In your life, no matter what field you go into or what expectations you may have before or after graduate school, you will be called on to be a leader at some point. You may be placed in charge of a small project with your peers, assigned as the overseer of a division at work, or even work your way up to the top of the chain as the head honcho of a business. Regardless of how big or how small your task as a leader is, you need to be able to determine what style of leadership will bring the most success.
To keep things simple, we’ll take a look at three popular leadership styles as examined by psychologist Kurt Lewin: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire. We’ll also compare managing with leading.
The first type of leadership you can choose to adopt is the autocratic style. This style of leadership leaves all of the decision-making power in your hands. You are the leader of the group and, therefore have the most say in an issue.
Lewin’s research found that this style of leadership allows for the least creativity. Also, true to its name and description, you may appear bossy because of the amount of solo decisions you make. If you choose to adopt this style of leadership when pressed into being a leader, consider this style best when you have no time to wait for the group to come to a consensus.
Make sure you know the subject, however—you can cause dysfunction within the group if you have no knowledge whatsoever of the task.
The second style of leadership is generally regarded as the all-around most effective. Democratic leadership is a joint effort between the leader and his or her group members. Decisions are not just the whim of the leader, but a consensus among the group.
Lewin’s study also found that the quality of the work that members perform is much higher within the bounds of a democratic style group. However, a corresponding drop in production rate was found due to the more relaxed leadership style. While it is not the most relaxed and the leader does maintain some control, democratic finds a good middle ground in leadership styles.
Overall, you’ll likely find that this style of leadership is a good fit for nearly every situation, with only a few exceptions in specific circumstances.
This third type of leadership is widely regarded as less-than-effective. The key nature of laissez-faire “leadership” is a distinct lack of leadership. In this form of leadership, the group members take charge. You will likely be a leader in name only, serving to keep the group together with the bare minimum effort.
Even as a laissez-fair leader, however, you must keep in mind that you will be held responsible for the work of your group. If your group is able to think
for itself and be motivated in it work, then laissez-faire may be the correct choice. If your group needs a leader who is directly involved and motivating, choose a different style.
Managing vs. Leading
Now that the types of leadership have been introduced and discussed, you should know the difference between the terms “manager” and “leader.”
The key thing to keep in mind when distinguishing between a manager and a leader is that a manager runs a project, while a leader fosters the growth of a project. A manager is there to keep the ship running smoothly, while a leader will innovate and improve.
It is easy to be a manager. Anyone can give orders and oversee a project within its given parameters. Being a true leader is a challenge that only a few are prepared to face. Actively working to make your project into the best it can be will never come easily.
Ultimately, you should strive to be a leader, not a manager. Don’t simply give orders and let your group members do everything. Instead, work with your group with the best possible leadership style for the situation. Create an environment that fosters growth and improvement. Doing this successfully will greatly benefit you in both work and in school.