Are Empowering Leaders or Directive Leaders More Effective?

Topic(s): leadership, teams
Publication: Academy of Management Journal
Article: Examining the Differential Longitudinal Performance of Directive Versus Empowering Leadership in Teams
Authors: N.M. Lorinkova, M.J. Pearsall, H.P. Sims Jr.
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

Team building is one of the hottest and most studied topics in the world of I-O psychology today. More and more organizations are beginning to realize and benefit from the synergies that result when people pool their knowledge, skills, resources, and creative efforts to achieve a common goal. What is the secret to building effective work teams? As anyone who has ever worked in a group setting will tell you, a team is only as good as its leader.


The current research by (Lorinkova, Pearsall, & Sims Jr., 2013) compares the benefits of empowering and directive leadership in teams, and clears up some uncertainty about the impact of these leadership styles on team performance. In their study, they found that teams led by directive leaders, who actively provide direction and clear expectations of their employees, had higher initial performance than teams led by empowering leaders, who promoted their employees’ autonomy and responsibility. However, teams led by empowering leaders had a long-term advantage, and made greater performance improvements over time than teams led by directive leaders.

The researchers also found four important factors that affected empowering leaders’ influence on improving performance. These were team learning, empowerment, coordination of effective behaviors, and team mental models.


So what are the key takeaways for making the most of your work team? When leading teams tasked with a short-term project it is best to take a directive leadership approach. But if team members are going to be working together for an extended period of time, they will achieve better results in the long run if led by an empowering leader.


Lorinkova, N. M., Pearsall, M. J., & Sims, H. P. (2013). Examining the Differential Longitudinal Performance of Directive versus Empowering Leadership in Teams. Academy of Management Journal, 56(2), 573-596. 

Image credit: istockphoto/fizkes