Once given the privilege of leadership and ability to direct others, we must determine as leaders who we are as leaders, and what leadership style we will use. Back in 1939 a psychologist, Kurt Lewin, commissioned a study to identify the most predominant leadership styles and determine which were the most effective. Upon completion of the study, Lewin was able to establish that there were three major styles of leadership, authoritative (autocratic), delegative (laissez-faire) and participative (democratic). We will compare and contrast these styles and consider the benefits and disadvantage of each.
The Authoritative Leader
You can usually spot authoritative leaders a mile away. They know WHAT they want, WHEN they want it, WHO is going to do it, and HOW. They have clear expectations for their team’s performance, and they communicate those expectations in no uncertain terms. Authoritative leaders are either experts or highly trained in the field in which they command- they know their stuff inside and out, and they expect their team members to keep their heads down and follow their directives to the letter. These leaders usually have no time for touchy-feely team building exercises, and no time to waste seeking consensus or input from others. They have a job to do, and that’s the only thing that matters to them. The buck stops with them, and they take full responsibility for getting the job done right – which means getting it done their way and on their terms.
The authoritative leadership style works better in some settings than it does in others. For example, when there is little time for decision-making or consensus-building, an authoritative leader is necessary to keep a team moving toward its goal. Such as, in the case of an emergency imagine being in or near Sendai Japan, a city about 230 miles from Tokyo, on March 11, 2011 when the 9.0 earthquake hit. Would you want someone to ask you whether or not you need to evacuate? Or would you want someone assertive and give you direct commands so as to lead you and your family to safety? Similarly, when this leadership style is used, it should be because you clearly have more experience and information than the people you are leading. Additionally, there is little time to get a consensus and you don’t have time to ponder other options.
However, when you employ an authoritative leadership style, be sure you communicate as much appropriate information as possible. As humans we always want to know why we are being asked to react or perform a certain way.
However, there is a downside to using the authoritative leadership style. You risk becoming a dictator who creates unnecessary divisions between yourself and the team you lead.
If you’re going to adopt an authoritative leadership style, be sure that the environment in which you are leading is conducive to that approach. Be certain you have accumulated enough knowledge to be able to direct your people with confidence. Develop a clear vision, mission and goals, and know how to communicate them effectively. It is absolutely vital and essential that you keep the lines of communication open to team members so that the people or team that you lead feels free to ask questions. As humans we always want to know why we are being asked to react or perform a certain way. Whenever, appropriate always show appreciation for compliance and/or good work.
And finally, vow never, ever to abuse your power by degrading or disrespecting your team members. To do so is the quickest way to failure – for you and for your team.
Authoritative Leadership Style at a Glance
Works Best When:
* There are clear expectations for WHAT is to be done
* There are clear expectations for HOW it is to be done
* The leader knows more than the team members
* There is little or no time for group decision-making
Challenges With This Style:
* Creates a strong division between leaders and followers
* Allows for little or no input from team members
* Difficult to transition to other leadership styles
* Authoritarian leaders are often viewed as bossy, overly controlling
In our next discussion, we will discuss the delegative (laissez-faire) leadership style until then, I’d like to hear your thoughts on authoritative (autocratic) leadership. Do you find it easy to work under these conditions, or does it leave you wanting more involvement? Why do you feel this way? Feel free to ask questions about authoritative leadership or any other leadership topic. I’ll answer as many of them as space allows.