Kurt Lewin's Styles of Leadership

Kurt Lewin recognised that one of the factors that determines a leader's choice of leadership style is the need to make decisions. In 1939 he and his co-workers identified three styles of leadership decision making, the autocratic, the democratic and the laissez-faire.

Autocratic leaders make decisions themselves. They do not consult their followers, or involve them in the decision-making process. Having made a decision they impose it and expect obedience.

Democratic leaders take an active role in the decision making process but they involve others too. Despite the term "democratic" they don't necessarily put decisions to the vote. Of course, they still carry the responsibility for seeing that decisions achieve the desired outcomes.

Laissez-faire leaders have very little involvement in decisions making themselves, pretty much leaving matters to their followers. This might be OK when the followers are capable and motivated but can create problems otherwise!


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

Return from Lewin's Styles of Leadership to Learn-to-be-a-Leader home page.