, offer very little guidance and leave the majority of decision-making up to group members. This style is most effective when all team members are highly experienced.
Additional Leadership Styles
Since the Lewin team’s influential work, additional leadership styles have been added.
These are leaders that are adept at getting what needs to be done, done. They are relentless about checking off tasks from the daily to-do list and figuring out efficiencies. Tactical leaders focus on the short-term and pay attention and celebrate when tasks get done. These leaders often lose sight of the company’s larger vision and aren’t highly proficient in change management because they love the efficiencies of established processes and procedures.
The opposite side of a tactical leader is a strategic leader. They are constantly thinking and focused on the company’s vision. These leaders solve problems, change systems and are constantly assessing what needs to shift today to achieve the vision for tomorrow. Strategic leaders can struggle when they focus too much on the vision and fail to inspire the team to complete the day-to-day tasks and connect the why of today’s work to achieving a future outcome.
First described in the 1970s, transformational leaders are known for their intelligence, energy and passion. They are usually very skilled at motivating and inspiring followers with a commitment to not only achieving the company’s goals but helping individuals team members achieve theirs. Sometimes, transformational leaders struggle with the details as they are more blue-sky thinkers.
As the label suggests, the relationship between the leader and follower is seen as a transaction in this type of leadership. Since an individual accepts a position in a group (such as an employee), that individual agrees to abide by the leader (employer). The benefit of this style is that there are clearly identified roles and individuals know what they will receive when they complete tasks. But it can also lead to a lack of creativity and outside-the-box thinking.
The term servant leadership was first coined in a 1970 essay by Robert K. Greenleaf even though the style had been practiced for centuries. This style is characterised by power-sharing where collective decision-making is encouraged, the needs of the team are prioritised and the main goal of the leader is to serve. The needs of others are more important than the needs of the leader in a servant style of leadership.
There is a rigid division of labor and a clear structure of command in a bureaucratic leadership framework. This is an effective leadership style in an environment such as health and safety that is highly regulated and rules must be followed by the book.
The presence of the leader’s positive charm and personality is important to the achievement of goals in a charismatic leadership framework. While there are similarities between charismatic and transformational leaders, when a charismatic leader leaves an organisation it can typically leave a power vacuum.
Management experts Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard developed the concept of situational leadership in 1969 to explain how the best leaders draw upon different styles of leadership based on the situation they are faced with.
I hope you have enjoyed these insights. Have a great week and stay growth-focused! Interested in hearing more? Call me on +61 408 748 980 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.