In an office setting, leadership may be recognized as the role of a manager or supervisor. Working for a great leader can make a huge difference in your career and provide valuable experience. Working for a bad manager can mean falling behind your peers and perhaps questioning your career choices.

For some people, “leadership” may be an abstract concept that simply equates to someone being in charge. However, as stated, the type of leader you work for can have a drastic effect on your career.

This is why it is important to develop an understanding of leadership styles so you can determine whether you’re on the right track. This will also help you become an effective leader yourself.

Types of Leadership

The common belief is that there are three main leadership styles:

  • Autocratic or Authoritarian
  • Democratic or Participative
  • Laissez-Faire or Free Rein

These leadership styles have been well documented and are well studied. Your manager or supervisor will fall into one of these three categories. There are, of course, many other leadership styles, but they are generally derived from one of these main three.

You may be tempted to google these leadership styles, because you’re wondering what “laissez-faire” means. But, I’ve gone ahead and summarized them below for your benefit:

Autocratic or Authoritarian

This style of leadership tends to play out in situations where there are new or low-skilled workers involved. The person in charge issues out commands and everyone must comply without question. So as a result, working under an authoritarian leader may feel restrictive or give you the sensation of being a replaceable cog in a machine.

The value in authoritarian leadership stems from an established and clear hierarchy wherein decisions can be made very quickly. This is especially valuable in crunches or stressful deadline-oriented situations where immediate results are necessary.

As you can imagine, this style of management is a bit more archaic and is not common in an office environment. In fact, people working under an authoritarian leader may start to question their self-worth. Because, what good are you if you’re basically just doing the same thing as everyone else and are easily replaceable?

Under authoritarian leadership, some of the only ways you can set yourself apart are to become super-obedient, work very quickly, and make few mistakes. If you are promoted at a place like this, the expectation will be that you comply with the company approved management style.

This style of leadership may be tolerable early on in your career as you are trying to learn the basics and nuances of your new job. After a while though, you may find that your skillset stagnates because your company is generally sticking with what has worked instead of experimenting with new industry practices and standards.

This style of leadership can be situationally effective, however it tends to create high turnover in the long run.

Democratic or Participative

Reading or hearing a leadership style descriptor of “democratic” or “participative” may give you the warm and fuzzies. Even without knowing the details, you likely have the impression that your voice or opinion matters to someone who prescribes to this style of leadership. And this would be a correct impression.

A democratic or participative leader will pool the opinions of the group and make decisions accordingly. Sometimes the leader will even defer to the general consensus of the group, even though he or she will always retain the final say.

When people feel like they’re part of the decision-making process, you end up with employees who are more engaged and productive. They’ll have a stake in the success of the decision, so they’ll work more intently to see it through.

This type of leadership also allows for more creative solutions. With more people involved in the decision-making process, you have more solutions to consider (makes sense, right?).

That’s not to say that the group always comes up with great ideas. Sometimes they come up with terrible ideas, and then the manager has to carefully explain why the idea won’t work (using very tactful words). You may also end up with someone in the group who starts to feel like all their ideas are terrible, so they start to become disconnected.

Even with the potential downsides, this remains one of the more popular leadership styles and works well with both new and experienced employees.

Laissez-Faire or Free Rein

Before we dig into this too much, I do want to provide a definition for Laissez-Faire, so we can make sure we’re on the same page:

Laissez-Faire: a philosophy or practice characterized by a usually deliberate abstention from direction or interference especially with individual freedom of choice and action.

Source: Merriam-Webster

If you’re looking for a non-dictionary definition in the context of leadership, laissez-faire basically means that a leader is more hands-off and tends to delegate tasks and allow team members to bear the burden of decision-making.

Laissez-faire, as a concept, is important to a free society, because this means that the government isn’t controlling our lives. In the context of an office, however, this may be a challenging scenario for people who are new and/or inexperienced.

If you are someone who is self-sufficient and already know the ins and outs of your job, this may be an ideal leadership style to work under. This means flexibility and freedom to work the way you want, so long the job gets done.

People who like this style of management enjoy freedom from micro-management. Due to a lack of bureaucracy, decisions are made quickly and productivity increases.

New and/or inexperience people will likely struggle with this type of management. Often times you’ll hear “sink or swim” or “trial by fire” applied to this management style. Because it is on you to either figure it out or meet certain failure.

Additionally, people may not understand their role within the organization, or develop the impression that their manager simply does not care. Also, employees may feel they can’t win because they are blamed wholly for failures and do not have enough guidance for success.

So with this style of leadership, it will be important to determine whether your manager is laissez-faire or just a lazy leader. Success is still important, so if you’re constantly failing and the group is performing poorly, then you likely are in less than ideal situation.

Leadership Styles are Not Static

Odds are, if you walk into your boss’s office, there’s not going to be a leadership playbook sitting on his or her desk. Also, picking a leadership style is not typically part of the promotion to management process. So this is something that develops with time and experience.

Most managers will develop their own leadership style with tendencies that fall in multiple (maybe all three) leadership styles. This is because good managers know how to adapt and change to fit different situations.

Maybe your manager takes a more autocratic approach with junior staff yet is more laissez-faire with senior staff. Or perhaps they are primarily democratic but have autocratic tendencies.

The important thing is to recognize how your manager is helping you grow and achieve your career goals. Because it’s possible to work for a bad manager in any of these three leadership styles. And it’s not simply a matter of finding the leadership style you like and then finding a manager who uses it.

Other Leadership Styles

If you’re doing some google research on leadership styles, you’ll likely find a lot of different results on many different websites.

Most of these additional leadership styles derive their points of emphasis from the main three. So, they’re not inherently bad or wrong, but it’s worth noting that they exist. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to read about them and maybe learn something.

Some of the results you may come across include:

  • Coach or Charismatic
  • Servant
  • Visionary
  • Transformational
  • Transactional
  • Pacesetter
  • Bureaucratic
  • Situational

If you dig further into these leadership styles, ask if they fall in the realm of Autocratic, Democratic, or Laissez-faire.

Develop Your Own Leadership Skills

If you are, or would like to become, a manager, now is a good a time to develop your leadership skills. People with leadership skills are promoted more quickly and reap greater benefits.

Below is a list of important leadership skills along with some links to helpful resources:

In addition to these starting points, there are several books and online training resources to explore for leadership growth. So, don’t be afraid to do a little digging and find something that appeals to you!

Final Thoughts

You career is important and you can do yourself a favor by making sure you’re working under quality leadership. An understanding of leadership styles and hallmarks of bad leadership will help you recognize whether you’re in a good situation.

Keep in mind that no one is perfect, and managers make mistakes all the time. This doesn’t make them bad leaders, nor does it mean you should seek greener pastures. You may very well be working for the best boss you’ll ever have.

What leadership style do you prefer? What are some of your favorite leadership resources? Drop a note in the comments below!

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