An influential 1939 study by Kurt Lewin on leadership styles found that the most common styles fell into three main categories -- authoritarian, participative and delagative. Effective leaders tend to use all three with emphasis on one particular style, while ineffective and inferior leaders tend to rely on one style exclusively, denying themselves and their workforce the benefits inherent in the other three.
The authoritarian tells his subordinates what to do and how to do it. This style works well when the leader has all the information necessary to complete a task, his workforce is well motivated and time is at a premium. However, the authoritarian style is not good when the leader might benefit from others' ideas. In fact, bypassing the input of savvy, competent employees can be very counterproductive in some situations.
Participative or Democratic
The participative leader solicits problem-solving ideas from one or more employees. Though the leader is the final authority in all matters, his tendency to involve his workforce in the overall decision-making process not only supplies the leader with ideas he might not have had, but also imbues his workforce with a feeling of purpose and usefulness. The participative leader also earns respect from his subordinates for having the strength to be collaborative rather than insular and controlling. This style is not appropriate, however, when time is limited and the problem must be solved immediately.
The delagative leader leaves the task -- and how the task is accomplished -- to his workers. Though the responsibility of task completion is still the leader's, the decision making and problem solving is delegated to subordinates. This style relies heavily on a well-motivated and adept workforce that knows how to get things done. This style is based on the idea that the leader simply can't do everything and must at least sometimes delegate responsibilities. This style is not appropriate when the workforce is untried or new or, again, when the leader possesses all the information necessary and the task must be completed right away.
The Real World
In the world of business, managers must match different situations with the appropriate leadership approach. Though a particular style may be the most comfortable for her, a good manager must be able to switch styles frequently, depending on the situation. Factors that often dictate which style is appropriate include the level of trust between employees and the manager, stress levels in the manager and subordinates, level of employee training and level of mutual trust and respect between the manager and his employees.