Determining Your Leadership Style: Three Theories

Leadership style is a topic attracting a lot of interest from leadership practitioners and thinkers. Although leadership is something practical, it is good to regularly remind ourselves of the theory behind leadership. 

With this in mind I, here’s a brief overview of three thought leaders’ leadership theory.  This is not an exhaustive discussion of each one’s theory.  I hope this post will to kick-start your own thoughts in your daily practice of leadership. 

Let me know in the comments which one of the three you most associate with. 

Leadership Style is Adjustable

Leadership Style is not uniform across all situations.  The circumstances within a situation will often determine the leadership style you will apply.  It is therefore not only possible, but necessary, to adjust your leadership style to best align with the situation and the outcome you want to achieve.  To do this you have to have a basic understanding of the application of various leadership theories.

Leadership Style According to Lewin’s Three Basic Leadership Definitions

Kurt Lewin led a group of researchers in 1939, as they set out to identify the differences in leadership style. Their research led them to identify three different leadership styles.

  • Authoritarian Leadership (Autocratic).   Authoritarian leaders focus on clarifying expectations on what they want to accomplish.  They not only give clear expectations on the outcomes, they also are very clear on when it should be done, as well as how it should be done.
  • Participative Leadership (Democratic).  Participative Leadership is normally the most productive leadership style.  The group receives ample guidance from the Participative Leader and he/she often participates actively in the group, while soliciting and accommodating comments from the group members.
  • Delegative Leadership (Laissez Faire).  A group led by a Delegative Leader can expect little or no guidance from the leader.  All decision-making is left to the group members.  This style of leadership is however only effective where the members of the group are highly qualified or have specific areas of expertise.  The drawback is it often leads to poorly defined roles and motivation.

Leadership Style According to Likert’s Four Leadership Definitions

Rensis Likert identified four main styles of leadership.  His work focused mainly on the decision-making process as well as the measure to which people are involved in the decision.

  • Exploitive Authoritative.  The main goal of this leadership style is conformance with a low concern for people.   In order to get the required conformance, the leader will often use fear based methods to get the required outcome.  Communication channels are normally downwards and the concerns of people are largely ignored.
  • Benevolent Authoritative.  By adding concern for people to an Exploitative Authoritative leadership style a Benevolent Authoritativeness leadership style is created.  Instead of making use of fear tactics, the leader now makes use of rewards to encourage appropriate performance.  The leader also listens more to lower down concerns in the organization.  Unfortunately the communication to the leader is often limited to what the people think the leader wants to hear.
  • Consultative.  The leaders using the consultative leadership style, makes a genuine attempt to listen to ideas being offered by the people he/she leads.  The information reaching the leader is however still somewhat cautious.  Although the leader listens more, the decision making is still largely centralized.
  • Participative.  This leadership style is practiced by a leader engaging the people, especially on the lower levels of the organization.  The effect is people across the organization are much closer and work together well on all levels.

Leadership Style According to Goleman’s Six Emotional Leadership Definitions

In defining leadership style, Daniel Goleman, places much emphasis in his six styles of leading on the effect of the leadership style on the emotions of the people.  A leader can use any style at any time and a good mix, customized to the situation, is generally the most effective approach.

  • The Visionary Leader.  Shared vision is the focus of the Visionary leadership style.  The Visionary Leader communicates the destination to the people, but he will generally not tell them how to get there.  By leaving the group to answer the “How to get there” question, the leader creates motivation.
  • The Coaching Leader.  The Coaching Leader specializes in connecting personal needs with organizational goals.  The practice of this leadership style often entails conducting long and personal conversations, helping people find strengths and weaknesses.  By understanding the person’s strengths and weaknesses the Coaching Leaders can help the person in generating meaningful career paths.
  • The Affiliative Leader.  The focus of this leadership style is on creating people connections and harmony within the organization. The collaborative style of the Affiliative Leaders often focuses on emotional needs over work needs.
  • The Democratic Leader.  The Democratic Leader solicits input and comment from everyone in the organization.  This leader will listen to both sides of the story and will encourage participation from the members of the group.
  • The Pace-setting Leader.  The Pace-setting Leader is challenge driven.  This leader will often set challenging goals for the people he/she leads.  The expectations in achieving the set goals are also always very high and excellence in non-negotiable.
  • The Commanding Leader.  The Commanding Leader takes a powerful stance through which he/she calms the situation down.  This leader will also give clear and strong direction and expect full compliance with the goals and set direction, without getting agreement from the people being led.

I trust this brief overview of the three leadership theories will help to enrich your understanding of the  practice of leadership.  Although the theory may enrich our understanding of leadership, it’s only in its practise that we truly lead.  

Do you have any further examples of thought leaders on leadership to expand our thinking on the subject?

Written by Joseph Hawking

I have a passion for people & leadership development and since I discovered my mom’s old typewriter as a boy, I have written in some form or another.
I started blogging in 2017 and in August 2018, I started The Leadership Connexion with the aim to make the connection between Business, Leadership and Life. My professional experience span across various business disciplines, including Training, Project Management, Human Resource Management and Finance. I have a MBA degree and I am co-founder and director of a Project Management Company.
I am part of the Leadership for The International Mentoring Network (IMN), South African Chapter, where I am a regular Idea Studio Facilitator and Annual IMN Conference Speaker. I believe that the highest form of living is using what you are blessed with to add value to other people’s lives.

About Joseph Hawking

I have a passion for people & leadership development and since I discovered my mom’s old typewriter as a boy, I have written in some form or another.
I started blogging in 2017 and in August 2018, I started The Leadership Connexion with the aim to make the connection between Business, Leadership and Life. My professional experience span across various business disciplines, including Training, Project Management, Human Resource Management and Finance. I have a MBA degree and I am co-founder and director of a Project Management Company.
I am part of the Leadership for The International Mentoring Network (IMN), South African Chapter, where I am a regular Idea Studio Facilitator and Annual IMN Conference Speaker. I believe that the highest form of living is using what you are blessed with to add value to other people’s lives.