Every organization fosters its own leaders, each with individual leadership styles. According to Kurt Lewin, these leadership styles could be classified into three categories, of which the best is considered to be the democratic style. Even if there are leaders that come very close to one of the three styles identified by Lewin, I believe that some leaders could be combining the styles or slightly deviating from them in their work. This paper aims to explore my past experience in order to indentify a real life case of leadership and compare it to one of the leadership styles formulated by Lewin, presenting the similarities and the differences between the two.
A leader’s style is shaped by his or her personality, past experiences as well as the organizational environment. Kurt Lewin’s classification of leadership styles is certainly drawing out major guidelines regarding the possible types of leaders; however, not all the real life leadership examples fit the exact description presented in Lewin’s work. Certain deviations or even combinations between styles can occur for shorter or longer periods of times.
I worked with a person that displayed the following characteristics as a leader: he was composed and welcoming of new ideas at all times; he gave his subordinates freedom in research and encouraged them to express their opinions and findings during meetings; he was opened to discussions as well as new proposals (for example, if any of his employees had an opinion or an idea regarding any part of the work, he or she could present it to him and discuss it, with no negative repercussions). Unfortunately, after listening to all the ideas presented to him, sometimes he would take a personal decision that seemed to be preconceived, regardless the arguments presented in a meeting or in a discussion. At the same time, he offered his subordinates little guidance in work and research or when he did offer specific guidelines, those would change in a rapid and unsustainable way. He also let his employees to define their own responsibilities within the projects they were working on, for example: what part of the project to work on or what functions to perform within the team.
I did not manage to include this leader into one of Lewin’s categories; I even believe that he could be at the intersection of all three leadership styles. I will choose the laissez-faire style for further analysis, since it features a leader that doesn’t provide directions and instructions to the team members, causing them to lack the motivation to work. The lessaiz-faire leader allows team members to make their own decisions and does not assign any particular roles within the groups. As Lewin also suggests, this kind of leadership is not very effective, unless the employees or team members are very qualified and by using their skills and expertise alone they can deliver good results in their work or research.
Therefore, the similarities between the leadership style I presented and the laissez-faire style stand in the following key points: first of all, the described leader did not give us (as team members) any guidance on how to divide our tasks or how to assign our roles. We had to take these decisions ourselves and at times, many of our tasks were intersected. Also, he did not provide us with sufficient guidelines regarding the substance of our work, causing us to end up doing unnecessary research or performing extensive tasks that were unessential. This kind of leadership approach severely affected our motivation, our productivity and at times, the quality of our work. Even if we produced new ideas regarding the project we were working on and we discussed these ideas with the leader – the lack of proper guidelines prevented us from further applying and integrating those ideas into our work.
The differences between the laissez-faire and the above presented leader are as following: the leader sometimes took decisions after listening to the opinions and arguments of all the members in the group, while preserving his right for a final word; this kind of leadership style corresponds to the democratic style. However, there were times when regardless of our opinions and proposals as a team (drawn based on prior research and work), he would take an entirely different decision, that seem preconceived; this kind of attitude definitely corresponds to the authoritarian style. However, since our leader has been recently assigned to that position, I believe that this frequent shifting from one leadership style to another results from his lack of experience as a leader and his ongoing (maybe unconscious) quest for a specific style. Therefore, if I were allowed to define a new leadership category based on this example, I would call it the “irregular style”, due to the leader’s constant shifting in attitudes and his indecision (at times).
Extra Program Management. Styles of Leadership (Lewin | Lewin Theory). 2012. 23 October 2012
Lewin, Kurt, Lipitt, Ronald and White, Ralph. "Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created social climates." Journal of Social Psychology (1939): 271-279