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The Three Styles of Leadership

The Three Styles of Leadership


Leadership is one of the most sought-after skills in the world—and one of the most misunderstood. 

For example, many people confuse charisma with leadership, but being liked isn’t the most important part of being in command.

Leadership, simply put, is the ability to achieve the right objectives, at the right time, through people.

As a business owner, you’ll find yourself using different leadership styles to cope with various situations. Generally speaking, there are three types of leadership.

» Democratic
» Autocratic
» Free rein

Each entrepreneur tends to favor one style over others, but applying a single leadership solution to all people and situations isn’t effective management. The real need is for leadership that can apply the right style to the right situation.

Democratic Leadership

Using a democratic style of leadership allows a leader to retain control of a given situation while at the same time fully engaging the team in a common purpose.

For instance, leaders may draw ideas and suggestions from group discussions with their departments. The leader moderates, encouraging free thinking and an exchange of ideas for better ways to do things. The leader ultimately makes the decision, but the group feels it has been a part of the process and understands its role moving forward.

Autocratic Leadership

Autocratic leadership is just the opposite of democratic. These leaders tell others exactly what they want done—and assume full responsibility for the results. There is no consultation. The leader speaks and expects absolute obedience.

Leaders in this case aren’t concerned with persuasion or motivation. They are concerned only with compliance. The autocratic style is dictatorial in nature.

When a crisis occurs, it may be necessary for leaders who usually operate using a democratic or free-rein leadership style to employ an autocratic style for a short time. Once the crisis passes, however, they can and should return to their usual form of leadership.

Free-Rein Leadership

Free-rein leadership is a useful tool with a team that is working toward a common goal, but at individual tasks. This style should only be used, however, with individuals who are capable of self-management. The leader’s role is to stay in the background while regularly checking progress. A good leader will recognize when a team is well suited to working under this style.

Good leadership calls for flexibility and the ability to recognize which situations call for which style of command to achieve the best results. After all, getting things done is what leadership is all about.

Written by

Jim McGraw is a former chief operating officer, corporate officer and board member of pharmaceutical firm Marion Laboratories, and former chairman of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation board of directors. He also is the developer of LEAPP Ahead, a free educational program on business leadership, empathy and persuasion.


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