The theory behind leadership: 3 styles scrutinized by psychologists

There’s no doubt that “leadership” has become a buzzword of the business world over the last few years. Whether it’s through the media, and the fact that business leaders are now much more accessible, we won’t speculate. However, there’s much more interest in the philosophy, and this can be emphasized through the fact it is spoken about so much in online MBA programs, right the way through to the business press.

It’s probably the former that we are going to concentrate on today. After all, most business publications will focus on the glamorous-side of leadership, and perhaps show how certain individuals have used their style to reshape companies and ultimately become world-renowned. From more of an educational standpoint, there is a lot of psychology behind leadership, and one individual who has been at the forefront of this is Kurt Lewin.

Lewin actually developed a framework on leadership back in the 1930s. The fact it has survived the test of time probably tells you exactly how it was received, and through the course of today’s post we will mull over three areas to highlight just how you can apply these philosophies to your business.

The autocratic approach

Let’s start with the first approach that Lewin included in his framework. Autocratic leadership is all about you making the decisions without any input from any of your team. It doesn’t matter if this input would assist you, it is ignored as a matter of principle.

Some might view this as quite an arrogant approach, but it does have its uses. If you need to make a quick decision, this is regarded as the most effective means of doing so. Additionally, some industries, such as the military where life and death is at stake, dictate that an automatic approach is the right method to follow.

Of course, used in the wrong manner, and this can be a hugely demoralizing method.

The democratic approach

As you may have already gathered, this is the polar opposite to automatic leadership. This time, while you will make the final decision, there is plenty of input from others in your team. In other words, everyone contributes in a bid to make the final decision.

On paper, this certainly seems to be a method that would promote plenty of job satisfaction, but again there are caveats. While this might be true, it’s not always effective as it can result in decisions taking longer than they really should.

The Laissez-faire approach

Another approach that Lewin identified was Laissez-faire. This is the approach which involves more freedom than ever before for workers, who are even permitted to set their own deadlines. While leaders might provide advice, this is only if it is required and on most occasions they don’t get involved.

As one might expect, job satisfaction levels tend to be high with this approach. However, it does depend on your team being able to manage their time well and having a decent knowledge of their area of work. If they don’t, managers can lose control of a team very quickly.


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