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Leadership styles in organization


Leadership is the quality of an individual’s behaviour whereby he is able to guide the people or their activities towards certain goals. (Sharma ; Agarwal, 2005,p.98)

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Leadership is the ability to get work done with and through others, while at the same time winning their confidence, respect, loyalty and willing co-operation. The first part of this definition is the same as for management. It is the second half, which highlights the difference between a leader and a non-leader. Managers who possess the quality of guiding and directing the subordinates in an organization to perform their jobs efficiently can be called business leaders. A leader interprets the objectives of the group and guides it towards the achievement of these objectives.

Leadership means different things to different people, and sometimes the most effective leaders can appear not to be leading at all.


Qualities of Leader
A leader influences others by his qualities, viz. confidence, communicative ability, awareness of his impact on others as well as perceptions about the situation and his subordinates. The effect of a leader’s background experiences, his communication ability, self-awareness, confidence, his perceptions of subordinates, the situation and the self are shown below (Prasad, 2006, p.  264).












[Source: Taken from, Prasad LM, (2006) Organizational Behavior, Fig 26.1 p 287]



All these factors interact together to determine the leader’s ability to influence others.
The Importance of Leadership
Almost every aspect of work is influenced by, if not dependent on, leadership. The leader is the chief communicator to people outside the group as well as within the group. The leader’s attitude and behaviour affects the motivation of the group.

The leader is responsible for seeing that the group’s objectives are clearly understood and are accomplished. The planning and control mechanisms are designed or modified by the leader. How the leader behaves influences employees’ satisfaction and affects the quality and quantity of output.

All leaders have three limiting factors to contend with. Firstly, they are limited by their own ability, by their knowledge, skills, attitudes, weaknesses and inadequacies. Secondly, they are limited by the level of experience, skills, proficiencies and attitudes of their subordinates. Finally, they are limited by their environment. This includes the resources and conditions, which are available to them in their effort to achieve their objectives. All these factors are constantly changing  (Yvonne, 2003, p. 189).

Leadership is a vital and dynamic function in organizations. The quality of leadership is a key factor in the accomplishment of the organization’s objectives. It is generally recognized that certain types of leaders suit certain situations better than others. For example, some leaders perform better in a prosperous, or growth, period, others in an austere or contracting period.


Leadership styles are the patterns of behavior, which a leader adopts in influencing the behavior of his followers (subordinates) in the organizational context. These patterns emerge in the leader as he begins to respond in the same fashion under similar conditions; he develops habits of actions that become somewhat predictable to those who work with him. There are many dimensions of leadership styles: power dimension where superior uses varying degree of authority; orientation -employee or task-oriented; motivational-where superior affects the behavior of his subordinates either by giving a reward or by imposing a penalty. All these styles are leader of oriented. Leadership style is the result of leader’s philosophy, personality, experience and value system. It also depends upon the types of followers and the organizational atmosphere prevailing in the enterprise. There may be situations and follower-oriented styles. However, such a classification may not be strict because in a particular classification, some elements of other classification may appear. The availability of the various styles suggests that there cannot be a single best style, which can always be adopted  (Yvonne, 2003, p. 191).


Motivational Style
A leader’s approach in influencing his subordinates can either be positive or negative. If his approach emphasizes rewards for followers, he is using positive leadership. If he emphasizes penalties or fear and force in directing his subordinates towards the organizational goals, he is applying negative leadership. The stronger a penalty is, the more negative the leadership is. The same reasoning applies to rewards and incentives. Thus there exists a continuous range from strongly positive to strongly negative leadership. Almost every manager uses both the styles, but his predominant style sets a tone within his group.

A leader with negative approach relies heavily on control and formal authority of his position to fine, reprimand or discharge his subordinates. Negative leadership get acceptance in many situations, but it has undesirable side effects also. Workers are always guided by the fear of penalties, i.e., suspension, dismissal or fine due to which their morale is lowered. But the leader with positive approach depends upon reward incentives and positive gains to the followers to induce them to direct their energies towards the common goals of the group. This approach is more complex. Being fundamentally based on an analysis of human needs for maximum motivation, it requires a study of an individual to find out his needs and wants and then provides a work situation, which enables the follower to satisfy such needs while working towards the accomplishment of organizational goals (Ahuja K, 2005, p.436). The positive leader exercises power through people instead of power over people.


Power Style or Delegate Style

The way in which a leader uses power also establishes a type of style of leadership. Each style, autocratic, participative or free rein has its benefits and limitations. A leader may use all styles over period of time, but one style tends to predominate as his normal way of using power. For example, a factory supervisor who is normally autocratic, but he is participative in determining vacation schedules and free rein in selecting a departmental representative for safety committee. It should be noted that these classifications are not scientific. In practice, a leader adopts a combination of styles because there are thousands and one styles of power which each manager applies in his own way (Ahuja K, 2005, p.439). Power use exists along a continuum ranging from total power to no power use at all and effective manager usually show some style flexibility along this continuum.


Task-centered and Employee-centered Managers
It has been observed that managers secure somewhat higher productivity and morale if they are highly employee oriented. The employee-centered manager is considerate of his men as human beings. He recognizes their needs and respects their human dignity. He tries to build teamwork, develop his people and help them in solving their problems. In this way he tries to build an effective work group with high performance goals. As against this,


The “TASK CENTRED MANAGER” is concerned primarily with the performance of assigned tasks at prescribed rates, using standard methods, conditions and time. He believes in getting results by devising better methods, keeping people constantly busy and urging them to produce (Ahuja K, 2005, p.476). The employee-centered manager wants to help his subordinates with their problems, not only on the job, but even off the job. He also tries to develop them for the next higher job and tries to get them ready for promotion.


Autocratic- Participative-Free-rein Leadership
According to this dimension, there are three leadership styles:

1. Autocratic leadership

2. Participative leadership

3. Free-rein leadership.


Autocratic leadership

This is also known as authoritarian, directive or monothetic style. In autocratic leadership style, a manager centralizes decision-making power in himself. He structures the complete work situation 4or his employees and they do what they are told. Here, the leadership may be negative because followers are uninformed, insecure, and afraid of leader’s authority. There are three categories of autocratic leaders (Prasad, 2006, p.  245).

(a) Strict autocrat, He follows autocratic styles in a very strict sense.

His method of influencing subordinates’ behavior is through negative motivation, that is, by criticizing subordinates, imposing penalty, etc.


(b) Benevolent autocrat. He also centralizes decision-making power in him, but his motivation style is positive. He can be effective in getting efficiency in many situations. Some people like to work under strong authority structure and they derive satisfaction by this leadership.


(c) Incompetent autocrat. Sometimes, superiors adopt autocratic leadership style just to hide their in competency, because in other styles they may be exposed before their subordinates. However, this cannot be used for a long time.

The main advantages of autocratic technique are as follows:

(i)                 There are many subordinates in the organization who prefer to work under centralized authority structure and strict discipline. They get satisfaction from this style.

(ii)                 It provides strong motivation and reward to a manager exercising this style.

(iii)               It permits very quick decisions as a single person takes most of the decisions.

(iv)              Less competent subordinates also have scope to work in the organization under his leadership style as they do negligible planning, organization and decision-making.


There are many disadvantages also:

(i)                 People in the organization dislike it specially when it is strict and the motivational style is negative.

(ii)                Employees lack motivation. Frustration, low morale, and conflict develop in the organization jeopardizing the organizational efficiency.

(iii)              There is more dependence and less individuality in the organization. As such, future leaders in the organization do not develop.


Considering the organizational efficiency and employees’ satisfaction, autocratic style generally is not suitable. The autocratic management has been successful because it provides strong motivation and reward to the manager. It permits quick decision-making, because only one person decides for the whole group. It has also been successful in such situations where subordinates are reluctant to take initiative.

In nursing organization this style is quite common and has often succeeded. In future it is less likely to be effective because:


(a) The coming generations less amenable to rigid direction and control.

(b) The standard of living of people is rising.

(c) There is now social awareness among the people, they look for social and egoistic satisfactions from their jobs.


Participative Leadership

This style is also called democratic, consultative or ideographic. Participation is defined as mental and emotional involvement of a person in a group situation, which encourages him to contribute to group goals and share responsibility in them. A participative manager decentralizes his decision-making process. Instead of taking unilateral decision, he emphasizes consultation and participation of his subordinates. Subordinates are broadly informed about the conditions affecting them and their jobs. This process emerges from the suggestions and ideas, on which decisions are based. The participation may, be either real or pseudo. In the case of former; a superior gives credit to subordinate’s suggestions and ideas in taking the decisions while in the case of latter the superior preaches participation in theory, but really he does not prefer it in practice. (Prasad, 2006, p.  264)

There are various benefits in real participative management. These are as follows:

(i)                 It is a highly motivating technique to employees, as they feel elevated when their ideas and suggestions are given weight in decision-making.

(ii)               The employee’s productivity is high because they are party to the decision. Thus, they implement the decisions whole-heartedly.

They share the responsibility with the superior and try to safeguard him also. As someone has remarked, `The fellow in the boat with you never bores a hole in it’ is quite applicable in this case too. (Prasad, 2006, p.  268)

(iii)              It provides organization stability by raising morale and attitudes of employees high and favorable.

Further, leaders are also prepared to take organizational positions. Keeping in view these advantages, management makes attempts for effective participation. The common methods adopted are democratic supervision, production, committees, suggestions programmes and multiple management. However, this style is not free from certain limitations, which are as follows:

(i)                 Complex nature of organization requires a thorough understanding of its problems which lower level employees may not be able to do. As such, participation does not remain meaningful.

(ii)                Some people in the organization want minimum interaction with their superiors or associates. For them, participation technique is discouraging instead of encouraging.


(iii)              Participation can be used covertly to manipulate employees. Thus, some employees may prefer the open tyranny of an autocrat as compared to covert tyranny of a group.


A democratic leader is one who gives orders only after consulting the group, sees to it that policies are worked out in group discussion and with the acceptance of the group, never asks people to do things without sketching out the long-term plans on which they are working, makes it clear that praise or blame is a matter for the group and participates in the group as a member. Participative leadership style favors decision making through discussion, sharing of power by allowing the group to make decisions and to let decisions emerge from the group. Participative manager decentralizes managerial authority. His decisions are not unilateral as with the autocrat because they arise from consultation with followers and participation by them. Unlike an autocrat manager who controls through the authority he possesses, a participative manager exercises control mostly by using forces within the group.


Free Reign or Laissez Faire Leader
Such a leader does not lead but leaves the group entirely to itself. He is represented by the chairman of the board who does not manage, but leaves all responsibility for most of the work to his subordinates. The free reign manager avoids power. He depends upon the group to establish its own goals and work out its own problems. Group members work themselves and provide their own motivation.

Free Rein or laissez-faire technique means giving complete freedom to subordinates. In this style, manager once determines policy, programmes and limitations for action and the entire process is left to subordinates. Group members perform everything and the manager usually maintains contacts with outside persons to bring the information and materials, which the group needs (Yvonne, 2003, p. 211).


This type of style is suitable to certain situations where the manager can leave a choice to his group. This helps subordinates to develop independent personality. However, the contribution of manager is almost nit. It tends to permit different units of an organization to proceed at cross-purposes and can degenerate into chaos. Hence, this style is used very rarely in business organizations.


Continuum of Leadership Behavior
Employee-orientation and task-orientation are not two opposite ends. A manager may become more subordinate-oriented, but his task remains the same of motivating the people to do work efficiently. Every manager has both the orientations in varying degrees. It is also possible that a manager may have other orientations, like social responsibility. The modified form of subordinate and task or boss-oriented leadership is the continuum of leadership[1] as shown in fig.










































Fig.      Continuum of leadership

[Source: Taken from, Ahuja K. (2005) Personnel Management. Fig 6 p 621]


The bottom of the figure represents boss-centered leadership and the top subordinate-centered leadership. In going from bottom to top less and less authority is used and there is more and more freedom for subordinates. Seven different styles of leadership between the two ends have been indicated. They are identified by the managerial actions stated at different styles, for instance at the extreme bottom for boss-centered leadership, manager makes and announces the decisions.


In contrast, at next to the top level, more freedom for subordinates and less use of authority are present. At this level the manager defines limits and asks for group’s decisions. Here the manager delegates the decision-making authority. Thus the continuum clearly states that there are a number of leadership styles that can be employed. Leaders who would be most effective would be those who are most adaptable, i.e., who can delegate authority effectively because they consider their capabilities, subordinate’s capabilities and goals to be accomplished. (Tannenbaum and Schmidt, 1993,p.178)

Visionary Enabler

Transforming leadership requires the leader to direct his energies outwards rather than inwards. The focus is on relinquishing the controller/ manipulator in favor of the visionary enabler. To do this, the group’s full potential must be allowed to develop by always using the style congruent with their ability and willingness – or one even slightly higher on the trusting side. Unfortunately, the opposite is often the case and the group is over-led rather than under-led. Over leading often-called ‘macho’ using a style more controlling than appropriate for the group’s ability and willingness. It can arise from both personal, psychological reasons and from forces in the organizational and hierarchical structure (Ahuja K, 2005, p.698).

The feeling persists that management knows best and that true leadership means the exertion of authority in order to get a reluctant workforce to perform duties to which it contributes little beyond elementary, regimented skills. Managers with such an outlook consistently over lead groups by being more interventionist than necessary.

The tendency to over lead is often compounded by the organizational climate. If the top management exhibits, ‘macho’, tendencies it is very difficult for a manager to pursue a progression of styles towards trust. If he does, it will be seen as weakness and an abdication of management responsibility rather than a positive process of development.


Transforming Leadership

Due to changing technology and changing social expectations, industry and commerce is becoming increasingly complex and inter-dependent. As a consequence, work requires higher levels of individual skill and management expertise. These pressures make the, ‘controller’, style of management less and less appropriate. As the technical skill of jobs in industry increases, an increasing reliance must be placed on self-motivation of the workforce to ensure high performance. It is marginal effort that makes the crucial difference between satisfactory and outstanding performance. Whereas normal levels of output can be more or less controlled, the marginal effort, which is so crucial, is very much at the discretion of the subordinate. For this reason, the transforming leadership role is increasingly essential. Transforming leadership is required to get the best out of knowledgeable workers (Prasad, 2006, p.  294).

In today’s complex, knowledge based working environment it is increasingly difficult to measure the subordinates, output. Control becomes impossible and has to be replaced by trust and transforming leadership. As the world grows more complex, the individual is not able to understand it alone. Reliance has to be placed on the specialist knowledge of the team requiring creation of the right climate for that knowledge to be applied. The group must be developed to maximize learning and the increase of the knowledge base. Such a climate will also encourage synergy and the sparking of creative interactions (Ahuja K, 2005, p.552). Transforming leadership is required to accelerate the shift of the point of congruence in the direction of the visionary/enabler. The transforming leader consciously fights the lure of the interventionist. He creates a sense of vision to inspire the group and place on the team members the responsibility for making decisions and solving their own relationship problems.


The transforming leader adopts the visionary/enabler role and frees his followers from the dead hand of the interventionist and transactional routine. Transforming leadership concentrates on the leader in the visionary/enabler role and on avoiding the seductive alternative roles that tend to trap leaders into various forms of controller/manipulator behavior. The transforming leader acts as a visionary/enabler to develop the individual capabilities of his team members and to mould them into a fully functioning team. Above all, he is concerned to create a sense of mission, which will give the team a vision of what their job is all about. This vision carries the group beyond the narrow confines of daily routine and puts work into a context of meaning and value. The transforming leader acts-as a contributor’ or a ‘catalyst’, always-keeping to moderate levels of task and relationships behavior.  (Prasad, 2006, p.  364).


No one is a born leader. People may have certain abilities that enable them to develop into a leader, but they have to work at it. A successful leader is one who is keenly aware of those forces, which are more relevant to his behavior at any given time. He accurately understands himself, the individuals and the group he is dealing with, and the organization and the broader social environment in which he operates (Tannenbaum and Schmidt, 1993,p.178). However, merely understanding these factors correctly is not enough but he can be successful only when he is able to behave appropriately in the light of these perceptions and understanding. Thus,


“The successful manager of men can be primarily characterized neither as a strong leader nor as a permissive one. Rather he is one who maintains a high batting average in accurately assessing the forces that determine what his most appropriate behavior at any given time should be and in actually being able to behave accordingly. Being both insightful and flexible, he is less likely to see the problem of leadership as a dilemma.”[2]































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[1] Tannenbaum and Schmidt “How to choose a leadership pattern”; Harvard Business Review: May-June, 1993
[2] R. Tannenbaum and A. Schmidt, p. 180