Lewin’s Leadership Theory Explained

Lewin’s Leadership Theory Explained 1 June 2019

Lewin’s Leadership Styles

In 1939, a group of researchers led by psychologist Kurt Lewin set out to identify different styles of leadership. While further research has identified more distinct types of leadership, this early study was very influential and established three major leadership styles that have provided a springboard for more defined leadership theories.

1. Authoritarian Leadership (Autocratic)

Authoritarian leaders, also known as autocratic leaders, provide clear expectations for what needs to be done when it should be done, and how it should be done. This style of leadership is strongly focused on both command by the leader and control of the followers. There is also a clear division between the leader and the members. Authoritarian leaders make decisions independently with little or no input from the rest of the group.

Researchers found that decision-making was less creative under authoritarian leadership. Lewin also concluded that it is harder to move from an authoritarian style to a democratic style than vice versa. Abuse of this method is usually viewed as controlling, bossy, and dictatorial.

Authoritarian leadership is best applied to situations where there is little time for group decision-making or where the leader is the most knowledgeable member of the group. The autocratic approach can be a good one when the situation calls for rapid decisions and decisive actions. However, it tends to create dysfunctional and even hostile environments, often pitting followers against the domineering leader.

2. Participative Leadership (Democratic)

Lewin’s study found that participative leadership, also known as democratic leadership, is typically the most effective leadership style. Democratic leaders offer guidance to group members, but they also participate in the group and allow input from other group members. In Lewin’s study, children in this group were less productive than the members of the authoritarian group, but their contributions were of a higher quality.

Leadership (Laissez-Faire)

Researchers found that children under delegative leadership, also known as laissez-faire leadership, were the least productive of all three groups. The children in this group also made more demands on the leader, showed little cooperation, and were unable to work independently.

Delegative leaders offer little or no guidance to group members and leave decision-making up to group members. While this style can be useful in situations involving highly qualified experts, it often leads to poorly defined roles and a lack of motivation.
Lewin noted that laissez-faire leadership tended to result in groups that lacked direction where members blamed each other for mistakes, refused to accept personal responsibility, and produced a lack of progress and work.
However, this style of leadership may be effective in teams that are motivated, highly skilled and knowledgable.  There is a high level of trust between the team and the leader. These are often referred to as Self Managed or Autonomous teams.  These teams may not require much direction, and as a leader it is likely they have reached this stage because you have assisted in their development.


The Situational Approach

The situational theory of leadership suggests that no single leadership style is best. Instead, it all depends on the situation at hand and which type of leadership and strategies are best-suited to the task. According to this theory, the most effective leaders are those that are able to adapt their style to the situation and look at cues such as the type of task, the team, the individual, the level of risk, the environment and other factors that might contribute to getting the job done.
The most effective leaders are those that are able to shift styles as required to get the most out of their people.  They need to be flexible in their approach – understand the need to be situational.

Consider Lewin’s leadership styles and the situations in which each of them would be most effective.  If you are able to successfully apply this in the work place you are on the road to being an effective leader.


Reference: www.verywellmind.com

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