Leadership Styles : Autocratic Democratic Laissez-Faire

What is Leadership Style?

Leadership style is the method and approach to provide direction, implement plans and inspire individuals. The traditional classification of the styles of leadership can be inferred from the phrase given by William Shakespeare that, ‘Some are born great; some achieve greatness; and others have greatness thrust upon them.’

In 1939, Kurt Lewin, a psychologist with some other researchers did a research to identify various styles of leadership. In his study, Lewin allotted school-children to either of three groups with an authoritarian, democratic or laissez-faire leader. The children were then led in an arts and crafts project while researchers observed the behavior of children in response to the different styles of leadership. On the basis of his study, Kurt Lewin proposed three main types of leadership, which are as follows: 

3 Major Types of Leadership Style

1. Authoritarian (Autocratic) Leadership Style

  • It is the classical approach of Leadership Style.
  • In this style, manager holds power and decision-making authority up to the maximum possible extent. In this leadership style, a leader has absolute command and grip on his subordinates.
  • The leader does not feel the need of consulting with his employees, nor does the leader allow any employ to give input.
  • Autocratic leaders give a clear-cut picture about their expectations for what have to be done, when and how it should be done. The employees cannot give their views even if their ideas are best suited for the team. They cannot disapprove or question about the leader’s approach of getting tasks done.
  • This style of leadership allows immediate decision-making as only the leader has the right to take decisions for the entire group and keeps all decision to him till he feels that it is the time to share it with the group.
  • Studies establish that decisions are less creative when taken under an authoritarian leadership.
  • The motivational environment is created by generating a structured set of rewards and punishments.
  • Authoritative leaders do not permit his followers to argue with him, they cannot even ask to be treated with respect. Such leaders consider punishment and force as the most important tool and use them if the subordinates disagree, argue or even query about what they have been told to do.
  • The benefit of autocratic style is that it leads to quick decision-making and better output under the supervision of leader.
  • Disadvantage of this leadership style are that it leads to higher employee absenteeism and turnover. At the same time the team’s output does not get benefitted from the ingenuity and experience of all team mates, thus various benefits of teamwork are being missed. 

Characteristics of Autocratic Leadership Style

Authoritarian leadership has the following characteristics: 

  • Leader takes decisions without taking suggestion from anyone else
  • Followers have very high degree of dependency on the leader.
  • Authoritative leaders create de-motivation and alienation of staff
  • Leaders rely on threats and punishment to influence employees
  • Leaders usually do not trust their employees 
  • They do not allow employees to give any input 

Conditions to use authoritarian leadership

 Following are the conditions to use authoritarian leadership: 

  • In some situations, it is the most valuable and effective style that needs to be implemented.
  • Decisions need to be made quickly and decisively.
  • New and untrained employees who do not know which tasks to perform or which procedures to follow.
  • The area was poorly managed 
  • Effective supervision can be provided only through detailed orders and instructions 
  • There are high-volume production needs on a daily basis 
  • Any employee has challenged the manager’s power 
  • Work needs to be coordinated with another department or organization 

2. Democratic (Participative) Leadership Style

  • As this style encourages employees to take part in the decision-making process, thus this leadership style is also named as participative style. Although, the ultimate decision-making power is retained with the leader, the participative leaders ask and encourage the group members to play a significant role in decision-making process.
  • In his study, Lewin found that participative leadership style is generally the most effective leadership style. Such leaders support and motivate group members to be involved, but the ultimate right of decision-making is with him. Team members feel occupied in the progression and are more encouraged and creative.
  • The leader directs the individuals about what to do and how to do, while the employees are allowed to give their inputs and suggestions if any.
  • This style requires the leader to be a coach who gives the final verdict, but gathers views from employees before taking a decision.
  • This style increases job satisfaction by including employees in all the affairs; and also helps to develop their skills. Employees and team members feel that they are master of their own destiny, and thus are motivated to work hard by more than just a financial reward. 
  • In this Style things happening with a slow speed than an autocratic approach, as participation takes time, but often gives better results. It can be most suitable where team working is important and quality is more important than precise time. 
  • Participative leadership can generate superior quality and high quantity work for much extended periods of time.

Characteristics of Democratic (Participative) Leadership Style

Some characteristics of (participative) democratic leadership are as follows: 

  • Consultative as process of consultation from teammates before taking decisions
  • Persuasive as leader takes decision and seeks to convince others that the decision is correct and to be followed 
  • It may help in creation, innovation, motivation and involvement
  • Workers has the feeling of belongingness for the organization and its vision
  • It helps in developing plans for employ to evaluate their own performance
  • It encourages employees to develop on the job and be promoted thus increasing job satisfaction. 
  • It recognizes and encourages achievement. 

Conditions to use Democratic (Participative) leadership

The democratic leadership style is most effective to use when:

  • The leader needs to inform subordinates about issues that may affect them.
  • The leader wants employees to get involved in the task of decision-making and problem-solving. 
  • The leader wish to provide employees with the opportunities to develop a great sense of personal growth and job satisfaction. 
  • There is a large or complex problem which calls for lots of input to solve.
  • The leader wants to encourage team spirit, group cohesiveness and participation. 

This leadership style should not be used when: 

  • There is not sufficient time to get everyone’s input as it can delay decision making. 
  • It is easier and more cost-effective for the leader to make the decision.
  • The business cannot afford mistakes. 

3. Laissez-Faire (Delegative) Leadership Style

  • The French phrase Laissez-faire means ‘let them do’ and is used to describe a leader who leaves his or her colleagues to get on with their work.
  • The laissez-faire leadership style is also known as the ‘hands-off’ style. It is one in which the leader gives less or no guidance and gives subordinates as much liberty as possible.
  • It is more like a person in a leadership position without providing leadership, leaving the group to go for it. Subordinates are provided with a full liberty to decide and create their own policies and methods. They are encouraged to be creative and innovative.
  • Complete control or power is in the hands of the group members and they are required to determine goals, make decisions and do problem solving themselves. It can prove to be effective if the leader regularly examines the achievements and communicates it back to the team members. 
  • Despite the fact that delegative style can be effective in circumstances where team members are extremely qualified and skilled in an area of expertise and skilled self-starters on the other hand, it may also refer to situations where leaders do not exert enough control which often results in inadequately defined roles and lack of encouragement.
  • During his research Lewin found that children who worked under delegative leadership were the least productive. The children of this group were also more demanding towards the leader, had low cooperation, and were unable to work on their own.

Conditions to use Laissez-Faire (Delegative) leadership

Some of the characteristics of delegative leadership are as follows: 

  • ‘Let it be’—the leadership responsibilities are shared by all 
  • This leadership style can be more effective in situations where creative ideas are more important 
  • This leadership style can be extremely motivational, as individuals have their own control over professional life 
  • This style relies on good team work and good interpersonal relations This is an effective style to use when: 
  • Employees are highly skilled, trustworthy, experienced, and educated.
  • Employees feel proud in doing their work and motivated on their own to do it successfully. 
  • Experts from outside the team, such as staff specialists or consultants are being used. 

This style should not be used when: 

  • In emergency as it can make coordination and decision-making time consuming 
  • It makes employees feel insecure at the unavailability of a manager and lacking in overall direction 
  • The leader is unable to provide regular feedback to the group members to let them recognize how well they are doing. 
  • The leader doesn’t realize his responsibilities and hopes that the group members can cover up for him.