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Leadership styles in youth work

Leadership styles in youth work / Bild Nr. 10660375
Leadership styles in youth work | ©: hati - Fotolia

Each group leader uses his own individual leadership style. There are, however, 3 main leadership styles, each with their own attributes, advantages and disadvantages. The respective leadership styles relate to the character of the leader, the group (age, single sex/co-education groups, the composition of the group and the length of time the group is together) and the type of program.

The characteristics and properties of the 3 leadership styles:

leadership style

leadership style

laissez faire
leadership style

Group member Leader Group member Leader Group member Leader
Led Leading Led Leading Led Leading
Weak Powerful Trusting Feelings of responsibility abandoned Pointless
Unsure Confident Friendly No superiority Unsure Led
Fearful Responsible Comradeship   dependent Equal rights
No trust Deliberating Easier, relaxed, free Deliberating Helpless (no) responsibility
Dependent Strong Protected Dismissive unaware sometimes authoritative
Goal not known Enjoys trust motivated, equal rights Forced Totally free Events cannot be hindered
A toy Unimpeded program Grateful Time consuming Risk Dismissive
Put down definite goal Confident (slightly unsure), Difficult, complicated Independent but controlled Resignation
Uncomfortable Uncompromising Trust   Fun  
No scope to make decisions persistent Togetherness   Leads blindly  
Humiliated (no) responsibility Own space   Clever due to experience  
Have clear instructions Good control, discipline Communication required   No feelings of togetherness  
No discussions required   Compromising   „Cliques“ are formed  
No self-confidence   Equal rights      
Criticism not possible          



laissez faire

Dictator Democratic Liberal
I decide We decide It decides
Leader is above Leader is in the middle Leader is to the side
Group members do not build up a relationship Group members develop relationships Group members do not build up a relationship
Monologue Dialogue Soliloquy
Leader gives instructions Leader gives advice Leader gives information
One for all We for us Every man for himself

Three leadership styles (Models!)

  1. Authoritative leadership style
  2. Democratic leadership style
  3. Laissez-Faire leadership style


Authoritative leadership style

  • Good control, overview
  • Unimpaired programme
  • Laws: Youth protection laws
  • No long discussions
  • Group members know what they must do
  • Rules give security
  • Discipline
  • Peace in the group

Democratic leadership style

  • Self-sufficient
  • Compromises are agreed
  • Motivating
  • Varied ideas
  • Has the confidence of the group members
  • Strengthens public interests
  • Prohibitions are understood
  • An understanding of most problems
  • The possibility to grow creatively is given
  • Freedom of opinion
  • Equal rights
  • Makes integration of outsiders possible

Laissez-faire leadership style

  • Freedom to choose
  • No burden on the team members
  • Sometimes: independent
  • The group leader hardly requires any preparation time
  • There is a lot of freedom
  • Own social structures
  • Less chance of the leader being unpopular


Authoritative leadership style

  • Defiance
  • No development of freedom of choice
  • Listlessness
  • Less own initiative (Fears, hatred toward other members)
  • No trust
  • Less or no self-confidence
  • Hierarchy is promoted
  • Group interests are suppressed
  • Groups are not relaxed
  • Rivalry amongst the group members
  • Ability to criticise is suppressed
  • The independence of the group is weakened by the authority of the leader
  • Talents are not recognised and therefore not promoted
  • Fear turns into aggression, therefore violence
  • Peer pressure

Democratic leadership style

  • Time consuming for the leader
  • Difficult for the leader
  • Very dependent upon age
  • No „optimal“solutions
  • Lots of discussions can become boring

Laissez-faire leadership style

  • The group attempts to overstep the limit
  • Unsatisfied minorities
  • Tolerance between the group members is destroyed
  • Misuse of rules
  • Team members are no longer taken seriously
  • No responsibility
  • Weaker members are held back
  • Resignation
  • No initiative
  • No "We"-Feeling
  • The group does not stick together
  • High danger of injury to supervision laws
  • Fragmentation of the Group
  • Outsiders are noticeable

If there is choice between the 3, the best leadership style should be the friendly, democratic leadership. This type of leadership encourages the most open discussions with the teenagers without them being left on their own. Comprehensive rules and decisions are justified and discussed. Each member of the group and group leader is equally responsible for the success. Step by step, the teenagers learn to behave democratically, fairly and socially. Any problems along the way are discussed together, mistakes are accepted and corrected. The goal is reached together.

The authoritative leadership style leaves the teenagers with no choices. The motto is „eat or die“and there is no room for discussion and participation. There are of course situations in which this style of leadership is required. An example of this would be in dangerous situations, such as a walk in the mountains when a severe weather warning is given. In this type of situation, the group leader may have to decide against the group to avoid any danger.

The laissez-faire style of leadership is the style which allows the teenagers complete independence. A group leader is actually redundant. At the very most, the group leader might possess a key to lock the room and have a certain “alibi” to adhere to the supervision laws. There is no program, the teenagers usually decide themselves what to do, usually spontaneously. The youth leader does not act – he just reacts. The youths should learn for themselves with the involvement of any leader or authoritative person. This leadership style might possibly work in groups, which are in phase 3 of the group processes and have a certain level of independence and sense of responsibility for each other. However this type of leadership cannot be the secret to a long-term success. Teenagers are looking for direction, partners and stability. A fully uninvolved group leader, who does not deal with things, who does not give any positive or negative criticisms, is not a stable person which young people need.

Which of the 3 styles of leadership is right for me? You should choose a style of leadership which suits you. Be an original, not a copy. My leadership style is dependent upon my personality (my person), the current situation (of the group) and the task required (the relevant program). You should try to keep an eye on all 3 influencing factors (Myself-the program-the group).

Which leadership style is right for my group is only ascertained once a specific group process result has come about and the group target achieved.

Leadership styles

Test your own style of leadership

Using the following questionnaire, you can test your own leadership style. Try to answer the questions truthfully, without looking at the answers on the second page.

Discover your own leadership style by completing this questionnaire.

1.) I try out new ideas together with group!
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

2.) I make friendly/funny comments during group work!
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

3.) I give reasons for any criticisms I need to make!
a) often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

4.) I work together with the group!
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

5.) I demand absolute obedience from the group!
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

6.) I confer with the group when decisions are to be made!
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

7.) I look after my group and visit them at home!
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

8.) I give out tasks without asking the children for their agreement!
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

9.) I am always against the slightest change to the work plan!
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

10.) I keep the group at a certain safety distance!
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

11.) I encourage team work
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

12.) I criticise a child’s work but not the child itself!
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

13.) I try to reduce chitchat and gossip in my group!
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

14.) I make my own decisions!
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

15.) Theoretical or practical knowledge determines your next move!
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

16.) I decide in a different way to the majority of the group!
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

17.) I have lead long discussions about my decisions!
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

18.) You give in to your group in discussions!
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

19.) You are unsure when working through your program!
a) Often b) sometimes c) seldom d) never

Result of testing your leadership style

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