Just as with personality types, there are several different types of leaders. For mapping the different styles of leadership, we can thank Kurt Lewin, who classified the three distinct leadership styles we know today: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire.
Maybe you identify with one leadership style over another. Maybe you see your leadership approach through the lens of all three styles. Or, maybe you used to characterize yourself as one type of leader only to have seen how much you’ve progressed over the years. Each style has its strengths as well as its weaknesses, further proving there isn’t a one-size-fits-all leader.
Let’s take a look:
The Autocratic Leader
Also known as the authoritarian, the autocrat is a leader who exercises total control over the company’s operations. They dictate what is to be done and how it is to be done.
Autocratic leaders can be incredibly effective, since they assume the bulk of the responsibility and decision making. These are often strong personality types that are very sure of themselves and confident in their actions.
Since the autocrat wields considerable power, they can effectively lead and direct resources in a time of crisis. They can be held accountable and expected to answer for their actions. And since they hold so much responsibility, they are renowned for their ability to get things done.
On the other hand, the autocrat must wield their power with great care. Any one person that is granted a great amount of power is at risk of misusing it. A truly effective autocratic leader must not have any conflicts of interest. Otherwise, there’s a great chance that this leader will use their power to their own advantage, often at the detriment and expense of the entire group.
The Democratic Leader
A democratic leader is exactly what it sounds like; an individual that takes their entire team into account when making decisions. These leaders are often held at a higher esteem by their employees. This is one of their perks.
The fact is, people want to feel important. That’s one of the greatest human desires. If you’re part of a team and your leader constantly asks for your input, you will undoubtedly feel important. Democratic leaders are more likely to be popular amongst the group.
There is a downside of the democratic style of leadership, however. During a period of great urgency, when decisions need to be made quickly and executed expediently, the democratic leader will often appear to be slow-acting. Gathering everyone’s opinions takes time, and when there is no time, the group may ultimately suffer while operating under a leader that cherishes democracy above all else.
The Laissez-faire Leader
Commonly referred to as a delegative leader, the laissez-faire leader operates by delegating the bulk of the decision-making and execution to the team at large.
The concept is simple and effective — it is impossible for the leader to be an expert on all the fields that an organization may encompass, especially if it is a larger organization. Recognizing this fact, the laissez-faire leader trusts his subordinates to make proper decisions, and tends to stay out of their way.
This works exceptionally well when the leader has a network of highly skilled individuals directing their own respective areas. The leader still assumes the responsibility of the entire operation, but allows the people with the know-how to do their jobs. Red tape is largely reduced by this leadership style, and things tend to get done quickly.
One of the great downsides of the laissez-faire leadership style, however, is that it depends completely on the total competence of the team. If the team members are not as highly skilled as the leader believes, then it could be a recipe for disaster.
How do you identify? If you aren’t sure, try observing yourself in action to see if you notice any of these traits in yourself.