Leadership Styles

The dominant behaviour pattern of a leader-manager in relation to his subordinates is known as leadership style. There are three basic styles of leadership as follows:

1)    Autocratic or Authoritative Style

2)    Democratic or Participative Style and

3)    Laissez-faire or Free-rein Style.


Autocratic or Authoritative Style

An autocratic leader centralises power and decision-making in himself and exercises complete control over the subordinates. In this style, subordinates are compelled to follow the orders of the leader under threat of penalties. They have no opportunity to take part in goal-setting, or take initiative or make suggestions. They are subject to close supervision and, thus have a tendency to avoid responsibility. The autocratic manager has little concern for the well-being of employees, who suffer from frustration and low morale. They do not have any sense of belonging to the organisation and try to work as little as possible.

Limitations : It should be clear from the above that there are several limitations of the autocratic style of leadership.

i)     It results in low morale due to the inner dissatisfaction of employees.

ii)    Efficiency of production goes down in the long run.

iii)   It does not permit development of future managers from among capable subordinates.

Despite the above limitations, autocratic leadership can be successfully applied in the following situations:

i)     When subordinates are incompetent and inexperienced.

ii)    The leader prefers to be active and dominant in decision-making.

iii)   The company endorses fear and punishment for disciplinary techniques.

iv)   There is a little room for error in final accomplishment.

v)    Under conditions of stress when great speed and efficiency are required.

Since the leader-manager takes all decisions in autocratic style, there is uniformity and consistency in decision-making.


Democratic or Participative Style

The democratic style is also known as participative style. In this style, decisions are taken by the leader in consultation with the subordinates and with their participation in the decision making process. The participative leader encourages subordinates to make suggestions and take initiative in setting goals and implementing decisions. This enables subordinates to satisfy their social and ego needs, which in turn, lead to their commitment to the organisation goals and higher productivity. Frequent interaction between the manager and subordinates helps to build up mutual faith and confidence.

Several benefits can be derived from the participative style of leadership as listed below:

i)     It helps subordinates to develop their potential abilities and assume greater responsibilities.

ii)    It provides job satisfaction and improves the morale of employees.

iii)   The group performance can be sustained at a high level due to the satisfied and cohesive nature of the group.

However, the democratic style cannot be regarded as the best style under all circumstances. Its limitations are as follows:

i)     Decisions taken through consultation may cause delay and require compromises to meet different viewpoints.

ii)    A few vocal individuals may dominate the decision-making process.

iii)   No one individual may take the responsibility for implementing the decision taken by the group as a whole.

Despite the above limitations, democratic style is suitable in the following situations:

i)     When subordinates are competent and experienced.

ii)    The leader prefers participative decision-making process.

iii)   Rewards and involvement are used as the primary means of motivation and control.

iv)   The leader wishes to develop analytical and self-control abilities in his subordinates.

v)    The organisation has clearly communicated its goals and the objectives to the subordinates.


Laissez Faire Leadership Style

Laissez faire leadership style is just the opposite of autocratic style. A manager, who adopts this style, completely gives up his leadership role. The subordinate group is allowed to make decisions and it is left to the members of the group to do as they like. The role of any leader is absent. The group members enjoy full freedom as regards goal-setting and acting on it. Hence, there is chaos and mismanagement of group goals. However, laissez faire leadership is found to be quite suitable where the subordinates are well-trained, competent and the leader-manager is able to fully delegate the powers of decision-making and action to the subordinates.

Laissez faire style is suitable in the following situations:

i)     When leader is interested in delegating decision-making fully.

ii)    Subordinates are well trained and highly knowledgeable.

iii)   Organisation goals have been communicated.

Despite a few suitability, this style should be adopted rarely because it may lead to chaos and mismanagement.

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