Playing FLIGBY by using one of Lewin’s leadership styles

What if you, as a leader were instructed to behave against your natural leadership style? What if you had to make all your decisions based on the description of one of Lewin’s leadership styles? Now, this is exactly what we asked from a group of people to do: they had to play Fligby and make every single decision based on a given leadership style.

Before I would share the experiences about this instructed FLIGBY playing program, let’s clarify who Lewin is and what his leadership styles are.

Kurt Lewin (1890 – 1947)

was a GermanAmerican psychologist, known as one of the modern pioneers of social, organizational, and applied psychology in the United States. Lewin is often recognized as the “founder of social psychology” and was one of the first to study group dynamics and organizational development.

Leadership is a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective and directs the organization in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent. While leadership is learned, the skills and knowledge processed by the leader can be influenced by his or her attributes or traits, such as beliefs, values, ethics, and character. Knowledge and skills contribute directly to the process of leadership, while the other attributes give the leader certain characteristics that make him or her unique.

In 1939, Kurt Lewin categorized the environments in which people experience leadership, into three different approaches. These approaches depend on the style of the leader and the result determines what Lewin described as the “leadership climate” of an organization. One of the factors that determine a leader’s choice of leadership style is the need to make decisions.

The three different styles or climates are:

  1. Authoritative / Autocratic- An authoritarian leadership style is also referred to as an autocratic style. In this leadership style, the leader makes the decisions with little or no input from the people who will be doing the actual work. They provide clear expectations for what needs to be done when it should be done, and how it should be done. There is also a clear division between the leader and the followers. Decision-making is less creative under authoritarian leadership. Lewin also found that it is more difficult to move from an authoritarian style to a democratic style than vice versa. Abuse of this style is usually viewed as controlling, bossy, and dictatorial.
    Authoritarian leadership is best applied to situations where there is little time for group decision-making or where the leader is the most knowledgeable member of the group.
  2. Democratic / Participative– Participative leadership is also known as democratic leadership. In this leadership style, the leader consults with the group in order to make decisions. Generally the most effective leadership style. Democratic leaders offer guidance to group members, but they also participate in the group and allow input from other group members.
    Participative leaders encourage group members to participate but retain the final say over the decision-making process. Group members feel engaged in the process and are more motivated and creative.
  3. Laissez-faire / Delegative. This style is characterized by leaders who leave most of the decision-making process up to their teams with very little input. Leaders who use this style of leadership typically take a hands-off approach. Delegative leaders offer little or no guidance to group members and leave decision-making up to group members. While this style can be effective in situations where group members are highly qualified in an area of expertise, it often leads to poorly defined roles and a lack of motivation.

Now, back to our experiment: we devided the group of people into 3 smaller groups and asked each group to use one of Lewin’s leadership style for each and every decision they had to make within the simulation. On top of that, they had only a limited amount of time for playing and they also had to fill in 3 short quizzes throughout the whole training. In order to determine which group managed to meet the requirements, we identified a couple of skills out of the 29 we measure in Fligby, that can be typical for a given style.

Probably it’s not a surprise that the “democratic” group won the challenge, the “autocratic” came in second, while the “laissez-faire” group came in third. As they phrased their experience: being a “laissez-faire” type of leader goes against the notion of leadership. We have agreed, that a good leader has to know when to use each and every style and has to be resilient enough to change in-between the styles as the given situation and/or decision requires.