Leadership Styles

Leadership styles Autocratic, Democratic and Free rein

Leadership Styles

In today’s rapidly changing business landscape, effective leadership is important for the success of every organization. Leadership style plays an important role in determining the success of a team or organization. Leadership styles define how leaders inspire, direct, and manage teams to achieve common goals. It plays a major role in guiding teams, driving innovation, and fostering a positive work culture in the organisation.

A leadership style encompasses a leader’s methods, characteristics, and behaviours in directing, motivating and managing their teams.

Leaders’ leadership style plays a crucial role in shaping their strategies, implementing plans, adapting to changes, and managing stakeholder expectations and team well-being.

Embracing the appropriate leadership style nurtures a positive work culture, fosters innovation, and unlocks the maximum potential of individuals and organizations.

Below are explanations of three different types of leadership styles.

1. Autocratic leadership 

2. Democratic leadership 

3. Free  rein leadership 

The figure given below illustrates different types of leadership styles based on authority.

Leadership Styles

1) Autocratic Leadership Style

Autocratic leadership emphasizes a top-down approach, where leaders make decisions without seeking any input from team members.

An autocratic leader, often referred to as a “dictator,” gives commands that subordinates must follow.  An autocratic leader devises strategies and plans for the group without involving them in the process. They provide limited information about future plans and only communicate immediate steps to the group members.

He gives personal praise or criticism to each member on his own initiative and remains detached from the group for the majority of the time. In this style, the leader centralizes all decision making power.

A leader adopting this style emphasizes their authority to make decisions and expects subordinates to fulfil their obligations by following instructions. He does not give subordinates the freedom to influence their behaviour. He tolerates no deviation from the orders. His subordinates fully depend upon him and are unaware of the goals of the organization

The leader accepts and understands full responsibility decision making for initiating action and for motivating, directing, and controlling his subordinates.

The autocratic leader may believe they are the only qualified and capable individual, assuming their subordinates are incapable or unwilling to guide themselves. They may have additional reasons for seeking a strong position of supervision and control.

The autocratic style is efficient, needs little or no time to consult others during the decision making process, and works well in developing situations when decisions must be made and acted on quickly and without question.

Advantages of the autocratic leadership styles

Some of the advantages of the autocratic leadership style are as follows:

i) Facilitates Fast Decision-Making 

It can be used where there is the pressure of time. In times of crises or emergencies, decision making  is faster when only one person is involved in the process. In situations like these, there is limited time to consult people and call for their participation to make decisions.

ii) Increased Productivity

The “leader is watching” style motivates managers to work hard as the oversight that an autocratic manager exerts over a team improves their working speed and makes them less likely to slack. 
This style is suitable for employees who lack motivation and show little interest or concern for the speed or quality of work.

iii) Reduces Stress

In the autocratic style, as the leader has significant responsibility for every task, managers will feel comforted, and reduce their stress levels to know that leaders have control over their fate. 

iv) Helpful in Training New Employees

The autocratic leadership style is appropriate when the leader is training others who are new and untrained at the job to make decisions. Fresh or unskilled workers usually do not know which method to follow. The leader acts as a coach, demonstrating competence, and motivating employees to develop new skills. The leader closely supervises the new employees, leading them through detailed orders and instructions.

v) Improved Logistics of Operations

Efficient logistics management, led by a capable leader, not only ensures the smooth flow of goods and services, but also boosts productivity, saves costs, and enhances customer satisfaction. With one leader heavily involved in multiple areas, there is a higher chance of detecting problems early and meeting deadlines.

Disadvantages of the autocratic leadership styles

The disadvantages of the autocratic leadership style are as follows:

i) Discourages Follower’s Development

It fails to develop leadership skills in the team members since the leader makes all decisions. This kind of leadership style discourages creativity, leadership and innovation.

ii) Increases Leader’s Workload

By taking on as much responsibility and involvement as possible, autocratic leader naturally works at their full capacity, which can lead long long-term stress and health problems that could break working relationships with co-workers. This hyper-focus on work comes at the cost of good leadership development.

iii) Induces Fear and Resentment

The excessive control and power exerted by autocratic leaders can create a hostile and oppressive work environment. Due to this employees may feel intimidated, silenced, and afraid to voice their opinions or make suggestions. This lack of psychological safety and trust can lead to a sense of resentment and disengagement, as employees feel undervalued and unsupported. The fear of negative consequences and the absence of open communication also contribute to the development of animosity towards the leader and the organization.

iv) Leads to Frustration

Employees may find autocratic leadership frustrating due to its restrictive and controlling nature. The lack of employee involvement in decision-making processes and the limited opportunities for feedback and input can make them feel undervalued and demotivated. The lack of empowerment and autonomy can result in frustration and hindrance to overall job satisfaction and productivity of employees.

v) Exploits People

Some leaders use threats, and abuse of power when working with people to make faster decisions in the short term. Thus, this type of style of leadership is insensitive to other people’s feelings.

2) Democratic Leadership Style

The participative leadership style decentralises managerial authority. The leader’s decision is taken after consultation with his followers and after they participate in the decision-making process. He sees to it that policies are worked out in group discussions and with the acceptance of the group. He makes it clear that praise or blame is a matter for the group and participates in the group as a member. Unlike an autocratic manager who controls through the authority he possesses, a participative manager exercises control mostly by using forces within the group.

Leaders highly esteem the democratic leadership style for its participatory nature and its focus on the well-being of individuals. This approach promotes collaboration and involvement in decision-making processes.

The participative leader establishes trust; hence, close supervision of the staff is not necessary. The democratic leadership style produces the most positive results in terms of such things as productivity, loyalty, enthusiasm, flexibility, people development, and freedom of expression. However, the leader makes it clear that if the staff cannot come to a decision, he retains the right to do so.

Advantages of the democratic leadership styles

Some of the advantages of the democratic leadership style are as follows:

i) Increases Acceptance of Management’s Ideas

The leader works with his staff and they reach decisions by either agreement or consensus. Thus, it increases the acceptance of management’s ideas and the cooperation between management and employees.

ii) Effective Utilisation of Follower’s Knowledge

People’s abilities, knowledge and skills are effectively and efficiently utilised. Where this style is used, team spirit is observed and all members are committed to the work they perform. Trust is built, communication flows smoothly and the working atmosphere is relaxed. 

iii) Increase Follower’s Commitment

Followers gain ownership and commitment to decisions and activities. This is because the democratic leader solicits thinking and open discussion on issues by all members. He obtains relevant input from the group before making decisions. It increases the morale of the employees.

iv) Fosters Professional Competence

This type of leadership style fosters professional competence. Supervision is minimal as individuals take responsibility for their behaviour. The democratic leadership style encourages employee participation and professional growth.

v) Reduction of Friction and Office Politics

When leaders listen to their subordinates and use their ideas despite blatantly ignoring their ideas they can reduce organisational threats like tension, conflict, and backstabbing.

Disadvantages of Democratic/Participative Leadership Styles

The disadvantages of the democratic leadership style are as follows:

i) Leads to Misinterpretation of the Leader

When subordinates misconstrue or perceive the collaborative decision-making process as a lack of authoritative leadership, it can lead to the misinterpretation of leaders. They may interpret the leaders’ participation as a sign of inefficiency on their part. Subordinates may view the leader as incompetent to handle crises independently.

ii) It is Time-Consuming

Participative leadership takes time. Quick decisions are not possible. The participative leadership process becomes time-consuming as individuals’ expectations and demands for consultation on every matter that arises in the organization lead to a lengthy decision-making process. During times of crisis, delays in the participative leadership process can be costly.

iii) Creates a Lack of Responsibility

Some may perceive a democratic leader as being uncertain about himself and his relationship with his followers. To him, everything seems to be a matter of group discussion and decision. When used for decision-making, the democratic style calls for a majority vote at times. Democratic leadership has a major drawback, it lacks individual accountability for the outcomes of the decisions made.

iv) Results in Danger of Pseudo Participation

Many managers simply pretend to follow a democratic leadership style to score a point in the eyes of their subordinates. Employees are quick to realise when their ideas aren’t actually valued, and that the manager is merely following the procedure in asking for suggestions, but never actually implementing them. In other words, they’re simply exerting autocratic leadership in disguise.

3) Free Rein Leadership or Laissez-Faire Leadership Style

Laissez-Faire is another name for the free rein style of leadership. A free-rein leader does not lead but leaves the group completely to itself. A free rein leader, represented by the board of directors, delegates most of the work responsibility to subordinates without engaging in direct management.

The free-rein leader avoids power. He depends largely upon the group to set its own goals and work out its own problems. Group members work themselves and give their own motivation. The leader exists as a contact person with outsiders to bring his group the resources and information it needs to fulfil its job.

Free-rein leadership ignores the manager’s contribution almost in the same way as autocratic leadership neglects that of the group. It fails to give the group the advantage of the leader’s inspired motivation

The leader effectively handles his leadership status, he entrusts all the responsibility and works to the group which he is supposed to lead, limiting his authority to maintain the contact of the group with people outside the group. This is also known as the permissive style of leadership, where he is the least intervention by the leader, handing over the authority and letting the group operate entirely on its own.

Free rein style leadership is a management style in which leaders leave most decisions to their subordinates. 

Under the free-rein leadership style, the manager assigns the tasks to employees and gives them free rein to choose the best way to complete them. 

Advantages of Free Rein / Laissez-Faire Leadership Styles

The advantages of a laissez-faire leadership style are:

i) Provides Freedom of Direction

When employees are motivated to drive towards success, a laisse Faire leadership style can give them the flexibility that they need to succeed (there is no interference from the leader).

ii) Reduces Work for Leader

With all responsibility deferred to the group, there is less work for the leader to perform interacting with the group, and they can thus spend their time adding value to the organisation.

iii) Motivates Team

As the leader believes in faith and trust, individuals become more responsible. They have a high level of motivation and enjoy complete freedom of action. It is non-interference in the cases of other styles of leadership. This style is used when workers can analyse the situation and determine what needs to be done and how to do it.

Disadvantages of Free Rein / Laissez-Faire Leadership Style

Disadvantages of a laissez-faire leadership style are:

i) Increased Stress Levels for Employees

Employees can feel stressed if they are not secure enough in their own ability due to the lack of availability of their leader for positive reinforcement.

ii) Results in Lack of Ownership

The laissez-faire leader has no authority. He just observes what is going on in the organisation. In such an organisation there may be confusion if the leader stays isolated from the rest of the employees. There is nobody responsible to take the blame or praise in case of success or failure.

iii) Leads to a Lack of Direction

The lack of direction in laissez-faire leadership, though, can result in demotivated team members. Team members can feel unsupported and forgotten by their leaders.

iv) Leads to Conflict among Followers

Freedom does not encourage good team functioning as individuals do as they please. Those people who are conscious of their duties become burdened with work. Working as individuals, the tendency is that their efforts are not organised, as the leader keeps leadership responsibility. 

Furthermore, workers do not share skills and knowledge due to individualism and uncoordinated efforts. Sometimes group members end up neglecting everything themselves.

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