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Most of us are members of many different social groups, and several of those groups have leaders. In this lesson, we define and discuss both instrumental and expressive leadership in groups. We also cover three leadership decision-making styles: authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire.

Instrumental vs. Expressive Leadership

Many of us choose to be in social groups because there are number of benefits that we receive as members. We may choose to be in a group for instrumental (or task) reasons so that the other group members can help us accomplish something. Or, we may choose to be in a group for expressive (or emotional) reasons so that the other group members can provide us with companionship, love, and security.

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Think about our social groups in the context of leadership. There are typically two types of leadership: instrumental and expressive. Instrumental leadership focuses on achieving goals. Leaders who are dominantly instrumental work to maintain productivity and ensure that tasks are completed. They make good managers because they get the job done. However, they are often so focused on the task that they can alienate other members of the group.

Expressive leadership, on the other hand, focuses on maintaining group cohesion. Leaders who are dominantly expressive work to maintain warm, friendly relationships and ensure the collective well-being of the group. They make good bosses because they truly care for their employees. However, they are sometimes lacking efficiency and organizational skills.Although most leaders are dominantly instrumental or expressive, both styles are needed for groups to work effectively.

So, the most effective leaders have the ability to use the style that best fits the situation. They can switch from being instrumental and focusing on the task, to being expressive and focusing on collaboration, whenever they see a need.

Authoritarian Decision-Making

Beyond dominant leadership types and abilities, leaders also vary in their decision-making styles.

There are three basic styles of leadership decision-making: authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire.

Authoritarian leaders make decisions on their own with no input from group members
Authoritarian decision making

Leaders who use authoritarian decision-making make all the major group decisions and demand compliance from the group members. Authoritarian leaders typically make decisions on their own and tell other group members what to do and how to do it.

Authoritarian leadership can be beneficial when a decision needs to be made quickly or when a project or situation is particularly stressful.For example, imagine you’re a member of the Greek army during the Trojan War. It would have been beneficial for Odysseus to practice authoritarian decision-making in order to determine who would perform each task of building the Trojan Horse. You and the other soldiers would not have had to worry about making complex decisions, but instead, you could focus on your individual tasks. Imagine what would have happened if all of those soldiers had spent days debating while in the midst of a war!While authoritarian leadership can be beneficial at times, it is often the case that it’s more problematic. This type of decision-making is easily abused, and authoritarian leaders are often viewed as bossy and controlling.

Because authoritarian leaders make decisions without consulting the group, many group members may resent the leader because they are unable to contribute ideas.

Democratic Decision-Making

The next type of leadership decision-making is democratic. Leaders who use democratic decision-making encourage group discussion and believe in decision-making through consensus. Democratic leaders still make the final decision, but do so only after carefully considering what other group members have said.

Usually, their decision goes with the majority. Democratic leaders are generally the most popular. They make members of the group feel included and promote teamwork and creativity.For example, think about King Arthur and his knights. Most of us are familiar with the famous round table, where all of the knights plus King Arthur would sit in equal status. They would discuss problems in the kingdom together and come to a consensus before King Arthur would take action.While democratic leadership has been described as the most effective decision-making style, it does have a downside.

The time that it takes to reach a group consensus can be crippling for a project. In order for every group member to be heard, discussion can last for a very long time. This can lead to frustration and sometimes even uncompleted projects.

Laissez-Faire Decision-Making

Laissez-faire, loosely translated, means ‘to leave alone’ in French. Therefore, leaders who use laissez-faire decision-making let the groups make their own decisions.

They are only minimally involved, basically sitting back and letting the group function on its own. Laissez-faire is usually the least effective style of leadership decision-making.

Laissez-faire leadership can be effective for skilled and motivated groups
Laissez-faire leadership

For example, imagine that the king of Atlantis was a laissez-faire leader and charged a group of citizens with protecting the city from an oncoming tsunami. The group was divided on the best solution, and since the king never intervened and made a decision, no fortifications were made, the city was lost, and history was made.For the most part, laissez-faire decision-making is considered negative. However, it can be effective in situations where group members are highly skilled and motivated.

If they are capable of working and making decisions on their own, sometimes it is best to leave them to their own devices.

Lesson Summary

In summary, leaders of groups can be divided into two different types: instrumental and expressive. Leaders who are dominantly instrumental focus on achieving goals and completing tasks, while leaders who are dominantly expressive focus on maintaining group cohesion and ensuring the collective well-being of the group. The most effective leaders have the ability to be both instrumental and expressive, and choose which type of leadership to use depending on the situation.Beyond dominant leadership types and ability, leaders also vary in their decision-making styles. There are three basic styles of leadership decision-making: authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire.

Authoritarian leaders rule their groups, democratic leaders try to include everyone in the decision-making process, and laissez-faire leaders let the group function without much – if any – interference.Authoritarian is effective when there is a time crunch or the situation is particularly stressful. However, authoritarian leaders are typically disliked by group members who would prefer to have a say. Democratic decision-making is generally the most popular style, as it includes the entire group and promotes cohesiveness. Laissez-faire decision-making is usually the most ineffective and is only beneficial when the group members are highly competent.

Learning Outcome

This video will help you to understand how to:

  • Examine the differences between instrumental leadership and expressive leadership, and understand why both are important
  • Define authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire decision-making, and discuss each decision-making style’s benefits and disadvantages

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