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Leadership Styles, Definitions, Advantages and Disadvantages

Leadership styles typically represent a persistent thinking pattern of superiors with respect to their subordinates or individual groups. Depending on the type of leadership, a manager also assumes the task of coaching the employees.

Leadership styles: types and overview

What kinds of leadership styles are there? In companies, different leadership styles are practiced. These are either assigned to the leadership styles of Max Weber or the behavioral patterns of Kurt Lewin. Furthermore, there are the one-, two- and three-dimensional styles of leadership. The following text explains in detail the different styles of leadership as well as their advantages and disadvantages.

Max Weber was the founder of the autocratic and patriarchal style, the charismatic style and the bureaucratic style. He adapted these three leadership styles to the management of employees in individual companies.

The autocratic style and the patriarchal style

The autocratic leadership style contains unrestricted autocracy. Employees are not allowed to participate in important decisions affecting the company. Instead, leaders expect their subordinates to show disciplined and obedient work habits. This leadership style follows a strict hierarchy. In addition, executives control and sanction their subordinates.

The patriarchal style of leadership resembles the autocratic one. It is mainly found in family businesses. The person responsible for making decisions is the only individual in charge. However, the leader must fulfill a role model function that can be equated with that of a patriarch.

The benefits of these leadership styles are that employees know what rules to follow. The time required for making important corporate decisions is extremely short because the employees are not allowed a say. Many organizations that practice this type of leadership report a short-term increase in employee performance because their work can be easily verified thanks to the patriarchal leadership style.

In these types of leadership, however, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. The creativity of the members of the organization as well as the motivation promoted by being able to contribute their own ideas to bring the business forward, are completely suppressed. Employees with many years of professional experience as well as graduates who are fresh from the university could contribute their knowledge to the further development of the company. It can also lead to wrong decisions, if the decision-making power is the sole responsibility of the one person in charge.

The charismatic style of leadership

The term charisma stands for positive personal aura. Executives who demonstrate this leadership style can drive and motivate their employees to peak performance. These executives are persuasive due to their optimistic view.

Motivated employees are not the only positive result of a charismatic leadership style. Managers are much more flexible in this type of leadership, which means they can better respond to different situations in the organization. The employees have a high degree of self-determination and therefore tackle their work much more willingly and responsibly.

The disadvantages of this style of leadership are its specificity. To become a charismatic leader, you must have charisma. This can only be learned to a limited extent. If the leaders who live this leadership style do not have a positive attitude towards their subordinates, they cannot bring the organization forward.

The bureaucratic style of leadership

The bureaucratic leadership style is subject to strict policies, laws and regulations that all employees must follow. The task area and the corresponding position can be found in the respective job description. Unlike the charismatic leadership style, bureaucratic leadership does not attach the position to nor is it dependent upon a specific person (or his/her specific talents). The superior only carries out his task over a certain period of time. In addition, this leadership position can easily be transferred to another person.

The clarity of work instructions as well as the regulated internal processes are among the two advantages of the bureaucratic leadership style. Also, the relatively small number of wrong decisions that can be made in this type of leadership can be attributed to the benefits of bureaucratic leadership.

However, comparing the advantages and disadvantages of the bureaucratic leadership style, the latter clearly outweigh the former. The limited scope for decision-making can have a negative effect on the mood of the superior. This in turn leads to long-term demotivation of the employees. Both executives and their subordinates do not have the opportunity to make significant changes or take the business forward in any other way. The extremely long decision-making processes also have a negative impact on the company's success.

In the literature, the three leadership styles identified by Kurt Lewin are referred to as the classic leadership styles. They are categorized as the authoritarian, the cooperative and the laissez-fair styles of leadership. These classic types of leadership focus on the four components of satisfaction, productivity, efficiency and the cohesion of the group.

The authoritarian style of leadership

In this type of leadership, the decision-making power rests solely with superiors. Subordinates must abide by their decisions. The introduction of one’s own proposals is undesirable. The executive not only has the sole authority to decide, but also has the right to control subordinates. This type of leadership is known for its distanced relationship between employees and leaders.

The advantages of this type of leadership are the ability to act and decide quickly at any time. This is especially important in crisis situations. It is also clear who is responsible for the decision taken.

The disadvantages are the demotivation of employees. Due to the authority of the leader, employees have no reason to develop their own solutions, to help the company become market leader or continue to excel in the free economy by developing comparative competitive advantages. When the authoritarian leadership style is practiced in a business, the risk of innovation stagnation is high. However, innovative products or services are essential to the success of a business. Another disadvantage that can be attributed to the authoritarian leadership style lies in the high demands of superiors. In addition, the risk that wrong decisions will be made is increased manifold.

The cooperative style of leadership

Employees' opinions play an important role in this approach. They are allowed to participate in important decision-making processes that affect the company. The supervisor, however, still has the opportunity to delegate and issue work instructions to his subordinates.

Leadership styles based on collaboration between superiors and their subordinates have many advantages. Empirical research has shown that the motivation of employees who have been integrated into the decision-making processes of a business was much higher than that of employees who were only allowed to execute the orders of their supervisors. The supervisor promotes the creativity of his subordinates in this cooperative nature of leadership. In addition, the involvement of employees in the decision-making process provides some relief for the company management. In practice, a pleasant operating and working environment can be attested. In addition, companies that prefer the cooperative leadership style achieve far better business results than competitors that specialize exclusively in authoritarian leadership.

However, the cooperative leadership style runs the risk that important decisions cannot be made quickly enough. Even in this type of leadership model, the leader can be overwhelmed, if he is always anxious to make all his employees feel good about what is going on. It may also be that employees are not disciplined in carrying out their duties. However, the disadvantages are minor compared to the advantages.

The Laissez-faire style of leadership

The term “laissez-faire” comes from the French and means "let it happen". In this leadership style, employees have complete freedom in how they do their job. They have a broad scope for action. The group decides on the procedure and takes control of the decisions taken. The supervisor assumes the role of the information broker and is also available as a consultant for emerging issues.

The advantages of this leadership style are attributed to the enormous scope for decision-making on the part of the employees. Their motivation is very high in this type of leadership. The creativity of employees is encouraged. In addition, the high level of personal responsibility promotes the independence of employees.

However, the list of disadvantages that the laissez-fair leadership style entails is much longer than the benefits outlined. In an organization, not all subordinates can do without clear instructions. Discipline can be lost in this type of leadership model, and decisions that are important for the existence of the company cannot be made in time. Some employees run the risk of abusing the leeway left to them by executives. In addition, employees who are more reserved are neglected and less integrated in the decision-making process. This in turn means that these employees perform poorer quality work and therefore, sooner or later, come into conflict with their colleagues.

The democratic style of leadership

This style of leadership is based on collaboration between leaders and their subordinates. Therefore, the leader integrates the opinions of his employees into business decisions. There are group discussions. These serve the joint development of approaches to solutions. Nevertheless, the decision-making power lies with the supervisor. However, he emphasizes that he chose the respective approach under the influence of his subordinates. The employees have a small degree of self-determination and self-control.

The benefits clearly outweigh in the democratic leadership style. Decisions gain in transparency as the employees are involved in the processes. The manager finds some relief the co-decision power of the employees. This in turn leads to a decrease in the number of incorrect decisions. In addition, employees are more motivated and more willing to perform, as they can better identify with the task they are pursuing.

The disadvantage of this style of leadership is the amount of time it takes to make important decisions.

The one-dimensional style of leadership

The one-dimensional leadership style consists of a seven-level model. It consists of the authoritarian, patriarchal, advisory, cooperative, participatory and two different democratic forms of leadership. The one-dimensional presentation of these types of leadership begins with authoritarian leadership and continues until the democratic leadership style is the end of the model. This step-by-step presentation demonstrates how the decision-making power of the supervisor gradually decreases.

The two-dimensional style of leadership

The formulation of the two-dimensional leadership style goes back to two scientists, Robert R. Blake and his colleague, Jane S. Mouton. They were convinced that the behavior displayed by superiors was based on two orientations. The first level is referred to as the factual or production orientation. It is located on the horizontal plane of the display axis. The other level is referred to as employee or people orientation. For these a vertical axis is used. Both the people orientation axis and the production orientation axis are divided into nine small squares. The higher the number of the variables production or people, the more value the manager places on one of these aspects.

In practice, five different types of two-dimensional leadership style are known.

  • Leadership type 1.1. stands for a low interest in human and production orientation. These leaders argue that effective productivity cannot be achieved because man is naturally lazy. The low level of interest in employee orientation stems from the belief that conflict is an integral part of interpersonal relationships of all kinds.
  • A further leadership type, which has emerged in practice, is in position 1.9 in the two-dimensional grid. In this case, the focus is on the employees. The topic of production is in the background.
  • Type 9.1 symbolizes the exact opposite. Production is in the foreground; the employees are incidental. It is generally argued that people should be controlled and led by their superiors.
  • In leadership type 9.9 Both employee and production orientations are at the highest level and are in perfect balance. This case represents the ideal type of leadership.
  • Type 5.5 stands for the golden mean. Again, the two variables human and production are in a balanced relationship.

The benefits of this leadership style are that it illustrates that the ideal way to lead people or a business depends on the two variables "employees" and "productivity".

The disadvantage is that a leader is expected to adapt to one of the five illustrated leadership types. In practice things are different than in theory and they are dependent on the people involved and the situation. Therefore, it is almost unthinkable to fixate on one leadership type.

The three-dimensional style of leadership

This style of leadership explains that the ideal way to lead a group of people does not exist. The three-dimensional style could be considered as the type of leadership that can best be applied in reality. W. J. Reddin formulated the three-dimensional style of leadership. This style is based on the factors tasks, people and effectiveness. The scientist again subdivides these three factors into four other leadership styles, which are described in the literature as neutral. These are composed of relationship, behavior, task and integration style. The three-dimensional leadership style emphasizes that there is no good or bad way to lead people. It is emphasized that leadership can be either effective or ineffective. The focus is on the specific situations in which the company finds itself. Therefore, it is necessary to adapt the management style to any current situation. This in turn depends on the company, the company's goals, the supervisor and the members of the organization.

The advantages of this leadership style are its flexibility. If leaders adapt to the company's situation, it will have a positive effect for everyone involved. The advantage in this case is that different types of management are practiced. Thus, this style of leadership does not run the risk of the company stagnating due to authoritarian or to permanent laissez fair leadership.

The disadvantage of this type of leadership is that it may also be ineffective in some situations. This can have negative consequences for everyone involved. The goal of a company remains profit maximization. However, if a type of leadership is practiced that impedes revenue growth and is ineffective, leadership should be adapted to the situation.