Leadership Style Changes over the Centuries for Project Managers

  • 02 June, 2015

"The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things." Ronald Reagan

"Leadership is lifting a person's vision to high sights, the raising of a person's performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations." Peter Drucker

To successfully run a project and see it to completion depends upon how well a project team and task are managed. A leader or Project Manager is someone who turns around a situation from the first spark of ideation to the successful achievement of project goal. In order to create something from an initial idea to a concrete product mainly rests on the Project Manger's leadership qualities. There are various theories on leadership styles and how it affects the project and its team. Generally speaking there are different types of leadership skills and how to use them effectively for a project lies in the hands of the project manager's discretionary capacity.

Whatever type of leadership style project managers use to achieve their final result, eventually it depends on the situation, task and team mindset. Good leadership styles are those that encourage seamless changes which are adaptable and inspirational for the team.

Leadership Theories Explored So Far

1. Lewin's Leadership Style - 1930s

In the 1930s Psychologist Kurt Lewin laid out the framework upon which the later leadership theories have been founded. Lewin emphasized that leadership was based on three main styles.

  • Autocratic Leadership
  • Democratic Leadership
  • Laissez-faire Leadership

In these three styles of leadership the manager being the decision maker decides how he would approach the final decision making.

Autocratic leadership is about making decisions without the team members being involved and merely stating an ultimatum to them.

Democratic leadership is open towards involving the team members through the decision-making process while retaining the final verdict with the leader.

Laissez-faire leadership provides lots of freedom to the team for being actively involved in decision-making process. But this form of leadership might backfire if there is sloppy team management.

2. Leadership Explained with Blake-Mouton Management Grid - 1964

It was first published in 1964 where a choice between people and product decides the leadership style. The Grid had two distinct styles: People-Oriented Style and Task-Oriented Style. Project Managers make the decision on where they will place the importance- people or task. On XY axis of results and people, the grid lists five types of team managing:

  • Impoverished Managing is low on results and low on people
  • Country Club Managing is high on people and low on results
  • Authority-Compliance Managing is high on results and low on people
  • Middle-of-the-Road Managing is medium on results and medium on people
  • eam Leadership is high on results and high on people

Manager's Maturity Level
Best Suited Leadership Style
Low Maturity; Low SkillsTelling or Directing
Medium Maturity; Low SkillsSelling or Coaching
Medium Maturity; Medium SkillsParticipating or Supporting
High Maturity; High SkillsDelegating

3. Path-Goal Theory - 1971

Psychologist Robert House developed this theory wherein the choice of four types of leadership is based on the situations. The four types of leadership are:

  • Supportive leadership
  • Directive leadership
  • Participative leadership
  • Achievement-oriented leadership

Managers with the above leadership styles help their team to relate to the project and achieve goals, overcome their obstacles to the goals and rewards them on successful completion of project tasks.

4. Six Emotional Leadership Styles - 2002

Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee brought forth the six emotional leadership styles in their book "Primal Leadership" published in 2002. These leadership types are based on the situation and how to manage personnel involved in the project. The six types of emotional leaderships are:

  • Visionary leader
  • Coaching leader
  • Affiliate leader
  • Democratic leader
  • Pace-setting leader
  • Commanding leader

5. The Leadership Style of Flamholtz and Randle - 2007

The Leadership Style Matrix expounded by Eric Flamholtz and Yvonne Randle in their book titled "Growing Pains" in 2007 is based on a team's ability to work on their own and be trainable or programmable. These leadership qualities fall under the four quadrants and they are:

Quadrant 1: High Programmability/Low Job Autonomy which leads to two leadership styles: Autocratic and Benevolent Autocratic

Quadrant 2: High Programmability/High Job Autonomy which leads to Consultative and Participative leaderships

Quadrant 3: Low Programmability /Low Job Autonomy which also leads to Consultative and Participative leaderships

Quadrant 4: Low Programmability/High Job Autonomy which leads to Consensus and Laissez-faire leadership styles.

In Conclusion

There are many different leadership style theories which project managers should be aware of in order to ascertain the right leadership based on the situation, team and project. It is also important for the managers who take the Project Management Certification to be aware of their team's learning and task handling competency. PMP Certified Project Manager can learn some of these styles experientially or by increasing their self-awareness of their own leading style.

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