Leadership Styles And Followers
“Who our leaders are and how they lead determines our individual, our society’s and democracy’s fate.”

Joseph W. Ferrara, EdD


Wherever and whenever two or more people are gathered together, there will we find a leader. With the sociogenic formation of a group, some members are almost certain to:

  • take a more active role than others,
  • be preferred to others,
  • be listened to with more respect than others,
  • and be dominant over others.

This, like cell division, is the beginning of the differentiation of group members into leaders and followers. As the group continues to grow and becomes more conforming, a more definite and established leadership followership hierarchy appears. As this happens, the sociogenic role of the leader becomes more crucial for the functioning of the group.

We live out our lives within the context of groups and under the influence of leaders: parents, spouses, school teachers, employers, legislatures, clerics, and presidents. Who our leaders are and how they lead us significantly determines ours, our groups and society’s fate. It thus becomes crucial, if we are to understand our behavior and national fate, to comprehend the “styles” of leadership, group change and democracy. Our behavior on this financially structured planet is partially motivated by the multiple sociogenic conditions inherent in the relationship between leader and follower in this adversarial world.


Historically, nations on our planet have different “styles” of government, i.e., autocratic, democratic or laissez-faire. Once there was a leader invading and conquering countries to rule the world. In 1939, a team of social psychologists — Lewin, Lippitt and White — wondered whether particular styles which leaders use in relation to their groups, not their personalities, made any difference in how a group behaves. They wanted to know:

  • what kind of “leadership styles” are there
  • do particular “leadership styles” have different effects irrespective of leader personality traits,
  • what would be the results of concentrating power in the hands of one leader and
  • which “leadership style” is best?

There are advocating and opposing claims about leadership and followership but what are the facts about “leadership style” and followers?


This complex problem of “leadership style” and group functioning was studied in the context of a controlled pioneering, validating experiment by Lewin, Lippitt and White, (1939). There were four five-member groups of ten-year old boys who met after school to engage in hobby activities. The groups were equated on patterns of interpersonal relationships, personality traits, intellectual level/range, physical characteristics and socioeconomic status. Four adults, irrespective of their personalities, were trained to proficiency in each of three major “leadership styles” and performed in each role.

I. The “autocratic style” was to meticulously (a) determine all group policies, (b) dictate all techniques and all activity steps one at a time, so as to incorporate an uncertainty of future plans into the group procedure, and (c) assign all the work task and bestow all work praise and all criticism of all work of each member while remaining aloof from group participation except when demonstrating with ascendancy work techniques, i.e. remain aggrandizing and dictatorial.
II. The “democratic style” was to (a) encourage and assist group decision-making on all policies, (b) indicate general steps toward goals and promote overall perspective of plans, (c) leave division of labor and worker selection up to the group and (d) be objective in praise and criticism and participate in group activities without doing too much of the work.
III. The “laissez-faire style”, unstructured/hands off was to (a) allow complete freedom for the group with a minimum of leader participation, (b) supply only needed materials and information, (c) take no part in work discussion and (d) offer only infrequent comments, making no attempt to appraise or regulate the course of events unless directly questioned, i.e. sustain indifference.

At the end of each six-week period, each leader was transferred to a different group. Thus, all groups experienced each “style” under a different personality. All groups met in the same place and performed the same activities with like materials. The overt behavior of leaders and reactions of the boys were monitored and evaluated during every meeting.


This validating study of Lewin, Lippitt & White yielded the following results:

I. Autocratic “leadership style” is not identical to the democratic atmosphere but creates: (a) higher quantity of work in the present of a leader but poorer quality, (b) one-third more aggression, hostility, suspiciousness/scapegoating and dominating ascendancy, (c) repressed discontent, i.e., more demands for attention, destruction of their property and quarreling/complaining, (d) personal pronoun “I” used more often and (e) dependency, less initiativeness/optional thinking and individuality/creativity, i.e., more submissive/subjugated behavior with higher absenteeism.
II. Democratic “leadership style” promotes: (a) more efficiency, work motivation and stronger interest, (b) productive work continued in the absence of leader, (c) greater originality and problem-solving, (d) more group-mindedness, friendliness and less self-centeredness, and (e) mutual praise, encouragement and sharing.
III. Laissez-faire “leadership style” nurtures: (a) less and poorer work/unproductive, (b) more play, (c) less group-mindedness/cohesiveness, (d) more selfmanship, i.e., personal pronoun “I” used more often, and (e) less problem-solving and indifference to future.


Research findings concluded:

I. That group interaction and group-related variables can be studied experimentally to yield results of a causal nature between “leadership style” and followers’ mood, attitude, actions and consequences.
II. That the same leaders, regardless of their own “personality traits”, had a markedly different impact on followers when they used one “leadership style” as opposed to another.
III. Please note: later studies by Cartwright and Bonner (1970, 1975 & 1980) indicate that “leadership style” will have different effects depending on the variables of the kaleidoscopic conditions a leader confronts and that an effective leader will have to use the different “leadership styles” appropriately and benignly to perform different functions in meeting conflicting needs of different group members and the group.