Autocrat, Democrat, or Servant: What’s your leadership style?

Every leader has a leadership style. And leadership styles have consequences.

According to PayScale’s 2014 Compensation Best Practices report, most employees leave their jobs for “personal reasons” or for higher pay. Pay is important, of course. Despite how much we may like our jobs, if our employers couldn’t pay us, we’d likely quit.

Still, people have been known to accept positions at the same rate of pay or to even take a pay cut. Some do this for personal reasons (irony intended) such as to escape a bad relationship with the boss.

Like I said, leadership style has consequences.

What’s your leadership style?

There are basically three types of leaders—democrats, autocrats, and servants.

Democrats lead by consensus. Democratic leaders regularly solicit input and feedback before making decisions. Democratic leaders believe that people want to work and are capable of high performance without a lot of oversight. Democratic leadership is also known as “participative” leadership.

In contrast, autocrats believe that people don’t want to work and won’t work without strong (usually negative) outside incentives. Autocrats are the original micromanagers and practice the “control and command” style of leadership.

Servant leadership is something altogether different. Servant leadership is a collaborative management style that views employees as partners. Servant leaders view their role as one of stewards, responsible for the development of employees in their care.

What does it matter?

Again, leadership style has consequences.

Democratic leadership

Democratic leadership tends to result in more productive and engaged employees, because “psychologically safe” environments—wherein employees are able to contribute ideas without fear of reprisal or ridicule— encourages greater participation and commitment.

One the downside, democratic leadership can lead to decision making inefficiencies when the leader hesitates to make a decision without consensus, or when the leader relies on input from unqualified sources. (I’ve seen this happen, for example, during the recruiting process when the leader solicits the opinion of those not qualified to determine a candidate’s suitability.)

Autocratic leadership

Like democratic leadership, autocratic leadership can lead to high levels of productivity, at least temporarily. Autocratic leadership can also result in more efficient decision making, since fewer people are needed to provide input. Finally, autocratic leadership may be especially useful during moments of crisis or when teaching new employees new tasks.

In the long-term however, autocratic leadership tends to result in lower morale, lower productivity, higher turnover, and lower-quality decisions. Autocratic leadership doesn’t allow room for employee autonomy, and the best employees won’t tolerate that situation indefinitely. The rest will eventually become less engaged and less productive.

Servant leadership

I confess to a bias concerning servant leadership. Rather than focusing on the desire to lead (which often is related to the desire to acquire control and influence) the servant leader focuses on a desire to serve.

According to the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, a servant leader “focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong … the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

Although this might sound a little “touchy feely,” servant leadership takes guts, maturity, dedication, and discipline. And while servant leadership puts people first, people goals are aligned with organizational goals. For example, coaxing someone who’s unsuitable for the job out of the organization would not be incompatible with servant leadership.

Finally, servant leadership is sustainable in a way the other leadership styles simply aren’t.

In summary …

So, what’s your leadership style? And is it working for you?