EM|Pre-Int|5. Lewin’s theory: autocratic style vs. democratic style


Working on a project involves different situations. Managers with different leadership styles have their own way of dealing with them. Let’s have a look at one of the situations and the managers’ reactions.

Read the situation and choose the order you like more

The team is working on an advertising campaign for a customer and has already done the biggest part of it. But this morning, the managers have received an email from the customer. The advertising campaign requires some changes because the customer needs to adapt it to foreign markets. Read how each manager announces the task to the team and tick the order you like most.

Answer the questions

1. Why have you chosen this order?

2. Which order do you think would work best

🔹when the quality of work is most important?

🔹when the quantity of work is most important?

🔹when the satisfaction of your team is most important?

3. What would you call a boss who give such orders (e.g. an autocrat etc.)?

As you know, there are different leadership style theories. In this lesson, you are going to deal with Lewin’s leadership styles identified by an American psychologist Kurt Lewin. Let’s find out how his theory originated.

Watch the video (0:23–1:15) and choose the correct options

Early research on leadership style started in the late 1930s. Lewin, Lippitt and White compared and contrasted these three styles. That’s where all this came from. In their studies, they created groups of 10-year-olds and had adults leading those groups use various styles. The researchers wanted to know how these kids would respond to these different styles of leadership. And they rotated different teachers in to lead those groups of kids as they performed regular 10-year-old tasks like painting murals and carving soap and making model airplanes. And even though they did this research by looking at a teacher-student dynamic, this research laid the foundation for much of the way we still look at leadership styles today and how those different leadership styles cause different outcomes.


According to Lewin’s theory, there are three leadership styles: autocratic, democratic and laissez-faire, and each can be in turn divided into several types. Today, you are going to focus on two styles: autocratic and democratic. In the next lesson, you’ll learn about the third, laissez-faire style. It’s very likely you have dealt with an autocratic manager. Let’s see what Lewin’s theory says about them.

Read the description of the autocratic leadership style and decide what autocratic leaders do and don’t do

Although in Lewin’s experiment the autocratic leadership style caused most dissatisfaction, it is very common in the working environment. The reason is simple: the autocratic style works and helps achieve the needed results. Autocratic leaders make all the decisions on their own without consulting anyone else, so the communication goes one way: from bosses to subordinates. Autocratic bosses don’t want their employees to ask questions, share ideas or thoughts on improving processes. They closely monitor and control all the actions of their team. Autocratic leaders actually take a lot of responsibility: they have to make not just any decision, but the right decision for the team or organisation. Compared to other leadership styles, autocratic leaders focus less on long-term goals. They often work in situations that require quick decisions and risk assessment, so they set clear goals and deadlines to the team to achieve goals. For autocratic leaders, discipline and good preparation are the main factors that lead to success.

Read about the types of autocratic style and match each type to the situation it can be used in


This leadership style is suitable for managing unskilled employees. They need teaching, coaching and supervision, and managers provide them with all this. They dictate their subordinates what to do exactly and punish those who don’t follow their orders.


Managers using this leadership style make all the decisions themselves, but convince the employees that these decisions are the best for the team or company. Such leaders explain their decisions to the employees, which makes the latter feel more valued. So, this is the main difference of this style: there’s more trust between the manager and the subordinates.


In this style, the team is like a family and the manager acts like a father. The «father» makes all the decisions for the best of the team and may explain them, but there’s no place for questions or collaboration. The employees may feel the manager cares about them but also dislike that they are not taken seriously.

You’ve guessed that the names of these types explain their essence, haven’t you? Let’s look at their definitions.

Authority means power, the right or ability to control.

To persuade is to make someone believe by giving good reasons.

Pater means father in Latin.


Another style, which is the opposite of the autocratic style, is democratic. You know what democracy is in politics, right? Let’s see what the democratic style is in management.

Read the text and mark the statements as True or False

In democratic leadership, team members participate in the decision-making process, even though the leaders are responsible for the final decision. So, this style is based on mutual respect. Democratic leaders encourage their subordinates to share ideas and opinions ― communication goes both ways. Creativity is always welcome and rewarded.

Democratic leadership includes different styles. One of them is the consultative style. In this style, managers consult the viewpoints of every team member. It is often used when the members of staff are experts in some particular area, so their expertise is necessary for the managers to make the right decisions.

The participative style is similar to consultative, but the managers not only collect the opinions, they also participate in the decision-making process together with the team. They give their subordinates more information about the company and its goals and encourage them to create innovative solutions.

One more style is collaborative. Managers using this style involve each member of the team in the decision-making process and then make decisions based on majority rule.


So, which leadership style is better? Actually, there’s no exact answer. Both have their pros and cons. Autocratic leadership would work better in one situation, while democratic would produce more results in another.

Choose the statements that you consider right

Read the text to check your ideas. Choose the odd statements about each style

The pros and cons of the autocratic leadership style

People often think that an autocratic boss is a tyrant. In fact, this style has both its pros and cons. There are projects that need to be done quickly and efficiently. So, if the leader has more knowledge and experience than the team, he or she has to make a decision on their own and take full responsibility for it. Actually, it can be less stressful for employees ― they can focus on what they can do and not worry about difficult decisions. Strict directions and rules may also be necessary for the teams that lack expertise.

The other side of autocratic leadership is that employees feel demotivated. Autocratic leaders don’t listen to their ideas, so they have no motivation to go the extra mile. People feel happier when they can make a contribution, so working with an autocratic boss can lead to an unhappy working environment. And of course, autocratic bosses can miss some interesting ideas and innovative solutions that could be useful for the company.

The pros and cons of the democratic leadership style

First of all, this style provides more ideas and solutions for the company. Moreover, as the team members are encouraged to think outside the box, these ideas and solutions are more creative and innovative. Even the management can learn something new from their subordinates. As the staff are involved in the decision-making process, they care more about the result. Open communication helps to solve conflicts quickly. In general, productivity is better with democratic leadership.

But despite this, there are some downsides as well. Consulting and listening to all the opinions may take a lot of time, so it’s not suitable when a quick decision should be made. In certain cases, team members may lack the necessary knowledge or experience to provide the right solutions. The manager should also be very careful and attentively consider all the opinions and not choose a favourite employee on the team.


As you remember, Emma, Max and John participate in the radio programme Manage to Manage. They give professional advice to the listeners. Now it’s your turn!

Read the task and prepare your 2-minute speech

Read the letter below and answer the questions. Use some of the words and phrases from the wordlist. You may use the text area for taking notes.

Dear expert!

I need your advice on what leadership style to choose. I’ve become a manager of the team quite recently, so I’m not really experienced in this matter.

I work in a high-tech company, and all the people on my team are great engineers full of creative ideas. Sometimes this can be a problem. If they have different opinions and ideas, they may argue with each other, and I have to take sides.

Because of their desire to do their best, they sometimes miss deadlines trying to improve things that are already good enough. And I’m the one who has to deal with the customers and the top management. I’m about the same age as my team members, and at first, I thought it was great — we’re on the same wavelength. But now I think that maybe a team needs a father figure to respect and obey.

Please, help me develop a leadership style that suits my team and my company best.


  • What leadership style would you advise to Chris? Which type?
  • What are its advantages in his situation?
  • May he have some new problems with it?
  • Why don’t other leadership styles suit his situation?

1. autocratic

2. consider

3. input

4. dictate

5. trust

6. valued

7. democratic

8. decision-making process

9. mutual

10. viewpoint

11. expertise

12. make contributions to

Allow your browser access to your microphone, press the button «Record» and record the speech you have prepared


Choose the correct statements

Урок Homework Курс
  • Make them work
  • Lewin’s theory
  • Autocratic leadership style
  • Democratic leadership style
  • Pros and cons
  • Seeking advice
  • Assess your progress