Perhaps the most crucial factor in determining the success of business enterprises ultimately boils down to effective leadership. With it, success is far more likely; without it, success is far less likely.

“A leader is best when people barely know he/she exists, when the work is done, his/her aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. (Lao Tzu)

In 1939, Kurt Lewin was among the first scholars to take a serious look at identifying various styles of leadership. The article he published with Ron Lippitt and Robert White in the Journal of Social Psychology delineated three dominant leadership styles: authoritarian, participative, and delegative.   The terms used to describe each style are generally descriptive of the behavioral approach each represents. Other scholars have more recently used the terms autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire to refer to these dominant leadership styles.

More recent research and theorizing, however, has identified additional approaches to understanding leadership styles that are also worthy of note.   In particular: situational leadership, transformational leadership, and servant leadership deserve mention.

Situational leadership: Research demonstrates that at times, one of the above noted styles may be most effective, while at other times, another style may be most effective. Truly effective leaders must be capable of practicing all three dominant styles, dependent on the situation, and they must have the business acumen to assess when one style is more appropriate than another.

Transformational leadership: Transformational leaders inspire members to internalize a common identity rooted in shared goals and values. Transformational leadership is particularly important and effective during times of significant change in business paradigms and/or technology.

Servant leadership: This style of leadership is unusual in that it speaks to leaders who combine aspects of both situational and transformational leadership, while viewing their primary goal to be that of serving those they are entrusted to lead. Servant leaders strive to emphasize selfless values and ethics in exercising the authority of their positions. They are far more interested in the success of the team than in gaining personal acclaim.

So where does all of this leave us in terms of our understanding leadership styles?

First and foremost, there is no single best style for executing the myriad demands of leadership in contemporary organizations.
Second, efficacy can and most often is determined by the unique interaction of complex factors, such as: market conditions, time constraints, corporate climate, and the overall quality of organizational personnel.

And, third, the words of General Douglas MacArthur may best summarize the essence of leadership style that is most often successful, regardless of the conditions or situational context.

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He/she does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his/her actions and the integrity of his/her intent.”

For more information on Leadership Styles, please visit our website at, or contact Dr. Wendy Heckelman directly at (954) 385-0770.

Wendy L. Heckelman, Ph.D.

Dr. Wendy Heckelman, president and founder of WLH Consulting, Inc. has over 30 years of experience working with Fortune 100 industry clients. These include pharmaceutical, biotech, health care, animal health medicines, and consumer products, as well as international non-profit organizations and growing entrepreneurial companies.

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