Whenever one person influences an individual or group toward accomplishing an objective, leadership occurs. Leadership is thus defined as the process of influencing a group or individual to set or achieve a goal.
There is no one correct way to lead an individual or group. In different situations a manager is required to be an educator, counselor, judge, spokesperson, initiator of action, or order giver. How managers choose to lead – their styles – will depend on the interactions among the manager (leader), the subordinates (the led), and the organizational environment (work and the work situation).
Leadership can be viewed as a special relationship between each manager and each individual or group. This relationship is in turn influenced by the work environment.
In practicing leadership managers use different leadership styles. What are they and why are they used?
Leadership style is the approach a manager uses to influence subordinates. This influence may take the form of making a decision for a subordinate, guiding, the subordinate in decision making, or simply providing a topic for a subordinate to decide on.
The range of styles can be grouped under three headings: autocratic, participative, and free-rein.
The autocratic leadership style is characterized by decision making solely by the manager: subordinates are excluded from the process. Variations of this approach find the manager making the decision and then “selling” it to employees or making the decision and allowing the group to ask questions. This type of leadership style is appropriate in dealing with crises, short deadlines, new trainers, or less motivated subordinates who need firm supervision. Managers who use the autocratic leadership style inappropriately, however, deny themselves the value of subordinates suggestions and talents. In addition, limited involvement in problem solving can hinder a subordinate’s ability to handle additional responsibility and will limit the opportunity for promotion.
The participative leadership style is characterized by the manager involving the subordinates in the decision. The involvement in decision making is a matter of degree. It can range from the first to the last of the following four options of participation.
- The manager presents a tentative solution subject to change based on employee input.
- The manager presents a problem to the employees, asks for their input, and makes a decision.
- The manager defines a problem and the employees make a decision.
- The managers and employees jointly make a decision. (The manager and employees are equal.)
The use of participative style should aid in building individual employee support and assist in developing the employees’ talents.
Participation is based on the theory that ‘two heads are better than one.” Tapping the talent of employees who know and understand the job should improve the quality of decision making. In addition, taking part in the decision makes it “our” not “yours.” Finally, people who have been involved in decisions will be better able to exercise judgment and handle more responsibilities.
The free-rein or laissez-faire leadership style is characterized by the leader permitting the subordinates to function independently. The leader exercise little direct supervision over subordinates, allowing them to use considerable judgment in accomplishing tasks. In applying this style the leader either sets limits and followers work out their own problems or the individuals set their own goals. Free-rein leadership works well when employees understand and support company objectives and know the frame work within which they must work.
A manager would use a free-rein style when dealing with competent, motivated people who have the knowledge and skills to accomplish tasks without direct supervision. The director of a medical clinic, for example, does not have to be involved in every decision made by a staff of doctors. The same is usually true of the director of a laser laboratory or the senior partner in a firm of certified public accountants.
Which Style is the Best?
The answer to the question is – it depends. Remember, the best leadership style on the situation: the leader, the led, and the work environment. A successful manager needs to vary the leadership style depending on the situation. By providing appropriate leadership the will increase the opportunity to develop motivated workers and create a positive work environment.