Leadership Styles: a brief literature review

By John Dudovskiy
November 5, 2013

Leadership StylesLeadership styles are generally divided into four categories: autocratic, consultative, democratic, and laissez-faire (Daiels, 2004, Davies and Brundrett, 2010). The following table contains the description of each style, relevant leader behaviours and potential impact on employees:

Style Description Leader behaviours Potential impact on employees
Autocratic Basic premise: leader knows best.

Communication flows downwards



Makes all decisions and solves all problems

Issues commands



Consultative Basic premise: leader informs members of best concepts Directive approach; teacher of information Increases knowledge levels


Basic premise: every member should have input.

Communication is open and mutual

Acts as a facilitator.

Serves as a resource person

Encourages members’ active participation

Improved productivity

More opportunity for personal growth

Increased cooperation and teamwork

Laissez-Faire Leadership responsibilities are assumed by group.

Almost any behaviour by group is permissible due to the leader’s lack of limit-setting and stated expectations

Passive, non-directive approach.

Provides little, if any support, guidance, or feedback.

Sets no limits

Unmet tasks

Relationship needs of group members ignored


Descriptions of leadership styles, leader behaviours, and potential impact on employees

Source: Daniels (2004)

The majority of authors stress the advantages of democratic leadership style over autocratic leadership at various levels. Interestingly, Dukakis et al. (2010) argue that the negative impacts of autocratic leadership are starkly evident in private sector organisations compared to public sector organisations. To explain this point, Dukakis et al. (2010) reason that leadership issues in private sector organisations associated with the application of autocratic leadership style would be reflected in the level of revenues, whereas leadership ineffectiveness in public sector organisations might be tolerated for longer periods of time.

Davies and Brundrett (2010) warn not to dismiss autocratic leadership style as totally inappropriate referring to specific cases where autocratic leadership might prove to be effective. Davies and Brundrett (2010) further elaborate that occasions where the application of autocratic leadership might prove to be effective include, but not limited to emergency situations and crises that can be resulted impacted by a wide range of factors.

However, the literature review has found a consensus among authors about inappropriateness of application of laissez-faire leadership style, regardless of the sector, public or private.

At the same time, the overall idea of dividing leadership into different categories is dismissed as impractical by Schermerhorn et al. (2011) and Griffin (2011). Specifically, Schermerhorn et al. (2011) argue that each leadership case is different as a subject to a range of unique circumstances, and therefore categorising leadership into rigid moulds would not be appropriate.



Daniels, R. (2004) Nursing Fundamentals: Caring and Clinical Decision-Making Cengage Learning

Davies, B. & Brundrett, M. (2010) Developing Successful Leadership Springer Publications

Dukakis, M.S., Portz, J.H. & Potz, J.S. (2010) Leader-Managers in the Public Sector: Managing for Results, ME Sharpe

Schermerhorn, J.R., Osborn, R.N. & Hunt, J.G. (2011) Organisational Behaviour John Wiley & Sons

Category: Leadership