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A diagram that introduces the three leadership styles as classified by Lewin, Lippit and Whit (1939): 1. Autocratic leaders, 2. Participative or democratic leaders 3. Delegative or free rein (laissez-faire) leaders

Leadership styles: Lewin

Lewin, Lippit and Whit (1939) classified leadership into three styles:

Autocratic leaders: these leaders use their authority to impose the ways of working and often make decisions without consulting their team or followers. This can work in organisations where input from followers needs to be minimal and where their motivation to ‘follow’ is not affected by not being involved in the decision.

Participative or democratic leaders: these leaders usually involve their followers in the decision-making process. They tend to encourage participation from the team and also delegate authority to team members. This style of leadership is important when team agreement matters.

Delegative or free rein (laissez-faire) leaders: these leaders give followers full freedom to make most decisions and to perform work in the manner that is most convenient for them. This type of leadership works when the team is highly motivated and capable.

Your task

What type of leader would you like to be and why?

Reflecting on your knowledge and experiences, what are (or would be in your opinion) the advantages and disadvantages of the leadership styles mentioned above?


Lewin, K., Lippit, R., White, R.K. (1939) ‘Patterns of aggressive behaviour in experimentally created social climates’. Journal of Social Psychology 10, 271-301

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This article is from the free online course:

Leadership Theory: The Basics

Coventry University