An organization’s success or failure is largely dependent on the leadership styles utilized by its managers. Effective leadership motivates employees to work together as teams, and as individuals to get the job done. Some leaders place a high value on the welfare and morale of their employees, while others place a higher value on their organization’s intended mission. But which leadership style or styles are preferred, and which work best? To answer these questions, let’s take a closer look at the various leadership styles and how they are applied.
According to Dr. Kurt Lewin, a 19th century social psychologist, there are three basic leadership styles: autocratic; democratic; and laissez-faire. Other researchers have identified a total of seven different leadership styles, some of which exists within Lewin’s basic categories. These seven styles are considered to be either one of the following: charismatic; participative; situational; transactional; transformational; quiet leadership; or servant leadership.
The autocratic leader gives a clear indication that he or she is in total control of the situation; they are visionaries with a thorough understanding and scope of the goals they wish to accomplish; they do not seek or tolerate any input from their subordinates. These leaders are more concerned with their mission than the well-being of their employees.
On the other hand, democratic leaders allow and even encourage employee participation in the decision-making process. They may not always have a clear vision, but once they do, their leadership becomes more effective. These character traits are also evident in the participative leader. The participative leader believes in building teams. He or she assumes these teams will be less competitive if each individual is allowed to express their opinions and exercise their own beliefs.
Participative leadership is also considered to be a laissez-faire style of leadership or leadership by the people. The decision-making process of the team is largely influenced by the intended outcome. While participative leaders may permit employees to decide how to accomplish a specific task, they may not allow them any input in other areas such as performance evaluations. A conflict may arise with this type of leadership when the leader seeks the input of his or her employees, then completely ignores them, leading subordinates to feel betrayed.
Charismatic leaders are charming and persuasive, making each employee feel like he or she is the most precious person in their organization. They believe people will enjoy working for a person they admire. This type of leader often uses storytelling and metaphors to motivate their employees. While this type of leader may attract admirers, studies have shown that the risk-taking tendencies possessed by this type of leader may ultimately make them dangerous to work for. Their need for attention and narcissism may cause them to lead their subordinates on a path of destruction.
Much like autocratic leaders, transactional leaders possess a take-charge attitude, whereby they make it clear to their subordinates early on that they are in control. There is no question regarding their authority over their employee’s actions and ultimately their rewards. A transactional leader assumes that subordinates will respond to their assigned tasks according to their expected rewards or punishment. Transactional leaders reward success for a job well done, and apply corrective action to punish failed assignments. Many managers have found this type of leadership to be very effective. However, it may fail in cases where an employee is unskilled or lacking in sufficient knowledge regarding certain tasks.
Another type of autocratic leadership is found in the transformational leader. Transformational leaders have a specific goal in mind, and they pump all their energy and enthusiasm into achieving it. Much like charismatic leaders, a transformational leader can be very persuasive, infusing his or her employees with this same enthusiasm. Also similar to charismatic leaders, this type of leader is considered to be a ‘people’ person. He or she shows their people skills by instilling trust in their employees and remaining central throughout the operation. Transformational leaders coach and encourage their employees showing they place the welfare of each of them as individuals over the success of the intended mission.
The assumption of the transformational leader is that when people are excited and interested in their assignment, they will be committed to perform their mission to the best of their knowledge and capabilities. Transformational leaders work best in situations where ‘change’ is needed. They may be doomed in organizations where changes are not needed or where people are satisfied with the status-quo. However, if conditions are ripe, transformational leaders usually come into their own. As a whole, transformational leaders are considered to be a joy to work for.
Similar to autocratic leaders, quiet leaders are visionaries. They believe employees will be motivated when the outcome has clearly been identified. However, as opposed to the autocratic leaders, this type of leader lets his subordinates ‘feel’ his authority without applying egotistical methods or an aggressive stance to accomplish his mission. Much like transactional leaders, quiet leaders reward their followers, while punishing those who regard them as ‘pushovers’. Indeed, they may make their cynics feel worthless, by ignoring them and rewarding their admirers. Quiet leaders prefer teams that work well together and are intolerant of conflicting views among their team members. Issues may arise with this type of leadership in situations where a more aggressive attitude is required.
Servant leaders genuinely love other people and want to help them. They seek to improve their subordinates by infusing them with good ‘servant-like’ qualities. Like charismatic and transformational leaders, servant leaders have ‘people skills’, and go to great lengths to let their subordinates know how much they value their individual welfare over the mission. Servant leaders encourage their employees to succeed by building trust and loyalty.
Like the transformational leader, servant leaders seek to not only ‘transform’ the individual employee, but their entire organization. As with transformational leaders, servant leaders may become agitated when there is no need for ‘change’ or when employees tend to resist change. Problems may also arise when there is no clear objective.
And finally, we will discuss situational leaders. These leaders apply a management style that is highly dependent on the situation. Factors affecting this type of leadership are stress, mood, available resources, and level of capability and knowledge possessed by the employees. These factors are not only applicable to the subordinates, but also to the leader. If this type of leader has experienced family problems or other drama, it can largely influence the way he will react to his followers on any given day. Also, this leader may take on a more aggressive stance if the failure of his intended outcome is imminent.
We have discovered that some leaders have a clear vision (autocratic, transformational, quiet style), while others need more direction. Some leaders care more about their subordinates than their expected mission (participative, transformational, servant style), while others put the needs of the mission first (autocratic, charismatic, transactional style). Some leaders are quiet (quiet style), while others apply a more aggressive stance (autocratic, charismatic, transactional style). Some leaders want to change and improve their subordinates and/or their entire organization (transformational, servant style), while others believe in leaving things as they are (laissez-faire). Some leaders are dictators (autocratic, charismatic, transactional style), while others believe in leadership by the people (democratic, participative, laissez-faire).
So, which leadership style is most effective? It would appear that the situational leadership style is most effective because a leader’s reactions should largely be influenced by the situation or circumstances involved in the accomplishment of their mission. While leaders should be concerned about the welfare of their subordinates, and allow them some input, they should also make it clear who is ultimately in control. Rewards and punishments should be clearly understood, but not necessarily the entire focus of employee motivation. Change is good, as long as it improves the old system, and is not too risky to achieve. Some situations require a more aggressive stance, where others may only need the quiet approach. Successful leaders have a clear vision about their intended outcome, possess ‘people skills’ (they care and understand human behavior), and know how to manage their subordinates.