Posted on October 8th, 2008
Depending on the mix of these factors, one’s style can range from highly structured (or authoritative), to moderately structured (or participative), to minimally structured (or permissive). Authoritative leaders maintain strong control over the people in the group, give orders and expect others to obey, dominate the group, and motivate others with fear or rewards. With this style, work often proceeds smoothly, productivity is often high, and procedures are usually well defined; however, creativity, autonomy, and self-motivation are stifled, and the needs of group members go unrecognized.
Laissez-faire or permissive leaders use a nondirective style. In addition, they are generally inactive and passive. In fact, one may question whether they are leaders at all because they do not work actively to move the group forward. With this style, group members have a great deal of freedom and self-control. Nevertheless, group members can become disinterested and apathetic, goals may remain unclear, group members receive little or no feedback on their contributions, and often there is confusion about the procedures that guide the work of the group. This style of leadership results in group activity that is usually unproductive, inefficient, and unsatisfying for group members.
Perhaps the most effective style is that practiced by democratic or participative leaders. Democratic leaders talk about “we” rather than “I,” ask stimulating questions, make suggestions rather than issue commands, provide constructive criticism, and are egalitarian. The participative leader has confidence in the ability of group members and actively stimulates and guides them to use their abilities to achieve the group’s goals. In this situation, the leader and the followers are mutually responsive, communication is multidirectional, and any member of the group is expected to assume the role of leader as the situation requires.
Situational details also affect the type of leadership style that is most appropriate. In times of crisis, an authoritarian style may be the most appropriate one for a leader to use. On the other hand, when there is no time pressure to complete a task and the group is a mature one, the permissive style may be most effective. Finally, when one is working to implement changes in a system, using the participative style is apt to yield the best results. Keys to effective leadership are:
1. Using the style most appropriate to the group and the task or situation at hand
2. Using it at the right time
3. Being flexible enough to attend to the needs of the followers
4. Using the talents of all group members
5. Meeting the goals of the group