Leadership Styles: Definitions & Types of Leadership Styles

Leadership style is the consistent behaviour of a leader as perceived by his subordinates. Every leader develops a style in the way he handles his subordinates and the various challenges that arise in the organization.

The style of leadership that a leader adopts varies from one situation to another. No one style is always right, a style may completely suit one circumstance but fail woefully when applied to another situation. Leadership styles can be classified by the philosophy of the leader.


  • Autocratic leadership styles
  • Democratic leadership style
  • Laissez Faire Leadership Style

Autocratic leadership styles: this is also known as authoritarian leadership style. An autocratic leader commands and expects compliance from the subordinates. He leads by the ability to give or withhold rewards and punishment. Autocratic leader permit little or no delegation of leadership functions. All authority centres in the leader.

In autocratic leadership, there is a distance between leaders and followers, such that discourages an exchange of ideas on issues affecting members of an organization. Autocratic leaders feel that they know best in things they do and use direct order to their followers or subordinates.

Authoritarian leaders are known for their close supervision, domineering role in the organization and are only interested in the attainment of maximum production. They oppose ideas coming from the subordinates and don’t consider the impact of the order he gives to the subordinates.

Strengths of Autocratic Leadership

  • It is useful when the subordinates are new on the job and have experience or sufficient knowledge and training to perform their jobs without active supervision or assistance.
  • In crisis or emergency situation, when decision must be taken immediately, it may be imperative that the leader adopts an autocratic leadership approach because there may be no time to assemble subordinates or followers for a discussion.
  • Autocratic leadership leads to effective achievement of goals. This is particularly so when workers are submissive and prefer not to be responsible for participating in planning and decision making.

Weakness of Autocratic Leadership Style

  • It has the potential of creating problems of morale and productivity in the long run.
  • It is unsuitable when the workforce is knowledgeable about the job.
  • It does not encourage the development of commitment towards the objectives of organization by the workers.
  • It leads to misunderstanding and communication breakdown due to lack of feedback as a result of the one way communication characteristics of authoritarian leadership.

Democratic Leadership Style: this is sometimes referred to as participative leadership style. A democratic leader in an organization encourages group involvement in planning and achieving objectives and orders are issued only after consultation and explanation (Pratt and Bennett1979).

Under this, group members are encouraged to demonstrate initiative and creativity. Functions are also delegated particularly if the task is complex and the members, numerous. This leadership style also demands that in planning, effecting change or solving problems, the managers or leaders meets with the affected workers and informs them fully of the problem, needs and objectives of the problems.

Laissez Faire Leadership Style: this leadership style is regarded as delegative or free reign leadership Style. In this type of leadership style, the leader allows the employees to take decisions. This type of leadership styles is adopted in a situation where employees are able to evaluate the situation and determine what needs to be done.

The Basic Theories of Leadership

  • Trait theories: these are the theories that are largely based on identification of traits that make for effective leaders. A trait in this context is generally defined as distinctive physical or psychological characteristics that account for a person’s behaviour. This group of theorist believes that leaders are born and not made.
  • The situational Theories: this group of theories believe that leaders are the products of given situations and that the leadership style that best contributes to the attainment of organizational goals might vary depending on the organizational environment and in different situation or circumstances. This theory believes that the characteristics of subordinates, organizational tradition, and cultural influence affect the emergence and leader’s behaviour.