Leadership styles are characterizations of the different ways in which leaders behave towards their subordinates.

The leadership style defines a leader. Of course, it always depends on the person and also on the company. Leadership styles are extremely important components of human resource management.

The individual leadership styles, which are explained below, are rather model-like and rarely occur in their actual form. As already mentioned, leadership styles are situational. Qualifications, experience or demands, for example, influence the leadership style, so that mixed forms of leadership styles often emerge.

a king a symbol for leadership styles

Leadership styles according to Max Weber

About 100 years ago, sociologist Max Weber asked himself the question, “Why do people allow themselves to be controlled?” On the basis of the reasons he identified, the following leadership styles emerged:

  • Autocratic leadership style

The leader is authoritarian. This style gives the leader full power and obliges the subordinate employees to absolute obedience. There is a lack of any personal relationship here.

  • Patriarchal leadership style

With this leadership style, the leader’s power does not change, but the subordinates have a certain amount of trust in the “patriarch”. This is also referred to as a paternal style of leadership. The leader has the well-being of his employees at heart, he cares for them. His position is defined by experience, age and the like. This style of leadership is rarely found nowadays. It is most likely to be found in small, medium-sized companies.

  • Charismatic leadership style

A high degree of empathy and a charismatic manner make the leader a role model. This enables him to demand a great deal from his employees. Despite the role model function, the relationship is also one-sided here.

  • Bureaucratic leadership style

This style of leadership is based on laws, rules and structures that determine the work process. The power is not held by an individual, but by the structure. This bureaucracy allows less flexibility than other leadership styles, which is why it is difficult to react in crisis situations.


Leadership styles according to Kurt Lewin

Another important representative – with regard to leadership styles – is the psychologist Kurt Lewin. He divided the following leadership styles:

  • Authoritarian leadership style

= the counterpart to Weber’s autocratic leadership style

  • Democratic leadership style

This leadership style is also called cooperative leadership style. The leader involves the staff in various decisions. Open discussions and joint decision-making are the order of the day. This leadership style has a positive effect on the employees – performance, motivation, work ethic and the willingness to bring in new ideas are promoted. The manager also sees a great advantage in the employees’ participation, namely because of the workload reduction.

The only disadvantage is that the decision-making process takes more time in the democratic management style, as several opinions and ideas are taken into account.

  • Laissez-faire leadership style

This management style is characterized by absolute self-determination and the empowerment of the employees. Tasks and organizational structure are chosen by the employees themselves. The supervisor does not intervene.

Through this style of leadership, employees learn to work independently and also to make their own decisions. Possible disadvantage – it could lead to chaos or group disputes.

So which leadership style is the best?

After weighing all the advantages and disadvantages, one might think that the democratic leadership style is the most optimal. However, as mentioned at the beginning, one cannot generalize a single leadership style. Many factors are involved, from which a leadership style then develops, namely a situational leadership style – the most ideal leadership style then emerges depending on the situation.
Team roles can be seen as a counterpart to leadership styles. While the latter describes different types of leaders, team roles focus on the different types of personalities within a team.

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Leadership styles FAQs

Depending on the source, leadership styles are categorized differently. A popular model divides into four styles: Autocratic, patriarchal, charismatic and bureaucratic.

While a democratic leadership style has proven to be effective and employee friendly, there is no such thing as ONE perfect leadership approach. A good leader is able to switch between different styles depending on the situation.

While some leaders might have tendencies to become more autocratic over time, others found it to be highly effective to adapt the leadership style according to the given situation. So leadership styles can change, both, for better and worse.

While Leadership Theory focuses on why certain leaders are successful, Leadership Styles are characterizations of the traits and behaviors of leaders that distinguish one style from the other.