Kurt Lewin and His Three Main Leadership Styles


Elsie Byrd, writer

When you enter a store, a restaurant, or a non-profit, who is in charge? Most importantly what are they like; considerate, lazy, or aggressive? Kurt Lewin along with his colleagues sophisticatedly organized the three main leadership styles in categories based on experiments performed on kids. After conducting these experiments he labeled, Democratic- cooperation, Autocratic – Impatient, and Laissez-Faire- uninvolved. 

Lewin personally described Autocratic as a leadership style where the decisions are made without consulting the team. He even goes a step further to explain that in his experiments he found this style caused the most level of discontent. In my opinion, this type of person are the ones that refer to “ my way or the highway” they see things clearly and think their ideas are substantially better than others. Lewin claims “motivation of the people to carry out subsequent actions would not be affected whether they were or were not involved in the decision- making.” This shows that although they don’t get much say in decision making the leader can still make the workplace enjoyable, or maybe they fear to slack off. In conclusion workers, still produce work at a good rate, but they may not be happy in their workplace or feel important.

Secondly, Lewin found that Democratic leadership styles tend to be the most effective, and appreciated.  Democratic styles are described as the leader involving his team in decision making, even if the final decision is made by the leader themselves. Kurt quotes, “ It can be problematic when there is a wide range of opinions and there is no clear way of reaching an equitable final decision.”

After taking leadership quizzes, this was the leadership style I was tagged too. I believe this would be an effective style in schools and design-oriented organizations. I work in the yearbook, so respecting everyone’s opinion, but also being able to make a final decision is extremely important. If we were to make a decision without consulting others, it could affect our sales or productivity because they would want to rebel. On the other hand, if we didn’t put any input in, they could argue and be indecisive the whole time, or end up making a mess trying to combine many things at once. So finding an equilibrium would be the most effective in that scenario; however, I do think certain aspects of the workforce calls for a more authoritative approach like the military.” In conclusion, democratic is a great leadership style for the people, but it could lead to some people upset or feeling ignored.

Thirdly, Lewin describes Laissez-Faire as style with little leadership involvement in decision making. Lewin continues to point out “ Laissez-faire works best when people are capable and motivated in making their own decisions, and where there is no requirement for central coordination, for example, in sharing resources across a range of different people and groups.” I personally think this style is messy, and unprofessional, but I can understand circumstances where it may be important to practice. For example, when you’re in a classroom and you want your kids to practice decision making on their own, so you step back and see who takes initiative. This style is very different from autocratic but relates closely to democratic. It resembles democratic because it allows for the team to make creative decisions as a whole and values one another’s opinions. In conclusion, laissez-faire is important in situations it can lead to no production, unless team members are motivated to do so.

Lastly, Lewin goes through point by point saying Democratic was the most effective, autocratic lead to rebellion (revolution), and laissez-faire lead to people not being coherent in their work and did not put in the energy that they did when being actively led. I do understand and believe these are all true.  I also think they all have good qualities along with flaws. I don’t think its a bad thing to be any of these styles within reason, everyone is unique and they should embrace that. 

Personally, I would want to work for a mix of autocratic and democratic. I think they should be direct, but allow for you to be yourself and have fun with the job. I just started a job at The Children’s place and they are almost a mix of all the styles, as long as you get things done you can do whatever you want, within reason. I can’t just run out the store, or damage their reputation, but I can be on the phone, eat openly, and wear whatever I want. For some people, that sounds normal, but for me coming from a fast food restaurant, it is completely different. My opinion matters, and they make it important for me to be known.

At the end of the day, many people are leaving their position as a leader to be a friend, parent, or pet-owner. We can always learn new tactics and develop new responsibilities. Some leaders can make your day miserable or fantastic, but everyone responds differently to different styles. People can change, and so can their career paths or decision making morals, so enter every new establishment with an open mind. What leadership style do you think you would work best with, democratic, autocratic, or laissez-faire? In Conclusion, each style has characteristics of one another, and some relate more closely than others. There are more than just three, but according to Lewin, most people fall under these three main leadership styles.