Kurt Lewin’s classical leadership theory is perhaps the breakthrough to modern studies of leadership. Since its conception, researchers are still citing it to this day; some were scrutinizing the flaws, while some others were trying to develop the idea. However, it is commonly agreed that the flaws of the classical theory of leadership styles are apparent.

The main flaw comes from its overly simplistic model, which is shown by the stark differences between the three styles. While simplifying complexity is a common method that humans use to better understand an issue, I think simplifying leadership styles to only three extreme styles will not provide a better view of the complexity of leadership studies.

Lindberg (n.d.) criticized this simplistic model as insufficient. Many scholars were also criticizing Lewin’s study and considered it insufficient for an establishment of a good theory (Billig, 2014). It will become more dangerous if people start to casually label a person (or themselves) as an autocratic or laissez-faire leader without a deeper understanding of the situation. The theory may also push people to a misleading understanding that only the democratic style is the good one, while autocratic and laissez-faire are only there for a bad example.

Taking a firm conclusion that “I am a democratic leader because I get a high score in democratic leadership style” is not entirely correct. I also use a highly directive approach in some situations, and I also delegate almost fully to some of my subordinates who have gained my trust. The style is not my leadership characteristic, but only a matter of a suitable choice.

I think the Situational Leadership® II (SLII) model, proposed by Blanchard et al. (2013), is a slightly better model. It uses four leadership styles based on the level of the directive and supportive behavior: delegating (low in the directive and supportive), supporting (low in the directive, high in supportive), coaching (high in the directive and supportive), and directing (high in the directive, low in supportive). The model also incorporates the development level, which is the level of competence and commitment of the subordinates. The model does not push the leader to rely on one style, but rather to choose the most appropriate style based on the development level (Northouse, 2021).

While the classical leadership styles are too leader-centered, this model also incorporates the subordinates’ needs which may require a different leadership style. The basic assumptions of the model have also been tested as well as its practicality (Zigarmi & Roberts, 2016). I think this model can address the flaws of the classical theory of leadership styles and it can better explain my choice of leadership style.

References

Billig, M. (2014). Kurt Lewin’s Leadership Studies and His Legacy to Social Psychology: Is There Nothing as Practical as a Good Theory? Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 45(4), 440–460. https://doi.org/10.1111/jtsb.12074

Blanchard, K., Zigarmi, P., & Zigarmi, D. (2013). Leadership and the One Minute Manager Updated Ed: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership® II. William Morrow.

Lindberg, C. (n.d.). Criticism of the Lewin leadership styles: Why they are bad, and why you should avoid them. Leadership Ahoy! https://www.leadershipahoy.com/criticism-of-the-lewin-leadership-styles-why-they-are-bad-and-why-you-should-avoid-them/

Northouse, P. G. (2021). Leadership: Theory and Practice. SAGE Publications.

Zigarmi, D., & Roberts, T. P. (2017). A test of three basic assumptions of Situational Leadership® II Model and their implications for HRD practitioners. European Journal of Training and Development, 41(3), 241–260. https://doi.org/10.1108/ejtd-05-2016-0035

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