The term "leadership style" refers to a leaderís manner of behavior in a work situation. According to Fred E. Fiedler, oneís leadership style depends on oneís personality and is therefore relatively fixed. A study of leadership styles therefore deals mainly with the manner in which the leader carries out his/her leadership functions or rolesĖthe use of authority and power and the approach to the decision-making process.
Fundamentally, the leadership adopted is the one with which the person is most comfortable. This is dependent on the personís values, personality, and how comfortable it is to allow subordinates to participate in the decision-making process. Many of these characteristics are well developed by the time persons on the job would be considered for leadership positions. Meanwhile, many leaders, by means of training and introspection have been able to change their leadership style dramatically.
The Iowa Studies identified the Authoritarian, Democratic, and Laissez Faire Leadership styles. These leadership styles exist on a continuum from autocratic to laissez-faire.
The authoritarian leadership style is based upon the assumption that the leader knows everything and knows what is best for the organization. Employees are ignorant, indolent, lack ambition, dislike responsibility, and prefer to be led. Employees cannot be trusted to do what is right for the organization. Unlimited authority is thus rightly vested in the leader.
Authoritarian leaders can be arrogant, hostile, boastful, and egotistical.
Inspite of its weaknesses, the authoritarian leadership style is well suited for certain environments such as the military, a prison, etc. In those settings, in which the lives of people depend on others following orders, the authoritarian styles is ideal. This style would also be appropriate for directing beginning teachers in the school setting because of their inexperience they tend to need more direction.
The research shows that the authoritarian leadership style is preferable to a democratic one for the achievement of tasks. People love democracy, but it does not mean that it leads to more productivity. An authoritarian leadership style is thus well suited in a very structured environment, where the lives of people are stake, and where the level of professionalism is also low.
The democratic leadership style encourages employee participation and professional growth. It is well suited in environments where people have a very high level of expertise such as software engineers, lawyers, doctors, mature teachers, etc. The democratic leadership style promotes greater job satisfaction and improved morale.
Although this leadership style is not usually advocated, it has its place with persons who are highly motivated and can work totally on their volition. This type of leadership style would also be appropriate when there is nothing significant at stake. For example, if teachers wanted to give a party, then a laisser-faire style would be most appropriate.
In conclusion, each style has its place in an organization and can be used for different situations, tasks, and the maturity and level of professionalism of employees.