Lewin’s Leadership Styles

A leadership style refers to a leader’s behaviours and characteristics when directing and managing groups of people. Psychologist Kurt Lewin’s framework may help you understand more about the different leadership styles and how you can use the model to become a more effective leader.

Great leaders can also motivate others to perform and innovate. If you think about people you consider great leaders, you will probably notice they have vast differences in how they lead. It is useful to understand your natural leadership style and how you need to adapt to certain situations.


About the Model

Lewin argued that there are three major styles of leadership. His research also showed that leaders get different results when they lead their teams in different ways.

  1. Authoritarian (Autocratic) Leaders make decisions without referring to their team members, even when their contribution would add value. This can be appropriate when quick decisions need to be made or when team consensus isn’t necessary. However, this style can lead to high levels of demotivation, absenteeism and staff turnover.
  2. Participative (Democratic) Leaders involve team members in the process but are responsible for making the final decisions, especially when multiple options are available. They ensure team members are highly engaged in projects and decisions. This often results in a highly productive team. However, this is not an effective style to use when there is a need for urgency and quick decisions are needed.
  3. Delegative (Laissez-faire) Leaders believe individuals and teams should be given a lot of freedom in setting deadlines and managing how they complete tasks. They will only get involved if someone requests support or advice. This can be extremely effective if team members have the resources, skills and knowledge needed to do their work successfully. It also relies on individuals being self-motivated and good at planning, prioritising and generally managing their time.  Occasionally, when a leader does not have control over the work being complete or the people in the team, a Laissez-faire leadership can occur.


Observations of the Leadership Styles

There are advantages and disadvantages of each style in Lewin’s framework, but generally, people tend to resent authoritarian leadership, and will usually respond more positively to participative or delegative approaches.

In the leadership handbook written by Bernard and Ruth Bass in 2008 ([1]The Bass Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research, and Managerial Applications) the authors note that authoritarian leadership is often presented solely in negative and controlling terms. However, this overlooks the potential positives of following strict guidelines and taking responsibility – both essential traits when working in highly dangerous or regulated environments.

Bass and Bass comment that democratic leadership tends to be an effective approach when trying to maintain relationships with others. Individuals working for democratic leaders tend to get along well with other team members, freely offering support and consulting other members of the group when making decisions


To conclude; your leadership style will be influenced by your natural style preference and the current situation. However, while a more democratic style has obvious advantages – there will be situations that require a different approach.


[1] The Bass Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research, and Managerial Applications Author: Bernard M. Bass, Ruth Bass, Publisher: Free Press, 2008

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