Perhaps in the despair over defining leadership, management theorists have attempted to picture it in terms of style. In using such a broad term, they are attempting to describe how the person operates, rather than what he is. If you think about a number of leaders that you know personally, you can probably come up with your own summation of their style: “He’s a player/coach kind of guy,” or “she’s a prima donna,” or “he’s a one man show.” In other words, we tend to characterize a leader on the way he/she leads by our personal; perception of him or her. It follows that one person may feel differently than another about a leader’s style. “Style” turns out to be the summation of how the leader goes about carrying out his or her leadership function and how he is perceived by those he is attempting to lead or those who may be observing from the sidelines.
What leadership styles Are There?
Since leadership style includes how a person operates within the context of his organization, it is easiest to discuss different leadership styles by describing the type of organization or ministry which either results from his or is appropriate for a particular style. There are five leadership styles that function in various organizations:
Bureaucratic – This is a style marked by a continual reference to organization rules and regulations. It is assumed that somehow difficulties can be ironed out if everyone will abide by the rules. Decisions are made by parliamentary procedures. The leader is a diplomat and learns how to use the majority rule way to get people to perform. Compromise is a way of life because in order to have one decision accepted by the majority it is often necessary to give in on another.
Permissive – Here the desire is to keep everyone in the group satisfied. Keeping people happy is the name of the game. It is assumed that if people feel good about themselves and others that the organization will function, and thus the job will get done. Coordination often suffers with this style.
Laissez-faire – This is practically no leadership at all and allows everything to run its own course. The leaders simply perform a maintenance function. For example, a pastor may act as a figurehead as far as the leadership of the organization is concerned and concern himself only with his preaching while others are left to work out the details of how the organization should operate. This style is sometimes used by leaders who are away a great deal or who have been temporarily put in charge.
Participative – This is used by those who believe the way to motivate others is to involve them in the decision-making process. This hopefully creates a goal ownership and a feeling of shared purpose. Here the problem is the delay in action in times of crisis.
Autocratic – This is marked by reliance upon authority and usually assumes that people will not do anything unless told to. It discourages innovation. The leader sees him/her as indispensable. Decisions can be made quickly.
What do these styles Assume?
Notice that each one of these styles depends to a large extent on one’s view of people and what motivates them. Since the function of leadership is to lead, getting people to follow is of the primary importance. The Bureaucratic leader somehow believes that everyone can agree on the best way to do things and that there is some system outside of human relationships that can be used as a guide. Hence rules and regulations.
The permissive leader wants everyone (including himself) to feel good. Internal stress is viewed as being bad for the organization (and perhaps even unchristian).
The laissez-faire leader either assumes that the organization is running so well that he can’t add to it, or he assumes that organizations really don’t need a focal point of leadership.
The participative leader usually enjoys solving problems and working with others. He assumes that others feel the same way, and therefore, the most will be accomplished by working together and sharing all the decisions and goals.
The autocratic leader assumes that people will only do what they are told to do and/or that he/she knows what is best. In other words, he may appear to be a dictator. (But he is also a benevolent dictator).
Which Style is Best?
Leaders are different. But so are followers! Which is another way of saying that some situations demand one style of leader, while others demand a different one? Leaders are different. At any given time the leadership needs of an organization may vary from another time. Since organizations have difficulty continually changing their leaders, it follows that those leaders will need different styles at different times. The appropriate style depends a great deal on the task of the organization, the phase of life of the organization, and the needs of the moment.
What might be some examples of how the task of the organization affects leadership style? A fire department cannot perform without at least some autocratic leadership. When the time comes for the organization to perform, to do what it was designed to do, autocratic leadership is a must. There is no time to sit down and to discuss how to attack the fire. One trained person has to decide for the group, and the group must abide by his decision. Later on there may be more free discussion on which way will be best next time. On the other hand, a medical group might best be operated with a permissive style.
An autocratic style may even be needed in a Christian organization! In times of crisis, such as the evacuation of mission personnel, or the need to radically reduce costs, the leader often must act unilaterally.
Organizations go through different phases of their life. During periods of rapid growth and expansion, autocratic leadership may work very well. For example, the founder of a new Christian organization, or the founding pastor of a church, is often a charismatic figure who knows intuitively what is to be done and how to do it. Since the vision is his/hers he is best able to impart it to others without discussion. But during periods of slow growth or consolidation, the organization needs to be much more reflective to attempt to be more efficient. Participative leadership may be the order of the day.
Both of these considerations need to be tempered by the needs of the moment. A leader must be sensitive to the life-situation of the organization or they ministry group in which they lead.
Fitting Style to Organization
It follows that ideally a leader should have many different styles. He should be a man for all seasons, shifting from the permissiveness of summer to the demands of winter.
Looking at it from the side of the organization, the organization needs to adopt a strategy for effectiveness, taking into account its needs and its “product.” Most voluntary organizations and not-for-profit organizations are founded on the assumption of a common vision and shared goals. They have a strategy of seeking success (reaching their goals). If an organization on adopts a strategy to avoid failure it will never succeed because it will have to exercise courage in certain moments to do something that beyond a certain level of comfort. Evert team that I have been the leader I have stressed that, it is important our leaders understand their style and relate it to our commitment of practicing Servant-Leadership. A good leader in understanding their propensity for a certain leadership style will always keep in their focus that one must be able to Recruit, Equip, Empower, Encourage, and Emancipate volunteers effectively. Hey Al! Why do you use the word emancipate? Because we realize that every person is God’s Masterpiece that has already been created to do good works (Eph. 2:10), which means that the ultimate task of a leader is to see that God’s artwork is put on display in the right place.
 Ted W. Engstrom & Edward R. Dayton, The Art of Management for Christian Leaders,
(Word Books, Waco Texas, 1976) p. 31.