Leadership style is the manner and approach of providing direction, implementing plans, and motivating people. Leadership is less about your needs, and more about the needs of the people and the organization you are leading. Leadership styles are not something to be tried on like so many suits, to see which fits. Rather, they should be adapted to the particular demands of the situation, the particular requirements of the people involved and the particular challenges facing the organization.
Kurt Lewin (1939) led a group of researchers to identify different styles of leadership. This early study has been very influential and established three major leadership styles: (Lewin, LIippit, White 1939, U.S. Army Handbook, 1973):
· Autocratic or authoritarian
· Participative or democratic
· Delegative or laissez-faire
The "autocratic or authoritarian" style is used when leaders tell their employees what they want done and how they want it accomplished, without getting the advice of their followers. Some of the appropriate conditions to use it is when you have all the information to solve the problem, you are short on time, and your employees are well motivated.
Some people tend to think of this style as a vehicle for yelling, using demeaning language, and leading by threats and abusing their power. This is not the authoritarian style, rather it is an abusive, unprofessional style called “bossing people around.” It has no place in a leader's repertoire.
In the "participative or democratic" style the leader involves one or more employees in the decision making process. However, the leader maintains the final decision making authority. Using this style is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of strength that your employees will respect.
This is normally used when you have part of the information, and your employees have other parts. A leader is not expected to know everything—this is why you employ knowledgeable and skillful employees. Using this style is of mutual benefit as it allows them to become part of the team and allows you to make better decisions.
In the "delegative or laissez-faire" style, the leader allows the employees to make the decisions. However, the leader is still responsible for the decisions that are made. This is used when employees are able to analyze the situation and determine what needs to be done and how to do it.
But this a style should not be used to blame others when things go wrong, rather this style is to be used when you fully trust and confidence in the people below you. This style should be used wisely.
With the evolution of the business environment and other criteria such as:
· Changes in society’s values
· Better educated workforce
· Focus on need for soft HR skills
· Changing workplace organisation
· Greater workplace legislation
· Pressure for greater employee involvement
Other leadership styles have been developed after the Kurt Lewin’s styles.
Six other styles of leadership has been described by Daniel Goleman in the book “Primal Leadership”. The most effective leaders can move among these styles, adopting the one that meets the needs of the moment, given that leadership depends on the situation and cannot be stagnant.
The "visionary" style is most appropriate when an organization needs a new direction. Its goal is to move people towards a new set of shared dreams. “Visionary leaders articulate where a group is going, but not how it will get there – setting people free to innovate, experiment, take calculated risks”
The "coaching" style focuses on developing individuals, showing them how to improve their performance, and helping to connect their goals to the goals of the organization. Coaching works best, with employees who show initiative and want more professional development. But one of the disadvantage is that it may undermine the self-confidence of the employee.
The "affiliative" style emphasizes the importance of team work, and creates harmony in a group by connecting people to each other. This approach is particularly valuable when the objective is to create more team work, harmony, increase morale, improve communication or repair broken trust in an organization. But it should not be used on as the only style, since its emphasis on group praise can allow poor performance to go uncorrected.
The "democratic" style draws on employee's knowledge and skills, and creates a group commitment to the resulting goals. It works best when the direction the organization should take is unclear, and the leader needs to tap the collective wisdom of the group. But this consensus-building approach, according to Goleman, can be disastrous in times of crisis, when urgent events demand quick decisions.
The "pacesetting" style, is where the leader sets high standards for performance. He or she is “obsessive about doing things better and faster, and asks the same of everyone.” But this style should be used sparingly, because it can undercut morale and make people feel as if they are failing. “Our data shows that, more often than not, pacesetting poisons the climate,” according to Goleman.
Finally the "commanding style" is a classic model of “military” style leadership – probably the most often used, but the least often effective. Because it rarely involves praise and frequently employs criticism, it undercuts morale and job satisfaction. Mr. Goleman argues it is only effective in a crisis, when an urgent turnaround is needed.
Whichever leadership style that is adopted, it has to be a bland of several styles given that one style alone will not meet the expectations of the organisations and its staff. The style will mainly depend on the situation of the organisation and the level of the human resources available.
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