Kurt Lewin's Three Styles Model
This is the oldest of the situational models. Kurt Lewin, a psychologist, led a research team in 1939 and identified what he called three 'styles' of leadership behaviour in a 1939 article in the Journal of Social Psychology.
Given that Lewin's model is based on three styles of leading, it might arguably also/instead appear in the Leadership Styles section.
We include it here because it can definitely be used as a model; i.e., Lewin's Three Styles theory offers a flexibility so that it can be adapted and applied, like using a toolkit. Refer again to the definitions of models, styles and philosophies above for clarification.
Lewin's three styles were Authoritarian, Participative and Delegative.
Authoritarian - sometimes called the Autocratic style. It is where leaders spell out the goals, deadlines and methods while making decisions on their own without any or much consultation with others. Here, the leader doesn't usually get involved in the group's work. Not surprisingly, researchers have found that you are less likely to see creative decisions under this style of leadership. However, it is a decisive way of leading and can suit high-risk, short-timescale decisions; the kind that surgical teams and fire crews have to take. Lewin noted that leaders who adopt this style can go too far and be seen by others as over-controlling and dictatorial. He also noticed that they often find it hard to move to a Participative style - in other words, they get stuck in one mode of behaviour.
Participative - sometimes called the Democratic style. It is where the leader expresses his or her priorities and values in setting goals and making decisions, but also takes part in the group's work and accepts advice and suggestions from colleagues. However, the leader makes the final decision. This style can produce more creative problem solving and innovation than the Authoritarian approach so it makes sense to adopt it in competitive, non-emergency situations.
Delegative - sometimes called the Laissez-Faire style. Lewin classes this as a leadership style, but some may feel it is non-leadership. The Delegative style means the leader hands over responsibility for results to the group. He or she lets them set goals, decide on work methods, define individuals' roles and set their own pace of work. It is very much a hands-off approach. It can work well provided the group shares the same overall intent and direction as the leader and if he or she trusts all members of the group. However, there is always a risk that individuals may become dissatisfied with their roles or the group's goals and lose motivation.
In summary, Lewin outlined three distinct modes of behaviour for leaders. If they were merely descriptive, they wouldn't help leaders wanting to become better at what they do. But if you bear in mind the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, you can match them to your circumstances - provided, of course, you can flex your behaviour. This is when the Three Styles model becomes a guide to more effective leadership.
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