Leadership is a strategic management function, styles and traits of a leader play a critical role in the success or failure of an organisation. Leaders exercise their power at a different intensity in distinctive ways, and in doing so they display certain features and patterns. A number of studies have been conducted to categorise leadership styles and decrypt the ‘success formula’ for the wider audience.
This article explores leadership styles at the broad level of how power is manifested and exercised in an organisation – whether it is centralised (Authoritarian Leadership), dismissed (Laissez-Faire Leadership) or shared (Democratic Leadership), as well as the benefits and drawbacks of these styles and their applications. There are a few other leadership styles which have gained popularity and been increasingly recognised in the recent years, they are highlighted at the end of this article and we shall explore in further attempts.
An authoritarian leader is also known as an autocratic leader, it is exemplified when the leader is at the center of power who makes decisions with minimal or no consultation from the team, controls all activities in the team leaving little autonomy for members, and communicates only one-way top-down.
Authoritarian leadership can help to enhance performances and increase productivity where work is routine or require limited skills, especially in larger groups. It is considered one of the most effective leadership styles in case of the emergency where immediate decisions need to be taken – the leader has a goal to achieve and he/she can dictate people to work towards a single strategic direction. However, there is little room for creativity in problem-solving as the leader controls and dictates tasks, the team morale might be low along with high turnover due to employees’ ideas are not valued, and confusion and resentment may rise without proper communication in the long term.
Laissez-Faire in French literally means ‘let them do’. Laissez-Faire leaders are characterised by their ‘hands-off’ or ‘leave alone’ approach where minimal direction and supervision are provided and members of the team manage their own work as they see appropriate.
As the leaders have minimum input to the daily decision-making, the laissez-faire leadership is often criticised for the indistinct role of a leader, lack of discipline and focus in fragmented teams, and little planning with limited achievement. Given said that, it is recognised as an effective way of leading mature teams with competent and experienced members, as the staff knows what they need to do and they are trusted to do their jobs, the delegation of power motivates them to take responsibilities and be innovative in finding solutions. It is important that the leaders communicate expectations and monitor performance to warrant the quality of work.
Democratic leadership (or participative leadership) is where members of the team share the responsibility of the leader and actively participate in the decision-making process. The power resides with the group and everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute their opinions. Whilst the democratic process focuses on group equality and the free flow of ideas, the leader offers guidance and makes the final decision.
Democratic leadership promotes communication within the team, encourages individuals to share ideas and opinions and values them. Members are more engaged and have a sense of belonging, they are committed to the success of the team, therefore, uplift the level of job satisfaction, productivity, and creativity. On the other side, democratic leadership may not respond well in workplaces where time is of essence or where members do not have the necessary knowledge or experience to contribute to the decision-making process.
Other Leadership Styles
Apart from the three categories of leadership styles, there are a few more leadership styles which are well-known, such as Bureaucratic Leadership where all rules, policies, and procedures of organisations are followed rigidly, Servant Leadership which prioritises the needs of the team, Charismatic Leadership where the success of the initiatives is closely linked to the presence of the leader, Transformational Leadership which motivates staff by creating an environment of intellectual stimulation, Transactional Leadership which manages activities through a clear exchange of command and task implementation, and Situational Leadership where the leaders adopt different styles depending on the environment.
In summary, despite the different categories of leadership styles, there is a certain level of overlap between some of them. It doesn’t matter how we categorise them, it is important to remember that there is no “one-size-fits-all” leadership style, each type has its own strengths and weaknesses and we need to mix-and-match and find what works for us and desirable for the team in that particular scenario. In addition, we need to keep on learning and progressing with the changing environment and evolving management theories, as Vince Lombardi has put it, “leaders aren’t born, they are made, and they are made just like anything else, through hard work.”
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