There are essentially three leadership styles—authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire– which I will discuss to help you determine which to apply to different situations. Simply defined, authoritarian leaders rule authoritatively by making all the decisions; democratic leaders rule by including everyone in the decision-making process; and laissez-faire leaders rule non-authoritatively by allowing the team to function without much, if any, interference. Ask yourself which one is your style?  Is it working for you and your team?  Could another style be more effective?  The answers to these questions and more follow.

Authoritarian Leader

If you’ve ever heard a leader described as “ruling with an iron fist,” this refers to an authoritarian leader.   Stories of tyrannical or dictatorial leaders that mistreat team members have given authoritarian leaders a bad name.  However, an authoritative leader can be effective if they view team members to be as important as the results they achieve.  People who are naturally goal-oriented and direct often use this leadership style.   While asserting authority may yield results for the short term, it can be detrimental to the morale of the team over the long term if the leader is perceived to be too controlling.

Democratic Leader

The democratic leader encourages participation by involving all team members in the decision-making process. This boosts team morale, as members feel valued and respected for their contributions, while leaving final decisions to be made by the team leader. The leader acts as a “captain,” by showing the crew the way to go to obtain the greatest results.  Democratic leadership opens up the door to new and innovative ideas.  Team members feel more involved and committed to achieving results, and, as a result, productivity rises.

Laissez-faire Leader

This leader functions more as a teammate than a leader and rarely asserts him or herself as dominant. Perhaps, this style can be effective with an established team that has clearly defined goals. However, in my experience seeing this style in action, when employees are left to work on their own for long periods of time without direct supervision, productivity falls. If this scenario sounds familiar to you, don’t turn a blind eye to a problem that can escalate and become cancerous to the organization.  Rather, make a change in your leadership style.

When to Change Your Leadership Style?

The key to being a great leader is knowing yourself and your strengths so you can identify the leadership style that will work best for you.  You must also know your team and what motivates them.  And finally, you must have a clear goal that is understood by the entire team.  If your leadership style is not working, consider changing it.

Look at leadership as a relationship. Yes, a relationship. In every relationship, you have pros and cons.  Start by identifying the cons of the relationship (what’s not working) and determine what you can do to change things and improve results.   Analyze the leadership style you are using and whether it is best suited to your specific situation.  If your team consists primarily of employees who need constant supervision, and a few that need little or no supervision, seek a strategic way to lead the team, rather than a  one size fits all approach.

As leaders, it is essential to keep team morale high by empowering and publicly praising team members.  It also requires trust that comes from admitting when you are wrong, accepting constructive criticism,  and making changes when your leadership is ineffective.  On this note, it is my opinion that “changing leadership styles”  starts with you. I conclude with these words; “A true Leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a Leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent” ~ Douglas MacArthur.