Lewin's Leadership Styles Framework

Three Core Leadership Styles

Lewin's Leadership Styles Framework - Three Core Leadership Styles

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How is your natural leadership style affecting your team?

Chances are, you've worked for a wide variety of leaders during your career. Some might have been excellent, while others may not have been effective at all. You might even have experienced a boss who was great in some situations and bad in others, because he or she used the same leadership style each time.

It's important to understand your own natural leadership style, so that you can adapt your approach to fit your situation. It's also helpful to know which leadership behaviors to avoid.

One way to do this is to use Lewin's Leadership Styles Framework. In this article, we'll look at the three core leadership styles that Lewin identified, and we'll see how you can use his model to be a more effective leader.

About the Model

In 1939, psychologist Kurt Lewin led a study that identified three core styles of leadership, and outlined the effect that each style had on team members. His research also showed that leaders get different results when they lead their teams in different ways.

Although Lewin conducted this study many decades ago, his findings have influenced many of today's leadership theories and approaches, including transformational leadership (which, we believe, is often the most effective leadership style to use in business).

The three core leadership styles he identified were:

  • Authoritarian (autocratic) leadership.
  • Participative (democratic) leadership.
  • Delegative (laissez-faire) leadership.

It's important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each style, so that you can recognize your own natural leadership style, and adapt your approach to fit your situation.

When you understand each style, you will also know what behaviors to avoid if you want to get the best from your people.


Lewin's research took place in the U.S. It's important to remember that people in other cultures may respond differently to these leadership styles.

Our articles on Cross-Cultural Leadership and Wibbeke's Geoleadership Model have more information on how to lead a diverse, cross-cultural team.

The Three Leadership Styles

Let's examine each of Lewin's three leadership styles in detail, and look at how and when to apply each one with your team.

As you read through the descriptions, bear in mind that you can use elements of all three approaches in different situations.

Authoritarian (Autocratic) Leadership

You lead in an authoritarian way when you make decisions without consulting your team members. You tell people what to do, and how to do it.

The benefit of authoritarian leadership is that...

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