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Leadership Styles (3-Style Model) - Kurt Lewin
The 3-style model of leadership from Kurt Lewin, understanding and using the model to understand styles of leadership.
Table of contents
This is the oldest of the situational models. Kurt Lewin, a psychologist, led a research team in 1939 and identified what he called three 'styles' of leadership behaviour in an article in the Journal of Social Psychology.
Kurt Lewin identified three Behavioural styles among leaders. Now these three styles could also fit into the Leadership Styles module. However if you bear in mind the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, you can match them to your circumstances - provided, of course, you can flex your behaviour. This is when the Three Styles model becomes a guide to more effective leadership.
Sometimes called the Autocratic style. This is where leaders spell out the goals, deadlines and methods while making decisions on their own with little consultation with others. Here, the leader doesn’t usually get involved in the group’s work and it is less likely to see creative decisions under this style of leadership. However, it is a decisive way of leading and can suit high-risk, short-timescale decisions. Lewin noted that leaders who adopt this style can be seen by others as dictatorial and tend to get stuck in one mode of behaviour.
Sometimes called the Democratic style. This is where the leader expresses his or her priorities and values in setting goals and making decisions, but also takes part in the group’s work and accepts advice and suggestions from colleagues. However, the leader makes the final decision. This style can produce more creative problem solving and innovation than the Authoritarian approach so it makes sense to adopt it in competitive, non-emergency situations.
Sometimes called the Laissez-Faire style. The Delegative style means the leader hands over responsibility for results to the group. He or she lets them set goals, decide on work methods, define individuals’ roles and set their own pace of work. It can work well provided the group shares the same overall intent as the leader and if he/she trusts all members of the group.
In summary, Lewin outlined three distinct modes of behaviour for leaders. If they were merely descriptive, they wouldn't help leaders wanting to become better at what they do. But if you bear in mind the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, you can match them to your circumstances - provided, of course, you can flex your behaviour. This is when the Three Styles model becomes a guide to more effective leadership.
Lewin, K.; Lippitt, R.; White, R.K. (1939). Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created social climates. Journal of Social Psychology 10: 271–301.
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