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Leadership - Models and Styles

Author: Jim Riley  Last updated: Sunday 23 September, 2012

Leaders exercise their authority in different ways.  In doing so, they are said to exhibit a “leadership style”.  Leadership styles are essentially about:

  • The way that the functions of leadership are carried out
  • The way that a leader behaves

There has been substantial research into the types and effectiveness of various leadership styles, with the four most common generally accepted to be:

Four traditional leadership styles

The key features of each of these leadership styles can be summarised as follows:



Autocratic leaders hold onto as much power and decision-making as possible

Focus of power is with the manager

Communication is top-down & one-way

Formal systems of command & control

Minimal consultation

Use of rewards & penalties

Very little delegation

McGregor Theory X approach

Most likely to be used when subordinates are unskilled, not trusted and their ideas are not valued

Leader decides what is best for employees

Links with Mayo – addressing employee needs
Akin to a parent/child relationship – where the leader is seen as a “father-figure”

Still little delegation

A softer form of authoritarian leadership, which often results in better employee motivation and lower staff turnover

Typical paternalistic leader explains the specific reason as to why he has taken certain actions



Focus of power is more with the group as a whole

Leadership functions are shared within the group

Employees have greater involvement in decision-making – but potentially this slows-down decision-making

Emphasis on delegation and  consultation – but the leader still has the final say

Perhaps the most popular leadership style because of the positive emotional connotations of acting democratically

A potential trade-off between speed of decision-making and better motivation and morale?

Likely to be most effective when used with skilled, free-thinking and experienced subordinates

Laissez-faire means to “leave alone”

Leader has little input into day-to-day decision-making

Conscious decision to delegate power

Managers / employees have freedom to do what they think is best

Often criticised for resulting in poor role definition for managers

Effective when staff are ready and willing to take on responsibility, they are motivated, and can be trusted to do their jobs

Importantly, laissez-faire is not the same as abdication

As a generalisation, in the UK there has been a gradual shift away from autocratic leadership.  Possible reasons for this include:

  • Changes in society’s values
  • Better educated workforce
  • Focus on need for soft HR skills
  • Changing workplace organisation
  • Greater workplace legislation
  • Pressure for greater employee involvement

Models of leadership

It is worth having outline knowledge of some popular models of theories of leadership.

You may remember McGregor’s Theory X & Y from your studies of the factors that motivate employees at work.  In fact McGregor’s work was really about management and leadership styles rather than motivation.  McGregor grouped managers into two categories which reflected their alternative approaches to leadership:

Tannenbaum and Schmidt suggested that there is a “continuum” of leadership behaviour. The continuum represents a range of action related to the:

  • Degree of authority used by the manager
  • Area of freedom available to non-managers

Tannenbaum and Schmidt links with McGregor’s Theory X (boss-centred leadership) & Theory Y (subordinated-centred leadership):

The continuum identified four main styles of leadership:


Manager identifies problems, makes decision and announces to subordinates; expects implementation


Manager still makes decision, but attempts to overcome resistance through discussion & persuasion


Manager identifies problem and presents it to the group.  Listens to advice and suggestions before making a decision


Manager defines the problem and passes on the solving & decision-making to the group (which manager is part of)

Which leadership style is best?

Many factors affect the leadership style adopted:

Factors affecting leadership style

Personal value systems
Manager’s experience
Confidence in subordinates
Feelings of security
Nature of the business problems

Type of organisation (size, structure)
Effectiveness of teams and groups
Skills and experience of subordinates
Pressure (time, costs)

So is there a best (or “optimal”) leadership style? The answer is probably that the best leadership style depends on the situation!  For example:

  • Autocratic makes more sense when business is in trouble (e.g. rapid turnaround)
  • Autocratic would be inappropriate where performance highly dependent on effective team-working & decentralised operation
  • Stage of business: start-up v established & complex

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