In the past several decades, management experts have undergone a revolution in how they define leadership and what their attitudes are toward it. They have gone from a very classical autocratic approach to a very creative, participative approach. Somewhere along the line, it was determined that not everything old was bad and not everything new was good. Rather, different styles were needed for different situations and each leader needed to know when to exhibit a particular approach.
Autocratic Leadership Style
This is often considered the classical approach. It is one in which the manager retains as much power and decision-making authority as possible. The manager does not consult employees, nor are they allowed to give any input. Employees are expected to obey orders without receiving any explanations. The motivation environment is produced by creating a structured set of rewards and punishments.
This leadership style has been greatly criticized during the past 30 years. Some studies say that organizations with many autocratic leaders have higher turnover and absenteeism than other organizations.
These studies say that autocratic leaders:
- Rely on threats and punishment to influence employees
- Do not trust employees
- Do not allow for employee input
Yet, autocratic leadership is not all bad. Sometimes it is the most effective style to use. These situations can include:
- New, untrained employees who do not know which tasks to perform or which procedures to follow
- Effective supervision can be provided only through detailed orders and instructions
- Employees do not respond to any other leadership style
- There are high-volume production needs on a daily basis
- There is limited time in which to make a decision
- A manager's power is challenged by an employee
- The area was poorly managed
- Work needs to be coordinated with another department or organization
The autocratic leadership style should not be used when:
- Employees become tense, fearful, or resentful
- Employees expect to have their opinions heard
- Employees begin depending on their manager to make all their decisions
- There is low employee morale, high turnover and absenteeism and work stoppage
Bureaucratic Leadership Style
Bureaucratic leadership is where the manager manages "by the book" Everything must be done according to procedure or policy. If it isn't covered by the book, the manager refers to the next level above him or her. This manager is really more of a police officer than a leader. He or she enforces the rules.
This style can be effective when:
- Employees are performing routine tasks over and over.
- Employees need to understand certain standards or procedures.
- Employees are working with dangerous or delicate equipment that requires a definite set of procedures to operate.
- Safety or security training is being conducted.
- Employees are performing tasks that require handling cash.
This style is ineffective when:
- Work habits form that are hard to break, especially if they are no longer useful.
- Employees lose their interest in their jobs and in their fellow workers.
- Employees do only what is expected of them and no more.
Democratic Leadership Style
The democratic leadership style is also called the participative style as it encourages employees to be a part of the decision making. The democratic manager keeps his or her employees informed about everything that affects their work and shares decision making and problem solving responsibilities. This style requires the leader to be a coach who has the final say, but gathers information from staff members before making a decision.
Democratic leadership can produce high quality and high quantity work for long periods of time. Many employees like the trust they receive and respond with cooperation, team spirit, and high morale. Typically the democratic leader:
- Develops plans to help employees evaluate their own performance
- Allows employees to establish goals
- Encourages employees to grow on the job and be promoted
- Recognizes and encourages achievement.
Like the other styles, the democratic style is not always appropriate. It is most successful when used with highly skilled or experienced employees or when implementing operational changes or resolving individual or group problems.
The democratic leadership style is most effective when:
- The leader wants to keep employees informed about matters that affect them.
- The leader wants employees to share in decision-making and problem-solving duties.
- The leader wants to provide opportunities for employees to develop a high sense of personal growth and job satisfaction.
- There is a large or complex problem that requires lots of input to solve.
- Changes must be made or problems solved that affect employees or groups of employees.
- You want to encourage team building and participation.
Democratic leadership should not be used when:
- There is not enough time to get everyone's input.
- It's easier and more cost-effective for the manager to make the decision.
- The business can't afford mistakes.
- The manager feels threatened by this type of leadership.
- Employee safety is a critical concern.
Laissez-Faire Leadership Style
The laissez-faire leadership style is also known as the "hands-off" style. It is one in which the manager provides little or no direction and gives employees as much freedom as possible. All authority or power is given to the employees and they must determine goals, make decisions, and resolve problems on their own.
This is an effective style to use when:
- Employees are highly skilled, experienced, and educated.
- Employees have pride in their work and the drive to do it successfully on their own.
- Outside experts, such as staff specialists or consultants are being used
- Employees are trustworthy and experienced.
This style should not be used when:
- It makes employees feel insecure at the unavailability of a manager.
- The manager cannot provide regular feedback to let employees know how well they are doing.
- Managers are unable to thank employees for their good work.
- The manager doesn't understand his or her responsibilities and is hoping the employees can cover for him or her.
Varying Leadership Style
While the proper leadership style depends on the situation, there are three other factors that also influence which leadership style to use.
- The manager's personal background. What personality, knowledge, values, ethics, and experiences does the manager have. What does he or she think will work?
- The employees being supervised. Employees are individuals with different personalities and backgrounds. The leadership style managers use will vary depending upon the individual employee and what he or she will respond best to.
- The company. The traditions, values, philosophy, and concerns of the company will influence how a manager acts.