Leaders exercise their authority in different ways. In doing so, they are said to exhibit a “leadership style”

Leadership styles are essentially about:

  • The way that the functions of leadership are carried out
  • The way that a leader behaves

There has been substantial research into the types and effectiveness of various leadership styles, with the four most common generally accepted to be:

The key features of each of these leadership styles can be summarised as follows:

Authoritarian

  • Autocratic leaders hold onto as much power and decision-making as possible
  • Focus of power is with the manager
  • Communication is top-down & one-way
  • Formal systems of command & control
  • Minimal consultation
  • Use of rewards & penalties
  • Very little delegation
  • McGregor Theory X approach
  • Most likely to be used when subordinates are unskilled, not trusted and their ideas are not valued

Paternalistic

  • Leader decides what is best for employees
  • Links with Mayo – addressing employee needs
  • Akin to a parent/child relationship – where the leader is seen as a “father-figure”
  • Still little delegation
  • A softer form of authoritarian leadership, which often results in better employee motivation and lower staff turnover
  • Typical paternalistic leader explains the specific reason as to why he has taken certain actions

Democratic

  • Focus of power is more with the group as a whole
  • Leadership functions are shared within the group
  • Employees have greater involvement in decision-making – but potentially this slows-down decision-making
  • Emphasis on delegation and consultation – but the leader still has the final say
  • Perhaps the most popular leadership style because of the positive emotional connotations of acting democratically
  • A potential trade-off between speed of decision-making and better motivation and morale?
  • Likely to be most effective when used with skilled, free-thinking and experienced subordinates

Laissez-faire

  • Laissez-faire means to “leave alone”
  • Leader has little input into day-to-day decision-making
  • Conscious decision to delegate power
  • Managers / employees have freedom to do what they think is best
  • Often criticised for resulting in poor role definition for managers
  • Effective when staff are ready and willing to take on responsibility, they are motivated, and can be trusted to do their jobs
  • Importantly, laissez-faire is not the same as abdication

As a generalisation, in most business sectors  there has been a gradual shift away from autocratic leadership. Possible reasons for this include:

  • 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
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