Why there’s still a place for a Directive Leader

A “Command & Control” style of leadership is often derided as having no place in the contemporary workplace. The idea of the Leader owning the decision making process and maintaining tight control is only brought up as a negative comparison to the Participative style of leadership that empowers the team to use their discretionary efforts in problem solving and creativity.

A Directive leader brings with her a high degree of centralization in reporting and team management. The strategy for the project is decided by the Leader. She sets the standards and time frames too. Tasks are assigned from the top throughout the project. Staff are monitored on progress and successful execution is rewarded. Mistakes and delays are conversely penalised. The project’s outcome is owned by the Directive Leader to the point of being perceived as micromanagement.

All this centralisation of responsibility places significant physiological and psychological stress on the Leader themselves. An awareness that not all aspects of a project can be managed or controlled is helpful.  Be wary, however, any deterioration in the energy levels or health of the Directive Leader affects the project.

The Directive Leader needs to be aware of the impact this leadership style has on the team. For employees, the lack of flexibility, collaboration and opportunity to own the corporate vision will damage the workplace culture over time. Employees will either leave due to stress and lack of motivation or act for personal benefits alone.

That said, Matthew Pearsall et. al (2012) observed key performance differences over time between teams led by empowering and directive leaders;

“Teams led by a directive leader initially outperform those led by an empowering leader. However, despite lower early performance, teams led by an empowering leader experience higher performance improvement over time because of higher levels of team learning, coordination, empowerment, and mental model development.”

Ceri-Booms etal (2017) suggested;

“It could be that in some teams, where strict deadlines apply, top-down decisions and timely assignment of tasks is more preferable than decision participation.”

Photo by Kal Visuals on Unsplash

So when should a Directive style of Leadership be considered?

A good leader is able to adapt their style of leadership to optimise for the situation they face and the team members they have to delegate to. A looser, more collaborative approach may be used to manage members who are motivated and where autonomy is conducive to success.

A Directive style of leadership is most effective in times of crisis where the short term demands for decisive action, discipline, and tight control over standards and time frames are critical.

Taking the time to learn team members’ mindsets and capabilities will help the leader determine when to employ a leadership style. Two examples where the Directive style is effective;

  1. Team members who are unskilled, inexperienced or unmotivated. The clear assignment of duties and close monitoring of progress can encourage learning and motivation through successful execution.
  2. Some people have an external locus of control and respond positively to praise and recognition from the hierarchy. These team members work well under strong formal authority structures and benefit from clarity of ambiguous requirements.

Sagie et al (2002) & Bell et al (2018) observed that;

“When the organizational strategy is articulated leaders are directive, and when operational decisions are critical, they employ a more participative leadership practice … Participative and directive leadership has a significant additive effect on team effectiveness.”

8 Advantages of Directive Leadership

  • Provide structure and focus to team members
  • Clarity of expectations for each role
  • Optimise the capabilities of unskilled or unmotivated teams
  • Fast Decision making by the Leader who owns the consequences
  • Drives completion towards a deadline
  • Ensures compliance to strict standards
  • Minimise the impact of any team member conflicts
  • Easy to adopt

Bell concludes with a recommendation that;

“pursuit of team effectiveness, which embraces the complementary power of both participative and directive leadership. Thus, they should perceive these leadership styles as mutually inclusive and convergent instead of divergent ones.”


A smart Leader might use the Directive leadership style in times of need; drawing from experience to delegate suitable tasks to inexperienced or unmotivated team members and managing them for accountability to derive higher performance.

Knowing your team will help determine which leadership style is best for whom and sharing regular feedback will assist in gauging when best to modify styles. Regardless of leadership style you adopt, it will be more effective by providing your team with clear expectations and an understanding of the project goals.

How do you delegate, collaborate and drive accountability in your team?

One thought on “Why there’s still a place for a Directive Leader

  1. Pingback: 3 Ways to Positive Communication – Verbz.ai | Thoughts to text

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