Strong leadership is a crucial part of any business and its chances for success. That said, every business is different. A CEO who successfully brings one company to the top of its industry may flounder when placed at the helm of another organization.
Identifying the leadership style appropriate to an organization can help a leader forge a path toward success. This style will define the ways that a leader guides, inspires and oversees their employees. Does the organization require a micro-manager who gets involved in every detail? Or should a manager be hands-off to the point of being absent? Or maybe there’s something in between?
According to a 1939 study conducted by psychologist Kurt Lewin, there are three main types of leadership styles:
- Autocratic or authoritarian leadership: This leadership style is characterized by intensive top-down control. The leader decides with little or no input from their subordinates and leaves little or no room for improvisation on the part of their subordinates.
- Democratic or participative leadership: This type of leadership lets everybody have a say. Of course, there will generally still be a leader who has the final word, but the sense of participation can help subordinates approach their work with more energy and creativity. According to Lewin’s study, this style of leadership produces less work than its autocratic counterpart, but the quality of that work improves.
- Laissez-faire leadership or delegation leadership: Derived from the French phrase, which means, “Let people do as they choose,” laissez-faire leadership is the most hands-off of the three main leadership styles. A laissez-faire leader will generally be responsible for hiring talented, independent employees who are trusted with significant autonomy and freedom.
A laissez-faire leadership style has the potential to empower creative employees … or leave them feeling directionless. Understanding the characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of laissez-faire leadership can help managers understand if it is right for their organization.