Three basic leadership styles are associated with the Lewin Studies.
Kurt Lewin, along with Lippett and White, conducted research and identified three basic leadership styles: Autocratic, Democratic, and Laissez-faire.
The premise is that a leader uses one of three styles when approaching the group of people they are leading. It further proposes that the style does not change based on the situation but is fixed.
The first style identified by the Lewin Studies is the Autocratic Leader. The leader with this style tends to be one-way: leader to the people.
An autocracy is a system of government in which the decision making is concentrated in the hands of one person. Therefore, an autocratic leader tends to be dictatorial, “uses strong, directive, controlling actions to enforce the rules, regulations, activities and relationships in the work environment.”
There is a "place" for this type of leadership behavior: in an emergency situation where lives are at stake and there is no time to include other points of view. As a rule, this type of behavior has very little "place" in the normal day to day operations of most organizations.
Democratic leadership is also known as Participative Management. Therefore, Lewin describes a democratic leader as collaborative, interactive with followers and seeks buy-in concerning decisions about the work and work environment. Although followers have input, the leader has ultimate decision-making authority, but is willing to share that authority.
This type of leader generally inspires team members, is inclusive and values the opinions of those he or she is leading.
Lewin's Laissez-faire Leader is often referred to as “non leadership” since the leader fails to accept the responsibilities of the position and use his/her influence to create win win situations. This style often results in chaos and loss of respect for the person occupying the leadership position.
At some point on my leadership journey, I displayed at least two styles identified in the Lewin's Studies. As I matured and the leader within me emerged, I moved more towards a Democratic Style. By far, Participative Management (in balance) generates more positive returns – both tangible and intangible – for the organization and the team.
Just as there are different Leadership Styles or Types, there are different follower types. For more, please see R. E. Kelley's description of the five Types of Followers.
- Tom Peters