Lewin, Lippitt and White - basic styles of management

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Lewin, Lippitt and White - basic styles of management
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Lewin, Lippitt and White distinguished two basic management styles: autocratic (directive) and democratic (integrative).

Autocratic style is characterized by centralization of power in the hands of the manager, the predominance of personal decisions and official orders, the lack of freedom of subordinates, a large distance in personal relations with subordinates.

Democratic style manager is characterized by good relationship with the group and desire to obtain the approval of subordinates, listening, encouraging the expression of opinions and ideas and also some freedom in action of subordinates.

In following publications, in addition to the above two, Lewin, Lippitt and White proposed third additional management style: liberal (laissez faire).

Characteristics of a democratic style of leadership

  • Director delegates a significant amount of power, but retains ultimate responsibility for the execution of tasks and control measures and interventions that seek to ensure the objectives of the team.
  • Subordinates have a large degree of freedom in performing tasks and determine themselves how to implement them.
  • Dominate two-way communication between the management and employees. Manager consult employees before making a decision, and his relations with subordinates are open.
  • Promotes employee involvement through the creation of opportunities to participate in decision-making - Democratic manager encourage the group to make decisions relating to the objectives and tasks.
  • There is no place for direct ordering and strict control,
  • Managing is about confidence and faith in subordinates, open discussions is encouraged, the information is accurate, the process of communication is efficient and employees actively participate in the life of the company, with a direct impact on its development.
  • Co-operation, assistance, encouragement, kindness - these are the features which dominate in relationships with other people.
  • Manager seeks the good climate and cooperation in the team.
  • The manager is interested in the personal affairs of employees.
  • It creates the conditions that reveal the initiative and creativity of employees.

The disadvantage of democratic style, however, is time-consuming decision-making process.

Autocratic style of leadership

In autocratic management style the leader himself is responsible for the distribution of tasks and responsibilities, directs people, makes decision and impose fines for disobedience and non-compliance with standards.. This style is characterized by:

  • Predominance of single decision making,
  • Large distances to the subordinates.

Autocrats are divided into:

  • Austere (hard, severe) - Austere autocrat is a person fair but firm and not delegating powers. Benevolent autocrat is a person seeking to establish the best working conditions, but addressing all decisions individually. Inept autocrat is an incompetent person, unpredictable, easily changing mood. Manager is the head despot ignoring the needs of employees, motivating a team by terror and sanctions
  • Benevolent - manager gives the impression that is interested in wishes and needs of subordinates.
  • Inept - manager has very low competences in managing both people and complex tasks.

Autocratic management style gives the best result for the following situations:

  • Contacts of the manager with the group are good and the task set before the team is relatively simple,
  • Contacts of the manager with the group are bad and the task set before the team is complex, in addition, the scope of the power of manager is heavily restricted.

See also:


  • Lewin, K., Lippitt, R., & White, R.K. (1939). Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created “social climates”. The Journal of social psychology, 10(2), 269-299.
  • Lewin, K., Lippitt, R., & White, R.K. (1961). Autocracy and democracy. An Ex.
  • Scheidlinger, S. (1994). The Lewin, Lippitt and White study of leadership and “social climates” revisited. International journal of group psychotherapy, 44(1), 123-127.