The Pros and Cons of Directive Leadership

October 15, 2020
5 Min Read
Photo by
Panfilia Iannarone

What defines a leader? Is it how they interact with their teams? How they make decisions? Or how they envision the future of the company?

As there are many distinct leadership styles, we're going to be exploring directive leadership, aka the "command and control" approach. But before we dive in, check out this comprehensive guide on the do’s and don’ts when it comes to leadership and how to use this skill to become the best version of you!

What is directive leadership?

The directive leadership style is based on the 1970 path-goal theory by Martin G. Evans. As one of the four leadership behaviors, directive leadership clearly sets and defines objectives, expectations, and rules for their team. It's can also be characterized as an instructional, managerial style.  

In directive leadership, managers guide the team's goal. For example, directive leaders may provide coaching, clarify the responsibilities, remove any roadblocks, and give praise when appropriate.

With 25 years of observing great leaders, watch TED speaker Roselinde Torres share and describe the three most crucial questions we need to ask future leaders.

When does directive leadership work?

According to a 1975 Washington University study, directive leadership has the most positive effect on team roles and tasks when the demands are ambiguous and intrinsically satisfying. While directive leadership may come off as strict and negative approach, it's actually helpful in rallying and directing teams to produce outcomes that surpass the standard.

However, it's important to note that candid feedback decreases as directive leadership increases. Because this approach is so direct, team members can begin to feel undervalued causing a drop in morale. That's why commanding leadership should be used with other people-centric leadership styles that focus on coaching and empathy.

Don't believe us? Check out what TED speaker Simon Sinek has to say when it comes to "good leaders."

How do I know if I'm a directive leader?

You may be a leader that leans on the directive leadership model if you value stability and accountability over flexibility and creativity. The notion that the more you control leads to continued or increased momentum is the backbone of  your management philosophy.

When it comes to stability, your team knows they can rely on you for concrete plans. You'll make sure that every task you work toward is by-the-book or has been proven to work before. Directive leaders work best in an environment where few variables, such as risk and market volatility, exist. You also make sure that everyone is accountable to their task. Without accountability, predictability, and routinization you won’t be able to gauge the intricacies of the completed tasks.

If innovation, creativity, and adaptability are your concerns then you're not a directive leader. This leadership style focuses on completion of specific goals. The chain of command and hierarchy play vital roles for your goal set or plan. Without them, the distribution of tasks would be difficult or impossible.

Directive leadership can create high-functioning teams and successful teams, but be wary of the cons. (Illustration by 3ab2ou Studio)

What are the pros and cons of directive leadership?

The pros of directive leadership include structure, clarity, speed, accountability, urgency, and consistency. The cons include inhibiting creativity, adaptability, and a sense of autonomy.

Pros of directive leadership

Structure. Directive leaders provide structure in situations that lack direction. These leaders let their team know exactly what needs be done effectively. There's very little room for guessing and confusion.

Quick and ready. When urgent problems in the workplace arise that need a quick solution, directive leaders know how to direct their team to take action. Directive leaders also help keep non-negotiables as non-negotiables. Some issues regarding specific policies must be followed with no exceptions.

Consistency. Adhering to strict goals and deadlines is the foundation of directive leadership. It's all about keeping a bird's-eye-view and ensuring that everyone is on track and accountable for their tasks.

Cons of directive leadership

Lack of creativity. Directive leadership can inhibit creativity, adaptability, and a sense of autonomy. This leadership style naturally gravitates towards a higher level of control which may cause creative team members to feel restricted and less autonomous.

Lack of adaptability. A company that doesn't know how to adapt will have trouble surviving. This is an important consideration when it comes to being open to change as a leader or even facing unforeseen challenges within the organization.

Lack of ownership. While having a helicopter manager does come with advantages, it can also take a toll on the sustainability of the company. If individuals don't have any sense of responsibility or ownership over their work, this can lead to lack of buy-in and decreased productivity.

The opposite of directive leadership: empathetic leadership

After hearing this, you may think: Wow, I want nothing to do with directive leadership. I want to be the opposite of this. But before you go running, know that there are dangers of avoiding directive leadership and championing only empathetic leadership.

According to Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale, leaning too heavily on empathy can distort our judgment. The study demonstrates how empathy triggers our altruistic impulses, resulting in poor judgment that could harm many people for the benefit of one person. While empathy is important, it may cloud our moral judgment.

How to be the best leader

It's not true that all effective leaders have a certain set of personality traits or that the situation completely determines performance. It's how you see a situation and adapting accordingly that makes you an effective leader. Having the skills to be a directive leader is great, but make sure to use those skills and wield your influence empathetically.

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