Kurt Lewin and fellow colleagues conducted research on leadership decision-making styles during the thirties. Lewin and his colleagues published their research in 1939. Lewin and his colleagues identified three generic leadership styles concerning decision-making, which they labeled as Autocratic, Democratic and Laissez-faire.
When making decisions, leaders were found to show one of these three broad leadership styles.
Autocratic leadership style
Autocratic leaders centralize all decision-making power in the leader. They give direct orders and directives. Communication is often one-way, and the leaders do not seek any suggestions from subordinates.
This leadership style will potentially work best, when there is no need for input, and when any input would not strengthen the outcomes of the decision.
The advantage of the leadership style is that it enables a quick decision-making process. Likewise, this leadership style may motivate the respective leader, who will be powerful enough to control employees and issue orders autocratically.
The drawbacks of this leadership style could e.g. be that subordinates would get frustrated by the autocratic ways of decision-making, and that a given decision may not be as successful without the involvement and input from the subordinates.
Democratic leaders often involve subordinates and groups in the decision-making. The respective leader will have the final say, but only after having consulted the subordinates.
This leadership will potentially be most feasible when leaders do not have full insight into the consequences of a specific decision, and when an involvement of subordinates may strengthen the outcome of the decision.
The advantage of this leadership style could e.g. be that subordinates will feel more motivated, and that any given decision will be enriched by the knowledge derived from the consultation.
The drawbacks could e.g. be that decision making is too slow, and that it becomes difficult to reach a consensus on what is the right solution.
Laissez-faire leaders minimize their involvement in the decision-making, and let the subordinates decide on issues for themselves.
This leadership style will potentially be most feasible when subordinates are fully competent to make their own decisions, and when the leader does not have the adequate understanding of a given decisional problems.
The advantage of this style is e.g. that subordinates get all the decision-making power to make decisions, so that they will be enabled to make sound decisions within their realm of expertise. Likewise, subordinates may feel motivated by this devolution of power, which may enrich their jobs.
The drawbacks of this leadership style could e.g. be that subordinates are not coordinated, and that work may be unstructured.
Although Kurt Lewin and his colleagues found the democratic leadership style as the most effective in their research, leaders will potentially have to choose which style may fit best to the situation. Sometimes leaders must exhibit an autocratic leadership style that will speed up decision-making, and sometimes choose e.g. a democratic style when the situation calls for it.
Great leaders will know when to use which style, so that decision-making can be as effective and efficient as possible, and so that the leadership style chosen will reflect the needs and objectives of the given decision-making situation.