employee assessment solutions blog

EN Blog

A Psychologist Looks at Leadership Styles in Business - Part 1: 3 Common Leadership Styles

Posted by Vy Huynh on Oct 16, 2014 10:30:00 AM

Leader vs Manager

"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things"—Peter Drucker

A Manager and a Leader are two completely different roles, although we often use the terms interchangeably. At the second International Talent Assessment and Development Conference, in his keynote speech, “A Psychologist Looks at Leadership Styles in Business,” Dr. Scott Hamilton briefly outlined the differences between the role of a manager and that of a leader.


  • Tactical planning
  • Supervision of team members
  • Responsible for getting the work completed


  • Presents ideas, provides direction
  • Engages the team in achieving team goals
  • Inspires team members to embrace team goals

Leadership is less about your needs, and more about the needs of the people and the organisation you are leading. Different people have different styles of leading other people. Leadership styles are not something to be tried on like suits, to see which fits. Rather, they should be adapted to the particular demands of the situation, the particular requirements of the people involved and the particular challenges facing the organisation. There are three commonly accepted theories of leadership style based on Lewin’s classic study:

  • Autocratic Leadership Style
  • Democratic Leadership Style
  • Laissez-faire Leadership Style

Autocratic Leadership Style

Leaders who have an autocratic leadership style want to take on all decisions and maintain full control. They don’t like delegating authority to others or offering explanations for their decisions. Their decision has to be taken as the golden rule and is never to be questioned or challenged. They plan out everything, provide a clear expectation of what is to be done and use and order their team members to work according to their rules. The differentiation between an autocratic leader and his or her followers is usually clear.

Some great leaders with an autocratic leadership style are Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, Adolf Hitler and Bill Gates.

An autocratic leadership style is suitable for the military; crisis management; the construction sector; the manufacturing sector; organisations with new, untrained or unskilled staff; and organisations with a high volume of production.


  • Effective with tight project deadlines
  • Decisions are made quickly with only one decision-maker; smooth management
  • Useful when there is not time to train workers or when workers are not skilled enough in the tasks to be performed
  • Provides close oversight and streamlined work processes
  • Reduces information leaks


  • Followers may show little initiative
  • Followers may find it difficult to become engaged in their work
  • The leader may punish shortcomings in followers’ performance too frequently
  • The leader’s tight control may be resented by the followers
  • Decision-making is less creative than with the democratic style
  • High follower turnover is more likely


Democratic Leadership Style

Democratic leadership is also known as participative leadership. Democratic leaders usually invite ideas and input from team members, who take a more participative role in the decision-making process. No decisions are made without consulting with team members, so the outcome is a group effort, and not based on individual desires. Leaders with a democratic leadership style are willing to coach and help their team members develop their skills. They offer guidance readily, which makes it so their followers are typically engaged in producing quality work.

Some great democratic leaders are Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy.

The democratic leadership style can be used in fields that involve service, such as nursing and health care; creative fields where brainstorming is essential to produce effective results; and fields in which various points of view help in arriving at the best decision possible.


  • Turnover is generally low
  • Creativity is valued, regardless of the source
  • The followers work more efficiently as a team
  • Team members feel like a real part of the team
  • Followers typically show initiative and engagement


  • Followers must be skilled 
  • If the leader is not seen as genuine, the team could lose effectiveness
  • Involving the entire team in decision-making takes time and slows the decision-making process
  • Team members will lose their motivation if the team malfunctions


Laissez-faire Leadership Style

Laissez-faire leadership is also known as delegative leadership. It is a type of leadership in which leaders are hands-off, delegate the authority and allow team members to make the decisions. Highly-skilled, experienced and educated team members will do well with laissez-faire leaders. Team members are encouraged to give feedback, offer ideas and set goals, and they are free to make decisions about their work. Leaders only participate in the decision-making if invited by the team. Laissez-faire leaders usually offer little guidance to team members, but that doesn’t mean that the leaders don’t care about the team; they just believe that the employees know their jobs best, so it’s best to leave them alone to do them. Another reason for this leadership style is that the leader may be in a political, election-based position and may not want to exert power and control for fear of not being re-elected.


  • Works well when followers are engaged in the work
  • Creativity from anyone is welcome
  • Followers fit well into a whole-team approach (team-based approach)
  • Useful when employees are working remotely
  • Outside consultants work well with this style of leadership



  • Followers need to have good work skills
  • The quality of work is somewhat dependent on good team relations
  • Followers who depend on close guidance will not do well
  • Some followers may not be comfortable with unclear rules
  • Team members are solely accountable for completing what they commit to do
  • If the leader becomes unavailable, production will fall

A good leader should know how to adapt their behaviours to fit the situation at hand. In the next part of this post, we will share some tips that can help you be more effective in your leadership style.

A Psychologist Looks at Leadership Styles in Business - Part 2: How to Be an Effective Autocratic or Democratic Leader >>>

Like this article, subscribe our blog now!

Subscribe EN Blog

Topics: leadership, Leader, manager, leadership styles

Most viewed blogs


see all

    Subscribe to blogs

    Our Editorial Mission

    describe the image

    Rick Yvanovich
    Regional National Director

    With the Profiles International South East Asia Blog, it is our mission to help organizational leaders and HR professionals improve their performance and workforce productivity. 

    guest blogger EN (2)

    Follow us