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What are the Styles of Leadership?

Updated on October 17, 2012

Since the beginning of the 20th century behavior scientists have made a concerted effort to research the workings of organizations of all types. One aim of their research has been to gain a deeper understanding of the role of leadership within organizations. Over the course of their studies, organizational scholars and leadership practitioners identified a number of leadership styles. This hub presents brief discussions of some of the leadership styles identified from the 1930s to 2012. The leadership styles that will be discussed in this article include:

  • Authoritarian Autocratic
  • Laissez faire
  • Democratic-Participative
  • Charismatic
  • Situational
  • Transactional
  • Transformational
  • Servant leadership

Authoritarian Autocratic Leadership

Kurt Lewin has been regarded as a pioneer in social, organizational, and applied psychology. In his studies of organizations, Lewin observed and described three management-leadership styles including authoritarian, democratic, and laissez faire. Authoritarian leadership can be characterized as a strictly autocratic, top-down leadership style wherein the leader dictates policy and work assignments without regard to the needs or ideas of the follower-subordinates. Authoritarian leadership involves maintaining absolute control over follower-subordinates.

Democratic-Participative Leadership

The second leadership style identified by Lewin was democratic leadership; also described as participative leadership. Democratic leadership fosters an organizational climate that encourages follower-subordinates to participate in the formulation of policies, processes, and work assignments. Leaders and followers collaborate to make collective decisions about the direction of the organization.

Laissez-faire Leadership

The third leadership approach identified by Lewin was laissez-faire leadership. Organizational directors that adhere to a laissez-faire approach allow subordinates to determine all policies and procedures without participation from the leader. At best, laissez-faire leaders believe followers give their best when left alone.

Charismatic Leadership

Charisma in leaders was first discussed by Sociologist Max Weber. Weber observed that some people have such strong personalities that others assign them authority over them. Weber identified this personality trait as Charisma. Robert House (1976) expanded on Weber's ideas and defined charismatic leadership as the ability to gather followers through personality and charm rather than power ot authority. Charismatic leaders have such overpowering personalities that followers are compelled to unite for the accomplishment of a purpose beyond their natural interest or ability. One problem with this style is that followers seldom take personal ownership of the vision or goal. As such, the employee-subordinates lack intrinsic motivation to carry on the vision of the organization.

Situational Leadership

Situational leadership is a style that shifts approaches depending on the maturity level of followers. Organizational behavior researchers found that leaders spend their time between two general responsibilities - tasks and relationships. In relation to followers, Hersey and Blanchard (1969) posited that leaders relate to employees in varying degrees of the task-relationship continuum depending on the same employee's maturity and competency level. At the lowest level of maturity, the situational leader will use more task-oriented directive communication; at the highest level of maturity, the same department head will delegate responsibility to the follower.

Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership is an approach charactrerized by the assumption that people are motivated by reward and punishment. As such, the leader-follower relationship is based on contingent rewards. Transactional leaders tend to believe that social systems including the workplace operate most efficiently and effectively with a clear chain of command. To the transactional leader, the chief purpose of follower-subordinates is to carry out the orders of the manager.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is a style that motivates follower-subordinates to positive change. Like charismatic leaders, transformational leader exude a quality that compels others to assign them authority. This type of leader brightens up the room whenever the enter it. They are passionate, enthusiastic, and energetic. Unlike charismatic leaders, transformational leaders inspire real change. Their employees not only jump on board; they take ownership of the vision and change their own way of thinking. Transformational leaders care not only for organizational needs and goals, but also take in to account the needs of subordinates. Albeit, the organizational objectives and goals are primary above the needs of the subordinates.

Servant Leadership

Although espoused and exemplified by historical and religious figures like Jesus of Nazareth, servant leadership is based on the writings of Robert Greenleaf (1970, 1977, 1998). Robert Greenleaf conceptualized the servant leadership style after reading a smal book called Journey to the East by Hermann Hesse. Greenleaf opined that modern organizations would work best if servants became leaders. That is, Greenleaf foresaw that a corporate director who espoused this style of leadership would see himself as a servant first and then as a leader. Moreover, Greenleaf described the servant leader as one who is follower-centered to the extent that the needs of the followers were given priority over the needs of the organization and the leader's own needs. Larry Spears, a colleague of Greenleaf, gleaned 10 characteristics of a servant leader including:

  • Listening
  • Empathy
  • Healing
  • Awareness
  • Persuasion
  • Conceptualization
  • Foresight
  • Stewardship
  • Commitment to the growth of people
  • Building community

Servant leadership may be the natural culmination of the evolutionary progression from strict command and control societies to free and fair societies that the world has witnessed from the time of the Renaissance and Reformation in the 15th and 16th centuries.


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    • ecoggins profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Corona, California

      tsadjatko ...thank you...good choice of image too.

    • tsadjatko profile image

      6 years ago from now on

      "By the way thank you tsadjatko I like a hardy debate, don't you?" Of course, but posing questions that sound good doesn't justify failed policies or misguided attempts to solve the question simply because the goal is noble or well intentioned.

      I think the statement "The deficit is the result of unrealistic policies espoused on both sides of aisle." though true implies a more complicated cause and solution. Simply stated the deficit is the result of too much wasted spending and the solution is to cut spending and waste - forget the policies, get rid of them or leave them but stop spending on them and cut waste.

      "...a hardy debate"? This is what I have to say about that...

    • ecoggins profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Corona, California

      teaches12345 thank you again for your encouraging thoughts. You raise an excellent question that would be interesting to explore if one could find enough information.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      These are all great traits of a leader, especially the listed 10. I would be interesting to know how leadership was viewed prior to the 1930s. How had this role changed and what have we missed? Great hub post and very informative. Voted up.

    • ecoggins profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Corona, California

      thecashadvance. Thank you for your input. Charismatic leaders can get people moving. A charismatic leader with a strong moral-ethical compass and a vision for the betterment of all the people would certainly make a huge difference.

    • thecashadvance profile image


      6 years ago

      We need Charismatic Leaders right now, but seems that in our sociaty they`re missing.

    • ecoggins profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Corona, California

      By the way thank you tsadjatko I like a hardy debate, don't you?

    • ecoggins profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Corona, California

      For all who read my comment above, please do not paint me as ambivalent to the blight of the poor or underprivileged. In another hub I wrote about what is a conservative, I showed that a recent study by a liberal leaning Ivy League scholar researched and found that conservatives give four times more funds and time to charities and the cause of the underprivileged than their liberal counterparts. The best leaders keep all stakeholders in mind in order to address all needs in a balanced manner, as much as humanly possible.

    • ecoggins profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Corona, California

      I did not vote for President Obama nor will I do so in the upcoming election. He and I do not share the same views in most areas. However, the current economic and employment problems are the makings of policies from both sides of the congressional aisle. The deficit is the result of unrealistic policies espoused on both sides of aisle. If the opinions of the majority of Americans were the litmus test for what constitutes real leadership then we would still have slavery in America. Leadership stands and acts by conviction in the face of all opposition. Rightly or wrongly (I say wrongly), this President has lived true to his ideology and has acted accordingly. His objectives were not and are not hidden. He was going to be the champion of the underprivileged (not so much the middle class as he likes to say, but the underprivileged). Whether I like it or not, he has stayed true to himself and I admire him for it. I will not vote for him because he does not share my social and fiscal conservative values. Yet true leaders stand up for what they think is right even in the face the majority.

      Are healthcare costs not astronomical? What is your solution? I can fly to Thailand and receive world class medical care for 75 to 99% less than this country including airfare and lodging. I've done it so I know. This is the greatest country on earth, why can't I do even better here?

      The private sector is the best way to grow the economy. But, do we not need good roads by which to transport goods? If roads and bridges are unpassable, how will a manufacturing enterprise transport their goods for the least amount of shipping costs? One solution is to pass the job on to the States. But, the States do not have any money to pay for the services they already provide. Why don't the States have any money? Because greedy big banks on Wall Street and little citizens on Main Street decided to sell and buy houses the little citizens could not afford. This happened all because the democrats loved the little guy and wanted to give them a chance to own their own homes and republicans loved the big bankers and wanted to give them a chance to cash in bigger stock options. Nonetheless, the manufacturing enterprise still needs good roads and bridges to transport their goods. So how do those roads get built? Who pays for it? If they cannot transport more goods then how will they sell enough goods to grow their business and hire more employees to bring unemployment down? Talking about drinking the kool aid and swooning under the wave one's own ideology. When will you begin to think for yourself and stop being a hose that only streams the party line.

      When it came to immigration, Bush loved illegal immigrants and turned a blind eye. Why? Because he knew that the chance to hire them would cut down the overhead of farms and businesses around the country. He also did it according to his compassionate conservativism by which he regarded every human being as valuable and worthy of the chance to make a living and support their families. I personally don't agree with the Dream act or the wave of immigrant friendly legislation passed in my home state of California. I have three children in college and each of their Cal Grants will be cut in order to give children of undocumented families a piece of the pie. Open borders also opens the channels for those who do not share our Constitutional rights and values to erode them by giving them opportunity to voice their own ideologies that are less democratic and friendly to fundamental freedoms.

      Still, rightly or wrongly, leadership is about standing up for one's convictions and President Obama has attempted to do that. I don't like all his convictions so I will vote against him. But his agenda has not been hidden. So get your Senator to impeach him or get out and gather votes to defeat him.

      President Obama naively or purposefully has taken a more conciliatory tone towards foreign policy. I lived abroad in Southeast Asia for six years during the Bush Administration. When I did, I interacted with peoples from countries throughout Asia, Europe, and Australia. Most Asians thought relatively highly of the US and Americans, but the Europeans and Australians thought very little the US. The president following Bush had to take a more friendly and collaborative stance to the world at large. Obama said he would do that and he has. In the case of the Middle East, Russia, and China did he go too far perhaps. Is the extent of Arab Spring his fault maybe? Did he abandon Israel our only true ally could be, it is too early to tell. Still he took a more conciliatory stance in general because Bush's policies eroded America's moral authority around the world. He had to kowtow to China because of the amount of American debt China holds used primarily to fight our wars.

      I am not blind to Obama's ideologies or schemes. He has stood his ground as any good leader will. I knew he would so I did not vote for him. I am waiting for reparations for slavery to come in his second term. Talk about redistribution of wealth. I will not vote for him. You're right, his healthcare bill is not affordable and a burden for the middle class. I did not and will not vote for him. I think he is leading by neither his brain or his behind but by his heart. I admire for it. My ideology does not make me blind to see that he leads from his own ideology and conviction. Even though I admire him for standing up for his convictions, I do not agree with his convictions so I will not vote for him.

    • tsadjatko profile image

      6 years ago from now on

      :-)You really need to get your facts straight. Plans to ending the Iraq war were in place during the Bush administration, Obama simply carried them out and took credit when in realty as a senator he voted against the surge that ended the war.

      Al Qaeda is alive and well despite the contortions the administration goes through to try to coverup that fact (labeling Fort hood a workplace violence, covering up the cause of the death our ambassador in Benghazi). Even he has stop saying on the campaign trail "Al Qaeda is on the run" while the administration, it was just recently reported, is considering extending the 2014 date of leaving Afghanistan, because the situation there is disintegrating daily. He started pulling troops out in the middle of the fighting season there for God's sake!

      Attempted healthcare? He rammed through legislation no one read, the public was against and on a false premise that it was not a tax. It would never have passed as a tax even with the democrats, who by the way were the only ones to vote for it (bipartisan? not in your life) and now we now know it will cost over twice what they estimated, raise taxes on the middle class substantially and has killed economic growth already although it isn't fully implemented - if it was a feather in his cap he'd be running on it - instead he is running away from it.

      Student loan debt has recently reached over 1 trillion dollars, more than both auto loan debt and credit card debt combined! And college graduates can not find a job. "Gee, I'm saving $9 a month on my student loan interest but I will never be able to get a job and pay it off."

      Why don't you research your statements before propagandizing your readers? Try this:

      He promised immigration reform and said he would introduce a bill immediately when elected in 2008 - and he had a super majority in both houses so he could have passed anything he wanted - but he passed and broke another promise.

      When you referred to "Leading from behind" that was his administration's description of his foreign policy, not his domestic agenda so you haven't even gotten that right...and I categorized his "Leading from behind" policy as Leading from the behind, because it appears to me he uses his behind and not his brain, or his brain is located in his behind, have it which ever way you want.

      It seems to me that you want to swoon over someone you even admit has trashed the constitution and actually failed on almost every count, yet he gets accolades for trying? That is not leadership by any definition. Shouldn't an author of a hub on leadership styles point out when a style of governing is actually not leadership instead of endorsing it? I wonder.

    • ecoggins profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Corona, California

      karthikkash & tsadjatko, thank you both for your encouraging comments. I appreciate them very much.

      tsadjatko, is Obama truly leading from behind? Even if you do not like his policies or positions, did he not end the war in Iraq like he said he would? Did he not go after Bin Laden and Al Qaeda operatives like he said he would? Did he not at least attempt to make affordable healthcare available to more American citizens like he said he would? Did he not lessen the burden of students overburdened by student loans? Did he not reinstate America as the land of opportunity for children born to undocumented immigrants, like he said he would?

      He maybe wrong. He might have acted unconstitutionally in some cases. He may even be going it alone. But, is he truly leading from behind? Given that the USA's biggest trouble is the economy, he may not be the best person for the job. But, I cannot say that he has not at least attempted to fulfill his campaign promises. In fact the economy was so messed up before he took office no one could have fixed it in four years.

    • tsadjatko profile image

      6 years ago from now on

      Very good hub up, useful and interesting!

      However you forgot to include the one style of leadership made famous by President Obama - I think it is called "Leading from the behind"? Unless... oh yes, on second thought I understand why you left it out - it really isn't leadership at all! :-)

    • karthikkash profile image

      Karthik Kashyap 

      6 years ago from India

      nice hub.. voted up and shared it :)


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