Directive leadership is one of the more common leadership styles, where the leader instructs his followers precisely what to do and how to do it. Although it is one of the most common leadership styles today, directive leadership has somewhat lost its appeal—it isn’t as popular as it once used to be.
With the evolution of work and job performance, people are less likely to be patient with a leader who uses a “command and control” approach to leadership. Despite this, the directive leadership style is still one of the most widely used leadership styles, and thus understanding what this leadership style entails becomes critical. Here, I explain the directive leadership style using the available literature on the type, pros and cons, and real-world examples.
What is a Directive Leadership Style?
The directive leadership style is a leadership style where all the power is with the leader—it is highly centralized and undivided. Its adherents prefer giving commands and directives because they are unwilling to take any suggestions from those under them.
One of the four leadership types described in the path-goal philosophy of Martin G. Evans is Directive Leadership. As per this theory, leaders should alter their style to accommodate the workforce and the work environment to accomplish business objectives.
Directive leadership compares to the autocratic style, necessary for triumph and continuity in the military. Directive leadership also prevents staff and other organizational stakeholders from offering input or reviews in a corporate environment, which is only relevant in specific circumstances.
Directive leadership is primarily about controlling the actions of followers or subordinates. Often, you will make all the decisions on your own instead of collaborating with others for the same. As a directive leader, you tell your followers how things need to be done instead of asking for their feedback or letting them making their own choices.
Although it may come across as unfavorable, the directive leadership style is highly effective in certain situations. For example, a study conducted to find the impact of two different leadership styles—participative and directive—on school effectiveness finds that a directive leadership style can be the key to a teacher’s high performance.
In situations where followers show a need for more order and rules, a directive leadership style can be very effective. So, what does it take to become a directive leader?
The Characteristics of a Directive Leader
The directive leader avoids displaying their interest in or compassion for followers to maintain a clearly defined distance. Their sole objective is management, boundary setting, and task-orientation rather than strictly relationship building. The following are some key characteristics of a directive leader that make them easier to identify.
1. They Take Charge of Everything
As a directive leader, you are solely responsible for deciding the team’s objectives and then taking the required measures to achieve the expected results. After you have developed the steps involved in a specific assignment or project, individuals will rarely challenge your decision, mainly because you will not allow it. It is entirely up to you to decide whether improvements are appropriate or not.
A directive leader doesn’t wait too long to stamp their authority when asked to take charge of a group. They take command without ever feeling that they need to get people “on-board” with them. After they have stamped their authority, a directive leader begins delegating tasks and holding people accountable for their actions.
3. They Follow an Established Set of Standards
The majority of the methods used by directive leaders to manage people are those they already know work or are centered on a documented protocol. There is no need for innovation, and you do not attempt to learn new methods that will achieve the same results.
4. They See Stringent Controls as Valuable
The more a descriptive leader is in charge, the more effective they’ll be. Directive leaders are more optimistic in achieving outcomes, given that they are exclusively responsible for getting things in motion. The series of goal achievement measures used by them moves the project forward with the fastest momentum possible.
5. They Adore Established Hierarchy
Without a hierarchical structure, you would be unable to delegate tasks efficiently and do your job as a descriptive leader. You love and adhere to the command structure required for you to accomplish your goal.
Pros and Cons of Directive Leadership
While there are many benefits of adopting a directive leadership style, this directive leadership style also has several cons. Consider these pros and cons before deciding to embrace it, balance it with other leadership styles, or throw it away altogether. The following are the pros and cons of being a directive leader.
- Clearness of communication is the cornerstone of directive leadership. All followers know the requirements and the incentives for completing the job
- The consistent rules and regulations established by this leadership style allow a strong structure to meet regulatory requirements.
- A directive leader’s expertise will facilitate inexperienced teams with low-complexity activities to get the direction they need
- Decision-making happens quickly because only one person is making all the decisions.
- A directive leadership style is at risk if the leader does not have adequate expertise and must depend on subordinates’ expertise to accomplish things.
- Directive leadership will be counterproductive in a work environment that relies on collaboration and teamwork.
- This leadership style is often rejected in the business world because it tends to micromanage and use autocratic leadership practices. Directive leaders must use an emotionally connected approach with empathy, emotional regulation, and the creation of strong bonding relationships.
As seen above, there are advantages and disadvantages of adopting a directive leadership style. Discipline, an emphasis on performance, and activity consistency, especially during an emergency, could be identified as a critical benefit.
However, as a rule, you should keep in mind that undue pressure and the centralization of powers may require the dismissal of valuable workers, often leading to financial losses for the organization. Practicing deep relationship building and connecting with those you lead is essential to be a successful directive leader. Therefore, you should choose a directive leadership style only after carefully considering its pros and cons and methods of making it most effective.
One of the Top 100 Coaches, and Founder and CEO of Best Practice Institute, partner to Newsweek on America’s Most Loved Workplaces, and the author of more than 10 books on best practices in leadership and management, including Change Champion’s Field Guide, In Great Company, and Best Practices in Talent Management. Thought leaders and executives voted him as one of Global Gurus Top 10 Organizational Culture thinkers worldwide.