For decades, the argument has raged between directive and empowering leadership. Directive leadership is a top-down strategy in which the leader gives explicit instructions and expects people to follow them.
On the other hand, empowering leadership is concerned with building a supportive atmosphere in which people are encouraged to take ownership of their work and are given the resources they need to do so.
According to a Deloitte report, just 13% of employees feel their executives are competent at managing their firms. This data emphasizes the significance of knowing various leadership styles and their effects on company culture and employee happiness.
Good leadership is essential for every organization's success. A competent leader may inspire and encourage personnel, stimulate innovation and creativity, and direct the organization toward its objectives. There is, however, no one-size-fits-all strategy for leadership. Directive leadership and empowering leadership are two common leadership styles, and the argument over which is more successful is ongoing.
Mckinsey's research found that executives who employ a combination of directive and empowering leadership styles are more effective than those who use either. Setting explicit goals, issuing commands, and offering detailed instructions to staff are all examples of directive leadership. Giving people liberty, encouraging them to take the initiative, and supporting their decisions, on the other hand, empowers leadership.
Let’s look at the major differences between a directive leadership style and an empowering leadership style.
Directive leadership falls short in today's dynamic workplace
Directive leadership, often known as autocratic leadership, is a management style in which the leader manages their team from the top down. The leader takes autonomous judgments and gives clear directions to their staff, who are expected to follow them without question. This leadership style is frequently employed when time is of the essence or when a crisis necessitates rapid action.
Steve Jobs was known for his directive leadership style. He had a clear vision for the company and was known for being demanding and sometimes harsh with his employees. However, his leadership style also led to many successful products and innovations that have made Apple one of the most valuable companies in the world.
The example of Steve Jobs demonstrates the usefulness of directive leadership in some situations, but it also exposes the limitations of this leadership style in today's fast-changing corporate world.
Jobs' leadership style effectively guided Apple to become one of the world's most reputed firms, but it was also recognized for being aggressively demanding with its staff. While this strategy may have succeeded at a firm focused on creating breakthrough goods, it can be detrimental in cultures that encourage collaboration, inclusion, and employee empowerment.
Directive Leadership can have negative effects on employee satisfaction and productivity. The study showed that employees who work under a directive leader have higher stress levels, less job satisfaction, and are less likely to stay with their company long-term. These negative effects can ultimately harm the organization's performance and hinder its ability to succeed in a rapidly changing business environment.
According to Pew Research Center, millennials and gen Z comprise most of the workforce today. These generations place a premium on cooperation, diversity, and work-life balance.
People want to feel involved and empowered at work and look for leaders who can give that. Directive leadership may harm these younger generations, leaving them alienated and disengaged.
For example, Uber's ride-sharing corporation has been chastised for its authoritarian leadership style. Travis Kalanick, the former CEO, was notorious for his aggressive and dictatorial management style, which resulted in a hostile work atmosphere and low employee morale. As a result, the company's reputation suffered due to significant personnel turnover.
Collaborative leadership approaches are typically considered more effective today as firms focus on innovation and creativity. Employees are more engaged and productive when leaders establish a friendly and inclusive work environment while providing clear guidance and goals.
As the workforce evolves, leaders must change their leadership styles to suit people's requirements and expectations.
Empowering leadership is shaping the future of business
According to a Gallup survey, organizations with greater employee engagement are 21% more profitable than those with lower levels of engagement.
Empowering leadership may play a big role in enhancing employee engagement and workplace happiness, eventually leading to higher performance and profitability for the firm.
Outdoor gear business Patagonia, for example, is recognized for its empowering leadership approach. The organization employs a novel management style in which employees are given great autonomy and decision-making ability.
This strategy has resulted in high levels of employee satisfaction and loyalty and a dedication to sustainability, which has become an essential component of the company's corporate identity. As a result, Patagonia has enjoyed great development and success, with a reported revenue of $1 billion in 2019.
Empowering leadership may also be particularly successful in industries facing fast change and upheaval. For example, invention and originality are highly prized in the technology business.
Empowering leadership is frequently viewed as a crucial driver of success. Leaders that can build a friendly and inclusive work atmosphere while still offering clear direction and goals tend to have more engaged and productive staff. This method can lead to better decision-making and problem-solving and enhanced agility in reaction to market changes.
Empowering leadership may be valuable for leaders wishing to develop a collaboration, inclusion, and employee empowerment culture.
Leaders can help their firms survive today's quickly changing business climate by giving people the resources and support they need to succeed.
Navigating the complexities of directive and empowering leadership styles
The argument over directive vs. empowering leadership revolves around which type of leadership is more successful in certain scenarios. While directive leadership may be more successful in certain circumstances, empowering leadership may be more effective in others.
The reaction of the oil corporation BP to the huge oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 is one illustration of when to deploy directive leadership. In response, CEO Tony Hayward used directive leadership to make swift choices and accept all responsibility for the issue. His strategy was considered beneficial in the near term but ultimately led to his departure due to public uproar.
In contrast, at Google, empowering leadership is supported by offering employees 20% of their work time to concentrate on their projects. This strategy has resulted in ground-breaking technologies such as Gmail and Google Maps.
According to Larry Page, co-founder of Google -
"On balance, I think it's preferable to tilt toward Empowering Leadership and to give individuals the opportunity to be creative and to follow ideas that they believe in."
This opinion is mirrored by numerous successful leaders who think empowering leadership is critical to encouraging workplace creativity and cooperation.
On the other hand, finding the perfect mix between directive and empowering leadership may be difficult. Leaders must analyze the circumstances and requirements of their team, considering elements such as the degree of experience of their employees and the goals they are attempting to achieve. They must also change their leadership style to accommodate varied personalities and work styles inside the team.
By doing so, they will foster a culture of cooperation, inclusion, and employee empowerment, eventually leading to improved organizational performance and success.
Leadership style is a culture catalyst
Leadership is crucial in building company culture. Leaders set the tone for the organization and impact their workers' behavior and ideals. Organizational culture may be significantly influenced by different leadership styles.
For example, directive leadership may create a culture of fear and control in which people feel disempowered and undervalued. According to Pew Research Center, employees under very prescriptive bosses are less likely to be engaged and more likely to experience high-stress levels and burnout.
On the contrary, empowering leadership may foster a culture of trust and cooperation in which people feel appreciated and empowered to take ownership of their job. A Deloitte research states that organizations with empowering leadership styles have better employee engagement, creativity, and profitability levels.
"Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don't want to."
- Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group
This attitude exemplifies the significance of empowering leadership in fostering a culture of trust and collaboration in which people are appreciated and encouraged to grow and develop.
Finally, leadership style has a substantial influence on company culture. Leaders who use Empowering Leadership may foster a culture of trust, cooperation, and creativity, whereas those who use Directive Leadership can foster a culture of fear and control.
This helps establish a good and vibrant corporate culture that benefits the firm and its people by promoting employee involvement and empowerment.
Empowering leadership can have drawbacks. It may be time-consuming and costly to teach personnel to make informed judgments. Employee autonomy and decision-making can sometimes cause inconsistencies and competing priorities.
Empowering leadership may struggle to reconcile autonomy and responsibility. Leaders may need to help employees make good decisions if they feel overwhelmed.
Lastly, empowering leadership can boost employee engagement and job happiness, but it may not work well in high-pressure, time-sensitive workplaces that need quick decision-making.
So whats the way forward?
Effectiveness lies in the sweet spot between the two leadership styles
A Harvard Business Review study indicated that executives who can vary between directive and empowering leadership styles are more effective than those who adhere to one style. This study supports the notion that a balanced leadership style that includes both directive and empowering leadership may lead to greater employee engagement, creativity, and profitability.
The Hershey Corporation is an example that effectively developed a balanced leadership structure by blending directive and empowering leadership styles. Under CEO Michele Buck's guidance, the firm has prioritized cooperation, adaptability, and driving development through a mix of directive and inspiring leadership.
Good managers who alternate between directive and empowering leadership styles are more effective than those who adhere to one type. Directive leadership is beneficial in specific scenarios, such as a crisis or when rapid judgments are required. Still, empowering leadership is effective in situations that need cooperation and innovation. Good managers may establish a pleasant and vibrant organizational culture that benefits the organization and its people by balancing leadership styles and adjusting to diverse scenarios.
Competent managers who alternate between directive and empowering leadership styles had greater staff engagement and productivity. This implies that a balanced leadership style might result in a favorable workplace culture and better organizational outcomes.
Successful bosses are those who transition between directive and empowering leadership styles, both indicate the usefulness of a balanced leadership style.
Leaders may create a more dynamic and adaptive business that is better able to handle varied scenarios and achieve its goals by promoting employee involvement and empowerment through a blend of both leadership styles.
Successful leaders and their leadership styles
Elon Musk - Directive Leadership
Elon Musk is recognized for his directive leadership style, which entails making rapid decisions and being active in his firms' day-to-day operations.
"I have a high pain threshold...that doesn't mean I love it - I just don't have a choice."
Musk has been reported as saying. His management approach is recognized for propelling the success of his firms, notably SpaceX and Tesla. Musk's net worth was $187 billion as of February 2023, according to Forbes, making him one of the world's richest persons.
Musk's directive leadership style, on the other hand, has been chastised for fostering a high-pressure work climate that can lead to burnout and attrition. The Guardian published a piece in 2018 that detailed concerns about safety and working conditions at Tesla's Fremont, California, factory, describing a "production hell" that resulted in long hours and high pressure for staff. Notwithstanding these accusations, Musk is dedicated to his Directive Leadership style and is focused on attaining SpaceX and Tesla's long-term goals.
Satya Nadella - Empowering Leadership
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is recognized for his Empowering Leadership style, which stresses on collaboration and creativity.
"I really think that if you are not learning new things, you stop creating amazing and important things."
His leadership style is defined by his emphasis on developing close connections with his people and fostering a culture of trust and empowerment.
Microsoft has been more focused on innovation under Nadella's leadership, and its culture has transformed from a competitive and walled attitude to a more collaborative and inclusive one. According to a Forbes 2021 estimate, Microsoft's market valuation has climbed by more than $1 trillion since Nadella assumed the CEO role in 2014.
Microsoft's recent success has been attributed to Nadella's empowering leadership approach. Microsoft, for example, has expanded its cloud business, created new products and services, and improved its alliances with other firms under his leadership.
Furthermore, Nadella has made diversity and inclusion a high priority, working to make Microsoft a welcome and supportive environment for all workers.
Jeff Bezos - Balanced Leadership
Amazon founder and former CEO Jeff Bezos is noted for his balanced leadership style, which combines Directive and Empowering Leadership.
"We innovate by starting with the consumer and working backwards."
His leadership style is distinguished by a strong emphasis on customer service and innovation, as well as a willingness to take chances and try new things.
Amazon has become one of the world's most successful and inventive corporations under Bezos' leadership. Amazon's market valuation has climbed by more over $1 trillion since Bezos launched the business in 1994, according to a Forbes analysis from 2021.
The company's development and success have been attributed to Bezos's balanced leadership style.
Amazon, for example, has introduced a number of new goods and services, including Amazon Web Services and Alexa, as well as expanded into new regions such as India and China. Moreover, Bezos has prioritized customer service and happiness, as well as developing a strong company culture that values innovation, experimentation, and long-term thinking.
The argument over directive vs. empowering leadership is ongoing, and the best technique for each scenario is determined by a number of criteria. While directive leadership can be excellent at generating outcomes, it can also create a high-pressure work atmosphere and contribute to burnout.
Empowering leadership, on the other hand, may lead to cooperation and creativity, although it may take longer to see benefits. A balanced leadership strategy that incorporates both types of leadership may be beneficial in driving organizational success while also fostering employee engagement and well-being.
Finally, the ability to adapt to diverse conditions and prioritize the requirements of people and the business is essential for effective leadership. Leaders may achieve their goals and create a strong, positive company culture by recognizing the strengths and drawbacks of each leadership style.