Scholars have identified clusters of behaviours that have been called leadership styles. Although there are many theories suggesting the components of alternate styles, three sets of conceptions appear to be particularly appropriate for thinking about universities:

  • Authoritarian vs. democratic leadership
  • Transactional vs. transformational leadership
  • Instrumental vs. expressive leadership.

In the following material, you will find out more about these pairs of styles.

Authoritarian and democratic leadership

This theory proposes two different styles of leadership: authoritarian and democratic.

Authoritarian leaders...

  • Unilaterally determine departmental policies and procedures and communicate the next steps to be taken one at a time so that members remain unclear about what the future holds
  • Praise and criticise department members but don't discuss the bases for these assessments
  • Remain aloof from the department.

Democratic leaders...

  • Discuss departmental goals with its members, encourage the department to determine the policies it will follow and how labor will be divided
  • Offer technical assistance to the department as necessary
  • Provide objective and fact-related praise and criticism and tell the department the bases on which they are offered
  • Are department members in spirit.

Authoritarian and democratic leadership: Evaluation

Which of the two approaches do you consider to be most effective? Consider your thoughts, then continue view our own.

Our thoughts: The effectiveness of these two styles may be related to the organisation's culture. Some organisational cultures expect that effective leaders will be comparatively participative; others believe that effective leadership requires distance and assertiveness. In addition, effectiveness may depend on the nature of the specific activity in which the department is engaged. Democratic leadership may be most effective for creative and complex activities, and authoritarian leadership more effective for routine and simple activities.

Authoritarian and democratic leadership: Reflection

Questions for you to think about:

  • Which style do you think is most likely to be most influential within a university?
  • Which style do you think is most likely to lead to positive attitudes in your department?
  • Which style do you think is most likely to be expected by your department?

Instrumental and expressive leadership

This theory suggests that leadership depends on the degree to which attention is given to tasks (instrumental leadership) or to people (expressive leadership).

Instrumental leaders...

  • Are job-centreed and emphasise directing, planning, problem-solving and controlling others
  • Focus on the job to be done, rather than on the needs of the people doing the job
  • Are likely to make unilateral decisions.

Expressive leaders...

  • Are department-centreed and give attention to relationships, interaction, and high morale
  • Support the interests of department members and are concerned for their welfare
  • Are likely to consult with others and ask the department to participate in decision-making.

Instrumental and expressive leadership: Evaluation

Which of the two approaches do you consider to be most effective? Consider your thoughts, then continue view our own.

Our thoughts: The optimal approach might seem to be to balance the two, but the effectiveness of the balance depends on both the characteristics of the department and the nature of the task to be performed. An experienced department involved in a complex task might find a head who emphasised people to be most effective for that situation, whilst a relatively unskilled department performing a routine task might find a head who emphasised the task to be most effective for that situation.

Instrumental and expressive leadership: Reflection

Questions for you to think about:

  • When you have had management responsibilities in the past, have you typically given more attention to one of these dimensions than the other?
  • Given your perceptions of the challenges facing your department, do you think that in general it would be more responsive to task leadership, or to relationship leadership?
  • Do you think you have the behavioural flexibility to switch between the people and task emphases as situations in your department change?

Knowing the different ways in which leadership approaches have been categorised can help heads think through what they do, why they do it, and what the alternatives might be. Your reflections in the activity above will have begun to address the question of which leadership style you consider to be most effective based on your own preferences, the expectations of the department and the nature of the situation. The section entitled 'The leader's dilemma' contains an activity that will help you with this reflection.