The 4 Styles of Leadership Based on Authority [Explained]

What is Style of Leadership?

Styles of leadership refer to the leader’s behaviors toward subordinates while leading them to the achievement of goals. Leadership style is the result of the leader’s objectives, personality, experience, and value system.

In short, the behavior shown by a leader during the supervision of his subordinates is known as the leadership style. It is commonly accepted that there are seeming as many styles of leadership as there are diverse leaders.

While leading the follower every leader shows different behaviors. When we see the different leaders we start to talk about their styles of behaving towards their followers. We judge them as rude, familiar, positive, negative, funny, etc.

It is difficult to identify the exact style of leaders. Hence, here, we look at the different 4 most common styles of leadership which are based on authority to understand the styles of leaders.

Leadership is an important function of management. Here are the four leadership styles in management that are based on authority.

  • Autocratic Leadership Style
  • Democratic Leadership Style (Participative)
  • Laissez-Fair Leadership (Free Rein Leadership)
  • Paternalistic Style

Let’s define these four styles of leadership in detail.

Autocratic Leadership Style

Autocratic leadership is also known as authoritarian and boss-centered leadership. In this leadership, a leader has sole authority to make decisions. A leader believed in centralized power and expects all decisions from him without consulting subordinates. He always expects subordinates to accept his decisions without any comment. In short, he behaves like a dictator.

autocratic leadership style

Here, as a leader, the manager centralizes total power with him and enjoys full authority, and bears the responsibility for the organization. He determines plans and policies independently and implements them according to his knowledge and logic. He never takes any guidance and suggestions from his subordinates. Thus, it is related to the centralization of authority.

In an autocratic leadership style, the head solves all problems of the organization himself. He also defines what to do, and how to do the work to subordinates. He determines rewards for obedient and efficient subordinates and holds out the threat of punishment to inefficient or indisciplined subordinates.

In the authoritarian leadership style, there is one-way communication. The information of guidance and instructions only flows from the top level to the operational level.

Autocratic leadership can be subdivided into two categories strict autocratic leadership and benevolent autocratic leadership.

In strict autocratic leadership, a leader always uses negative motivation. He motivates the subordinates by threatening them with a penalty, punishment, demotion, etc. A leader is all in all in every activity of the organization.

In benevolent autocratic leadership, a leader uses positive emotion. He encourages the subordinates by giving incentives like promotions, more remuneration, etc. In some situations, he also takes guidance and suggestions from subordinates.

This style has both positive and negative sides. Advantages of autocratic leadership:

  • Prompt decisions can be made
  • Maximizes productivity
  • It is adaptable to environmental change
  • Reduces the workload of subordinates

Disadvantages of autocratic leadership:

  • High frustration
  • Low morale
  • High conflicts
  • Employees try to avoid responsibility
  • Lack of initiation

This leadership style is losing its popularity because of rising living standards, the entry of new generations into organizations, and social awareness.

Where to use autocratic leadership style? Autocracy Leadership can be used, where

  • The subordinates are inexperienced, lack proper training and knowledge, unable to understand organizational goals.
  • The company approves fear and punishment as accepted disciplinary techniques.
  • The leader is highly competent in decision-making.
  • The leader wants to be active and dominant in decision-making.

Democratic Style of Leadership

This is a liberal type of leadership. It is also known as participative leadership or employee-centered leadership. In this leadership style, a leader believes in the decentralization of power and invites subordinates into the decision-making process. This leadership style is suitable and practicable when subordinates are trained, experienced, and skilled.

In democratic leadership, the upper-level management is responsible for the preparation of plans and policies whereas subordinates are responsible for their implementation. Here, upper-level management takes suggestions, guidance, and information from subordinates for the preparation of plans and policies.

democratic leadership

In the democratic leadership style, there is a system of two-way communication. The information of instructions and guidance flows from the top level to the subordinates whereas the information of achievement, problems, and suggestions flows from the subordinates level to the upper level.

Also Read: What is Organizing? Definition, Features, Principles, Process, and Importance

Here, a leader always uses positive motivation and encourages subordinates by providing rewards and incentives. To some extent, subordinates are independent in doing their work. The leader only provides guidance and suggestions at the time of requirement. The feeling of teamwork is developed among all the employees.

The positive sides of this participative leadership style are, it produces more job satisfaction and morale of employees. Participation enables subordinates to satisfy their social and ego needs. The leader encourages subordinates and uses feedback to coach employees.

The one most contrary side of this leadership style is that it extends the decision-making time which can be a cause for the challenge in adjusting to environmental change.

Where to use the Democratic Leadership Style? Democratic leadership can be used, where

  • Subordinates are highly competent, experienced, and motivated.
  • The leaders prefer participation in decision-making.
  • The organization has made its objectives transparent to the employees.
  • Reward and involvement are used as the primary means of motivation and control.

Difference Between Autocratic and Democratic Styles of Leadership

Autocratic leadership Vs. Democratic leadership, some differences between these styles of leadership are as follows:

Autocratic LeadershipDemocratic Leadership
Known as authoritarian leadership where power
is centralized.
Known as participative leadership where the
power is decentralized.
A leader takes decisions by consulting
subordinates, so there is a probability of slow
Here, the leader invites subordinates to participate
in the decision-making process.
There is a one-way communication from the top
level to subordinate levels.
There is two-way communication from top-level
to subordinate levels and vice versa.
This style gives importance to negative motivation.This style gives importance to positive
Suitable where subordinates are uneducated
and unskilled.
Suitable where subordinates are trained,
experienced, and intelligent.
A single leader takes the decision, so there is
possibility of prompt decisions.
Here, the leader prefers participative management
there is more possibility of using creativity and
the potentiality of employees in productivity.
Here, a leader behaves like a dictator to
subordinates, so there is no possibility of
creativity and potentiality of employees in
Here, leader prefers participative management
there is more possibility of using creativity and
the potentiality of employees in productivity.

Also Read: Henri Fayol’s 14 Principles of Management Every Manager Must Look For

Laissez-Faire or Free Rein Leadership Style

It is a leadership style where followers are granted power of decision-making. Here, the leader does not lead but leaves the group entirely to itself.

Under a laissez-faire leadership style, leaders avoid power and responsibility. They grant authority and responsibility to groups. The role of the leader is to provide advice and direction as requested by the subordinates. Group members perform everything themselves. Leaders behave primarily as a group and play the role of a member-only.

laissez faire leadership

In this leadership style, there is horizontal communication. The concept of management by exception promotes this style, where subordinates themselves plan, control, evaluate, and decide, and the manager interferes exceptionally. This style is suitable for highly trained and professional staff.

Characteristics of laissez-faire leadership style are: (Source: Robert Kreitner)

  • Leader grants authority and responsibility to groups.
  • Group members are told to work things out themselves and do the best they can.
  • Primarily horizontal communication among peers.
  • Permits self-starters to do things as they want without leader interference.
  • Groups may drift aimlessly in the absence of direction from the leader.

Where to use the free-rein leadership style? Free Rein Leadership Style can be used, where

  • The organizational goals have been communicated well and are acceptable to all subordinates.
  • The leader is interested in delegating decision-making authority fully.
  • The subordinates themselves are well-trained and highly knowledgeable concerning their tasks and are ready to assume responsibility.

Paternalistic Leadership Style

The paternalistic style is a fatherly style of leadership, it is just like a mature father in a family. Under this leadership style, the leader assumes a paternal or fatherly role.

The paternalistic style is a part of the laissez-faire leadership style. The leader works to guide, protect, and keep followers who work together as members of a happy family. He makes provisions for good working conditions and other necessary services. It is hoped that under such leadership, workers will work hard out of gratitude.

Which Leadership Style is Best and Why?

Or, Which leadership style is superior and why?

It can be clearly concluded from the above discussion that no leadership style is superior in itself, it depends. Most people prefer to work under a democratic leadership style. However, it does not mean democratic or participative leadership is always best.

The choice depends on forces in the managers, forces in the subordinates, and forces in the situation.


In the short run, the autocratic style may produce good results but democratic leadership produces good results in the long term. Sometimes, leaders prefer to choose the free-rein style either because of a lack of confidence or because the situation is much more favorable.

Our parents used to be autocratic when we were school students, they tend to be participative when we are mature, and laissez-faire as they become old and we are self-motivated and able.

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