Managers who subscribe to theory X believe that employees inherently dislike work and therefore must be coerced into doing it; they avoid responsibility, prefer to be directed, have little ambition, and value personal security above all else. An exemplar of this theory would be a staff member who shows up on time and leaves on time. She does only what she is asked or told to do and just wants a weekly paycheck and the guarantee of a job. Theory X workers do what they are told; they don’t seek responsibility.
Autocratic leaders tend to tells subordinates what to do and expect them to do it. The subordinates of an autocratic leader are not involved in decision making and have little if any autonomy. The autocratic leadership style is commonly practiced by people who view their employees as having a theory X orientation and in situations in which tasks are simple and repetitive (Mondy et al., 1991). Autocratic leaders tend to believe that subordinates would provide input that would lead to less work or responsibility for them rather than to achieving organizational goals.
Autocratic leadership may be effective with employees with a theory X orientation, but any success may be short term. Motivated subordinates with a theory Y orientation eventually tire of the lack of autonomy and leave to look for positions with more autonomy. The autocratic DOC who tells the coaches what to do in practice, when to practice, and how to manage a game may lose motivated coaches who want the autonomy to make those decisions themselves. Also, clubs that use an autocratic leadership style do not cultivate future leaders because employees are not given the opportunity to make even minor decisions.
Democratic leaders seek input from subordinates and do what the majority of subordinates want. Some argue that a democratic leader is more of a facilitator than a leader. A person who selects this leadership style views his employees as having more of a theory Y orientation. This type of leader trusts that subordinates will make decisions that will enable the club to attain its goals. For this to happen, the subordinates need to be highly motivated employees who are looking out for the best interests of the organization. This style can lead to high employee morale because employees feel a part of the decision-making process and in turn buy in to the vision of the organization.
Some leaders have difficulty adopting a democratic style because they believe that doing so would force them to give up ultimate control. This can be especially difficult because ultimately the leader will be judged on the success or failure of his decision. An example of this would be an executive director who holds a staff meeting in which the staff puts forth ideas on what tournaments teams should attend for the coming year and what capital projects should be addressed. The staff votes on the actions to implement for the upcoming year. The executive director may not agree with the majority, but he has to live with and ultimately implement the initiatives.
Participative leaders tend to involve subordinates in leadership activities and decision making, but ultimately they retain final authority. Like democratic leaders, participative leaders view their subordinates as having a theory Y orientation. They differ from democratic leaders in that even though they seek input, they make the final decisions. Like the democratic style, the participative style helps develop future leaders and leads to high morale among employees, who feel a part of leading the organization. An added benefit is that the leader is getting input from those with expertise in given areas. Consider a club’s executive director who needs to make a decision related to marketing. Her background prior to becoming the executive director was in coaching. She consults her business director about the situation. She may decide to use all or some of the input, or she may disregard the business director’s input altogether. Ultimately, the decision is hers.
A laissez-faire leader takes a hands-off approach to leadership, allowing subordinates to make decisions. The mantra of a laissez- faire leader is “Hire good people and get out of their way.” The laissez-faire leader defers to the person he has selected for a given position to provide the leadership in that area. This type of leader offers incredible autonomy to subordinates—so much so that it can be argued that it goes beyond a theory Y orientation.
The most important aspect of the laissez-faire leadership style is the recruitment and hiring of qualified people. If an executive director of a club comes from the ranks of the marketing side of a club, she should look to hire the best person possible to run the sport side of the club because she will be turning those decisions over to that person. She chooses someone who knows how to select good coaches, knows how to train players, is a master in game strategy, and relates well with parents and athletes. The executive director then steps back and lets this person work his magic for the benefit of the club. The executive director’s role, then, is to support that person and give him what he needs to be successful and to achieve the club’s goals.
Adopting an autocratic, democratic, participative, or laissez-faire style of leadership is contingent on the personal traits of the leader, the people being led, and the nature of the activity. Each style has a track record of success, so leaders must carefully consider them all before adopting one of them.