Leadership Styles

Managers are people who do things right, while leaders are people who do the right thing. - Warren Bennis, Ph.D. "On Becoming a Leader"



Styles of Leadership

Leadership style is the manner and approach of providing direction, implementing plans, and motivating people. There are three different styles of leadership: (1) authoritarian (autocratic), participative (democratic), and delegative (free reign).

Although most leaders use all three styles, one of them becomes the dominate one.

Authoritarian (autocratic)

This type is used when the leader tells her employees what she wants done and how she wants it done, without getting the advice of her people. 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 think that this style includes yelling, using demeaning language, and leading by threats and abuse of power. This is not the authoritarian style...it is an abusive, unprofessional style of leadership.

However, if you have the time and you want to gain more commitment and motivation from your employee, then you should use the participative style.

Participative (democratic)

This type of style involves the leader including one or more employees in on the decision making process (determining what to do and how to do it). However, the leader maintains the final decision making authority. Using this style is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength that your employees will respect.

This is normally used when you have some of the information, and your employees have some of the information. This allows them to become part of the team and allows you to make a better decision.

Delegative (free reign)

In this style, the leader allows the employees to make the decision. 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. You cannot do everything! You must set priorities and delegate certain tasks.

NOTE: Also known as lais·sez faire (or lais·ser faire) which is the noninterference in the affairs of others. [French : laissez, second person pl. imperative of laisser, to let, allow + faire, to do.]




A good leader uses all three styles, depending on what forces are involved between the followers, the leader, and the situation. Some examples include:
  • Using an authoritarian style on a new employee who is just learning the job. The leader is competent and a good coach. The employee is motivated to learn a new skill. The situation is a new environment for the employee.
  • Using a participative style with a team of workers who know their job. The leader knows the problem well, but he wants to create a team where the employees take ownership of the project. The employees know their jobs and want to become part of the team. The situation allows time.
  • Using a delegative style with a worker who knows more about the job than you. You cannot do everything! The employee needs to take ownership of her job. Also, the situation might call for you to be at other places doing other things.
  • Using all three: Telling your employees that a procedure is not working correctly and a new one must be established (authoritarian). Asking for their ideas and input on creating a new procedure (participative). Delegating tasks in order to implement the new procedure (delegative).
Forces that influence the style to be used included a number of things such as:
  • How much time is available.
  • Are relationships based on respect and trust or on disrespect?
  • Who has the information - you, your employees, or both?
  • How well your employees are trained and how well you know the task.
  • Internal conflicts.
  • Stress levels.
  • Type of task. Is it structured, unstructured, complicated, or simple?
  • Laws or established procedures such as OSHA or training plans.



Positive and Negative Leaders

There is also a difference in ways leaders approach their employee:

  • Positive: Positive leaders uses rewards, such as education, independence, etc. to motivate employees.
  • Negative: If the emphasis is placed upon penalties, then the leader is using negative leadership. Although it has its place in a leader's repertoire of tools, it should be used carefully due to its high cost on the human spirit. Negative leaders act domineering and superior with people. They believe the only way to get things done is through penalties, such loss of jog, days off without pay, reprimand in front of others, etc. They believe their authority is increased by freighting everyone into higher lever of productivity.

Also note that a leader is not strictly one or another, but is somewhere on a continuum ranging from extremely positive to extremely negative. Leaders who continuously work out of the negative are bosses while those who primarily work out of the positive are real leaders.  


Leader Use of Consideration and Structure

Two other styles that leaders use are

  • Consideration (employee orientation) - Leaders are concerned about the human needs of their employees. They build teamwork, help employees with their problems, and provide psychological support.
  • Structure (task orientation) - Leaders believe that they get results by consistently keeping people busy and urging them to produce.

There is evidence that leaders who are considerate in their leadership style are higher performers and are more satisfied with their job (2)

Also notice that consideration and structure are independent of each other so they should not be viewed on opposite ends of the continuum. For example, a leader, a leader who becomes more considerate, does not necessarily become less structured.

Also, see the Blake and Mouton Managerial Grid as it is based on this concept.




1. U.S. Army Handbook (1973). Military Leadership.

2. Schriesheim, Chester A. "The Great High Consideration - High Initiating Structure Leadership Myth: Evidence on its Generalizability," The Journal of Social Psychology, April 1982, pp. 221-228.

3. Newstrom, John W. (1993) Davis, Keith. Organizational Behavior - Human Behavior at Work. New York: McGraw-Hill.


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Created May 11, 1997. Last update - February 6, 2000.