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Analysis of Leadership Styles

written by: nataliajones•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/25/2011

Leaders are charged with the task of forging a path for the organizations they control, but there is more than one way to get the job done. This article undertakes a leadership style analysis that highlights differences and suggests when one form may be more appropriate than another.

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    Leadership Styles Explored

    Image: jscreationzs / There are many different ways to lead and these styles are sometimes taken up and practiced as pure methodologies but more often than not the leadership we experience and even the leaders we become are a mixture of these styles. It is important nevertheless to identify what these styles are so what follows is an analysis of the various leadership styles in existence.

    1. Autocratic Leadership
    2. Democratic Leadership
    3. Laissez-fair Leadership
    4. Transformational Leadership

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    Autocratic Leadership

    What is Autocratic Leadership?

    Autocratic leaders expect obedience, not understanding and input from their staff or followers. Under the autocratic style, the leader is the maximum ruler and they make all the decisions without seeking any input from those below them. It is characterized by very little trust and management relies on threats and negative enforcement to get things done. Hitler is one of history's autocratic leaders and it is commonly said that Martha Steward uses the same iron fist to rule her company. This style of leadership, though, has been criticized terribly in the past few decades as the workforce has started to crave more input.

    When is Autocratic Leadership Appropriate?

    Despite the overwhelming amount of negativity surrounding this style of leadership there are certain instances when it can be the best suited option. When employees are largely untrained and insecure, the firm decisions that come down from an autocratic leader can be welcomed. When there is limited time to get results or if their is a power struggle arising from lower levels an autocratic style might be able to maintain order.

    When is Autocratic Leadership Inappropriate?

    In most instances, autocratic leadership must be taken in smaller doses. This style probably won't work for an extended period, especially in modern organizations because Generation X employees expect to have a different level of participation in the work environment and autocratic leaders eventually create fear and low employee morale, which are both counter-productive.

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    Democratic Leadership

    What is Democratic Leadership?

    Democratic leadership can be described as the polar opposite of autocratic leadership. It is sometimes referred to as a participative style because it is characterized by a more of a bottom-up approach. Management empowers lower-level staff to establish goals and even to evaluate their own performance. There is a constant flow of information up the chain of command. This style of leadership often enlists greater employee commitment because everyone has a say in the direction of decisions so they are more likely to try to make sure they succeed.

    When is Democratic Leadership Appropriate?

    Democratic leadership styles come in handy when there are complex problems to be addressed and they require several different perspectives to come to some agreement. When there is a great focus on team work and improving production based on this model of working in groups a democratic style is also appropriate.

    When is Democratic Leadership Inappropriate?

    This leadership style can seem particularly attractive so it might be hard to think of situations where it would not be useful, but when there is no time for mass consultation and the cost of making the wrong decision is simply too high, the consultative democratic style may have to take a backseat. If the workforce does not have the level of experience necessary to make decisions, the democratic style can have devastating results.

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    Laissez-faire Leadership

    What is Laissez-faire Leadership?

    Continuing with the leadership style analysis, laissez-fair leadership must also be examined. This style of leadership calls for the person at the head to allow those who follow to make their own decisions and choose the path they think is best. The leader takes direction and advice from those placed in key positions and this is in stark contrast to the democratic leader who invites input but reserves the right to make the final decision. Under a laissez-faire approach the experienced staff members analyse, interpret and arrive at a decision. Laissez-faire leaders should not choose this as a path to laziness but rather they must have extreme trust in their team.

    When is Laissez-faire Leadership Appropriate?

    Laissez-faire leadership is only ever appropriate when the employees are subject area experts, and they are capable of responsibly executing their duties. It is usually adopted when dealing with consultants or other field specialists.

    When is Laissez-faire Leadership Inappropriate?

    Laissez-fair leadership should not be used stronger management input is required and it is not an excuse to mask management incompetence.

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    Transformational Leadership

    What is Transformational Leadership?

    Transformational leaders lead by example. They are willing to take charge by standing front and center and inspiring those who look up to them to perform in ways that are always reaching for excellence. Transformational leaders seek to bring about some sort of change so they are characteristically passionate and energetic. They are also usually charismatic, although the subtle difference between a charismatic leader and a transformational one lies in a shift in focus, while the charismatic leader has a strong belief in himself and is able to project that onto others, the transformational leader is there to sell belief in a process and highlight that all hands need to be on deck to achieve the change.

    When is Transformational Leadership Appropriate?

    Adopting this style of leadership is great when there is a need for a change leader. If the situation calls for conversion of ideas and processes towards a different way of thinking and doing, nothing is more appropriate than a transformational leader.

    When is Transformational Leadership Inappropriate?

    The danger of transformational leadership is the sacrifice of substance for style. Transformational leaders need to depend on a heavy dose of charisma to glamor their followers into accepting their chants for change, but there needs to be a solid vision and plan of action to back-up their claims otherwise they may direct their followers to disillusionment.

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    Choosing a Leadership Style

    After careful analysis of just a few of the major leadership styles it is clear to see there are several to choose from. The final choice must be based on a match between the needs of the company, the level of experience of the employees and the preference and limitations of those at the helm.

    Image: jscreationzs /