Leadership styles can vary from manager to manager and from situation to situation. In 1939, Kurt Lewin identified several styles of leadership: the autocratic, the democratic and the laissez-faire. Generally speaking, those categories still apply to managers in today’s business world.


The autocratic leadership style is used when employees are not capable of doing the job at hand on their own and need strong support and guidance to complete the task. The autocratic manager will make all decisions, direct subordinates and expect obedience without questioning. No initiatives or suggestions are used in the decision-making process. This authoritarian style is effective when there is a tight deadline or if there are many people involved in the project. The autocratic leader will set standards and tell employees what needs to be done, how to do it and when it must be finished.


When employees see the big picture and understand their part in completing a project, a participatory leadership style can be effective. Using this style of leadership can be motivating for the employee, who will have a sense that his work is valued because he is contributing a vital part to the whole task. The manager will coordinate each group’s contribution, minimize obstacles and handle problems as they arise. A participatory leader will keep employees motivated by making sure subordinates know their work is important and she believes they will come through by doing a good job in a timely manner. The participatory leadership style is effective when employees have the ability to complete the job and need support from the manager. Employees can have a say in the decision-making process.


The free-rein, laissez-faire leadership style works well when subordinates are capable of making decisions and completing the task on their own. Subordinates have freedom to make decisions, set policies and use methods on their own without input from the manager. This style of leadership is effective when employees have a high level of expertise for the task and are highly motivated to complete the project.


MBWA, or Management by Walking Around, is a leadership style used by managers who want their employees to complete a task on their own, but are available to handle challenging situations as they come up. With this leadership style, managers listen to the concerns and suggestions of employees and act as a coach or a counselor.