A leader is someone who motivates, guides, and supports their teams on a daily basis. Leadership styles refer to how a leader achieves this; in other words, the method a leader adopts to direct and motivate organisational goals with their teams. As leaders work across different domains, various authors aim to identify and capture numerous styles alongside it. To envision this, imagine the multitude of individuals you consider leaders, and you will begin to notice their managerial differences for jobs in Malta and internationally.
Understanding leadership styles are important for a workplace context as these are the individuals able to influence and inspire change, from an organisational to a social and political level. They construct largely populated platforms that lead, inspire, and innovate. Various leadership styles exist in research; however, this article will follow the top six most popular leadership styles to date.
The Autocratic Leader
Autocratic leaders, also known as authoritarian leaders, set clear and manageable expectations in getting a task done. They confront the what, where, and how, focusing their strengths between their leadership and followers. Autocratic leaders hold a divisive outlook toward followers, often making decisions independently of group contribution. With this in mind, autocratic leaders focus on efficiency and view other styles of leadership (such as a democratic leader) a hindrance to progress.
For Salin & Hoel (2010), autocratic leaders create a feared climate among followers, who find futility in addressing any concerns or complaints with their leader. As a result, Forsyth (2014) found group members report lesser satisfaction with these kinds of leaders as opposed to ones with a more democratic style. Typically, autocratic leaders present themselves in occupations that require quick decision-making, such as in the military or policing jobs.
The Democratic Leader
The democratic leader, unlike the autocratic leader, favours social equality with followers. Leaders and group members actively share their contributions, prioritising togetherness in decision-making situations. Group members, with their varied skills and attributes, partake in discussions whilst the present leader guides a productive conversation. In this way, a democratic leader manages decisions in order to maintain a supportive flow.
With the involvement of group members, this style is a favourite among researchers for its positive relationship with productivity and job satisfaction. Group morale improves as all members contribute creative solutions toward problem-solving, leading to a more effective way to navigate projects and tasks. Although democratic leadership is effective, there are some downfalls to this style, namely related to time management. Leaders have to be wary of time-sensitive assignments to ensure enough time for group members to successfully contribute in their remote or in-office jobs. Failure to communicate effectively can hinder or remit a project altogether.
The Laissez-faire Leader
Alongside the autocratic and democratic leaders originally described by Lewin, Lippitt, & White (1939), these researchers described the laissez-faire leader as one who gave full authority to followers. Group members such as software developers, engineers, and others, are free to make decisions following their work until task completion. This autonomy goes uninterrupted unless members request guidance from leaders.
Such a leadership style shouldn’t be applied when group members require delegation and continuous feedback. Compared to the aforementioned leadership styles, the laissez-faire style is less productive than the others, including lower reported group satisfaction than a democratic style (Forsyth, 2010). Additionally, with less input from the leader, group roles are poorly defined, affecting group morale as a whole.
That being said, there are times when laissez-faire leaders can be effective. This is true for groups that are:
Highly skilled and experienced,
Willing to drive a project independently, and
Already experts in the field and do not need any leader’s input.
However, it is worth nothing that these factors alone would mean a higher chance of effectiveness and productivity, independent of leadership style. The observations made by Lewin et al. (1939) on autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire leaders were the starting points in leadership literature that led to more modern frameworks to consider in office and remote jobs; the transactional, transformational, and situational leader.
The Modern Leader
Transactional leaders motivate their decisions based on rewards and punishment, either praising an employee for their efforts or scolding their poor performance on a job. This leadership style presents clearly defined goals and action points that allows leaders to reward or punish accordingly. In other words, performance reviews are based on whether employees satisfy and meet their goals or not.
One advantage of leadership style is defined roles, where group members understand going in that their role is to obey their leader (Hussain et al., 2017). Members know that they will receive feedback once their transaction is complete and supervision from leaders are available when needed. This can motivate employees to work harder to receive rewards, however, contrarily leave creative individuals disappointed as their unique input is more likely to be stifled with this leadership style.
Consistently researched by Bernard M. Bass, transformational leadership remains the most favoured style among the rest. This is because transformational leaders are motivating and inspiring, whilst prioritising communication to support group members throughout their careers. They lead with purpose and challenge group members to achieve their full potential.
Transformational leaders tend to exhibit positive energy, are emotionally intelligent, and their drive is exuberant. Their avid commitment towards team members and their development assists in meeting common organisational goals. Research consistently displays this leadership style to outperform the rest in terms of higher performance, satisfaction, and overall employee wellbeing.
Different than the other leadership styles presented in this article, situational leadership theories reiterate the importance of environmental and contextual factors that influence leadership styles. Research in this style explores the relationship between group members and leaders, and how the skills level of members influences leadership style development. For example, a leader working in IT might lead differently than a leader who works a finance job. In this way, leaders amend their style according to their group and hence it is generally a situational process.
To illustrate the above point, Blanchard et al. (2013) amended a pre-established model on situational leadership, identifying four key different styles:
Directing: Leaders who order and direct members whilst offering little guidance.
Coaching: Leaders who provide orders to team members but are also available to offer support.
Supporting: Leaders who provide a lot of support to members, however, lack concrete decision-making and order.
Delegating: Leaders who don’t offer support or ordered direction.
All in all, leadership styles help us understand how different leaders motivate and influence group members. Each provide certain characteristics that possess both advantages and disadvantages, and so far, transformational leadership remains the most popular style recommended to leaders to adopt. That being said, it is also worth considering the circumstances given to the leader and understanding their situational contexts as well.
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