With the rapidly shifting nature of the modern workplace, old ways of doing things are being tossed out the window. As a result, companies' managers and leaders must adapt to remain relevant in this developing work landscape.
While it certainly can be categorized as a leadership style that had its heyday in the past, there can still be a place in the current day for Directive Leadership. Throughout this article, you will gain the insight to wield it effectively, as well as recognize when it may not be the appropriate choice.
What is Directive Leadership?
At its most basic, Directive Leadership is based on the idea that the person in charge will be directing their workers, who will follow through in completing what they have been asked to do. In this style of leadership, we see a strict hierarchy. The leader is in control and calling all of the shots. They are the sole person responsible for directing how and when work will be done.
A Directive leader must possess a wealth of knowledge and be trusted to have the skills to know how to get the work done. This style of leadership depends on the leader being among the most capable in the group, as they will be the only one making decisions.
There is no room within this leadership style for employee feedback or input. A directive leader will not solicit the opinions of their employees and, if suggestions are made, they will most likely not be taken into consideration.
Martin G. Evans is credited with developing the idea of Directive Leadership in the 70’s. It is an element that fits within his path-goal theory. The basis of this theory is that a manager should adapt their leadership style in the best way to motivate their followers to accomplish their shared goals. Directive Leadership is one method that he presents for doing this.
Characteristics of Directive Leaders
People who use this style of leadership will clearly communicate their expectations. They will lay out clear guidelines for how the work should be done and the rules that they expect their subordinates to follow. They may even bring in written procedures or manuals if they are not already present in the workplace.
These leaders will possess all of the authority. They will be the only ones who are making decisions and will always have the last say in all things. They are very involved in all aspects of the workplace. Nothing goes forward without their approval.
A successful Directive leader must be confident and well respected. They are not ones to second guess their own decisions.
- Decisions can be made quickly
Since there is no need to ask others for input before making decisions, action can be taken quickly. Any questions that may arise can be rapidly answered by the leader. This is highly beneficial in situations with a strict deadline or that need to be finished faster than usual.
- Clarity of roles and expectations
There is never any question about where to go to get answers or direction in this leadership style. When instructions are only coming from one person, the path of communication is very clear. Staff will not be left wondering about who they should ask if an issue arises. Everyone working under a Directive leader will understand their place within the group and be instructed on their responsibilities accordingly.
Not all workplaces have a well set system for how their work should be done. A Directive leader can be beneficial in these instances. They bring in systems and procedures for how they want things to be done. This level of order can be extremely valuable to companies that have become too disorganized to be efficient. Under a directive leader, the roles that employees are expected to fill and where to go for more information are very clear.
- Lack of collaboration
Directive leaders do not accept input or suggestions from those that work under them. This leaves no room for collaboration and can lead to employee burnout. When people feel like they are seen as robots that only do as they are told, they can quickly become bored and unmotivated.
- No room for innovation
Since employees are explicitly told how to perform their work by the leader, there is very little room for creativity and innovation. There is no acceptance for doing things in a way other than how the leader has instructed them to be done. Highly skilled or knowledgeable employees may become bored or frustrated by the feeling that their skills are being wasted.
- Bad for Morale
While Directive leadership can be very useful for getting things done, it can also harm a team's morale. Generally speaking, people don’t like being told what to do all of the time. If employees feel like they are just following orders with no other engagement, their dedication to the company and motivation to improve will decline. They may also feel uncared for and like their leader does not value them as individuals, but merely as drones that will do what they want.
How to implement Directive Leadership
One of the biggest disadvantages of this leadership style is that it can feel very cold and impersonal to workers. Taking the time to listen to and empathize with your staff can do wonders in offsetting this feeling. Even if their input will not ultimately be utilized, allowing them to voice concerns or opinions can create a greater sense of belonging within the company.
Clear communication is key in Directive Leadership. Workers should have all of the information and direction that they need to work. If you are not a strong communicator or tend to be a bit disorganized, perhaps taking a course on communication is a good option. Having procedures and expectations in writing and available to staff can also cut down on overall confusion.
Taking the time to get to know the people working for you will also be beneficial when using this style of leadership. Having a better sense of connection with their leader will make most people more likely to follow through on what they have been asked to do. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your staff can also help you to better assign tasks that will be well suited to their skill level.
When to use
- Staff needs explicit guidance
If workers are inexperienced or underperforming, they may benefit from having a manager spell out what they need to do. The clear guidance of a Directive leader can be highly effective in these scenarios. A team’s lack of skill or desire to work can be offset by having a knowledgeable leader giving clear instructions.
- Laws or regulations dictate how work must be done
While this leadership style may not fit every workplace, when there are strict legal guidelines or regulations that must be adhered to, it can be highly effective. In these circumstances there is no acceptance of deviation. If the standards aren’t met, the company could face disciplinary action from government agencies.
- Urgent issues
If there is a short deadline or an issue that requires immediate attention, employing Directive leadership for a short period of time may be quite useful. Instead of waiting for staff to take action on their own, this style of leader can come in and get people to do the work quickly.
When to avoid
- If the leader is inexperienced
In the cases where the staff have more experience than the leader, this leadership style will not work. A Directive leader must have enough knowledge to make good decisions about the work that needs to be done. Without this, they will get no respect from the workers and have a hard time getting them to do what they ask.
- The work requires creativity
Since workers are expected to only do as they are told, this style of leadership does not foster creativity. If the work that must be done requires thinking outside the box or encounters an issue that there is not already a procedure for, Directive leadership may not be the best option.
- If you are trying to improve morale
Because the attitude of a Directive leader is “do what I say and don’t ask questions,” it can have a detrimental effect on employee morale. It may be unwise to try and use this style of leadership in a workplace that is in need of a positive boost. Most people do not respond well to being told what to do without any discussion in the long term. Overusing Directive leadership can cause people to see you as bossy, and over time, they may lose respect for you as a manager.
Directive Leadership examples
The military is the most obvious example of this style of leadership. There is a strict hierarchy, and members are expected to follow the orders of their superiors without question and to the best of their ability. The opinions and feelings of the lower ranking members are not considered by their superiors. Success is achieved through trust in the leaders and following their orders.
We can also clearly see some of the downsides of Directive leadership through the military. Not every person will be well suited to this style of leadership and communication.
Another example can be found within much of the education system. While it may be less authoritarian than the military, most classrooms utilize the organizational style of Directive Leadership.
The teacher possesses the highest degree of knowledge on a topic and educates their students on it. They also give out work assignments and homework, in spite of potential resistance from the class. The parameters of how things should be done are clearly communicated by the teacher, and their pupils are expected to complete their tasks to the best of their ability without question.
Famous Directive Leaders
- Steve Jobs
Known throughout the world for being Apple's co-founder and public face, Jobs made a lasting impact on the business realm.
As the leader of Apple, he was very involved and particular about how things were done. Because of this, he is also remembered as someone who was fairly difficult to work with. That being said, without his leadership, the company would undoubtedly not have reached the ubiquitous level that it is at today.
- Martha Stewart
As the founder and head of her own massive lifestyle brand, Stewart has undeniably been a successful entrepreneur. Her empire is spread across print media, broadcasting, retail sales, and more.
Since her brand relies so heavily on her own aesthetics, she is very involved in all aspects of the business. She has the final say in any decision. While it may be seen as controlling, this style of leadership has been a large part of her success.
Choosing the style of leadership that will suit your team and abilities the most effectively is a crucial element to successful management. Having a strong base of knowledge on different styles and how they work is a great way to remain adaptable to a variety of scenarios.
Although it is one of the more straightforward leadership styles, Directive Leadership can take time and patience to perfect. However, it can still be a valuable tool for managers to have in their back pocket to pull out when the need arises.