Developing appropriate leadership styles
A Tesco case study

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Page 3: Leadership styles

tesco-2The business writers Tannenbaum and Schmidt categorised different leadership styles. They suggested that leadership styles could be explained on a scale ranging from ‘autocratic’ through ‘democratic’ to ‘laissez-faire’.

The autocratic or authoritarian style is characterised by an ‘I tell’ philosophy. Autocratic leaders tell their staff what to do. This can give a business clear direction but it may also lead managers to undervalue or ignore input from their teams. However, an autocratic approach is appropriate in some situations. It is valuable when the business faces a crisis or when an urgent problem arises that requires an immediate response.

Stephen is a Tesco store manager

Stephen is the manager of a medium-sized Tesco store. He has been with the company for over 10 years and his first job was filling shelves in the dairy section. He is currently working towards the Tesco foundation degree. Stephen directly manages a team of around 20 departmental managers, who between them are responsible for almost 300 people. Stephen’s leadership style is usually to allow his managers to make most operational decisions. However, if, for example, an accident occurs in the store, Stephen may take control to ensure a prompt and co-ordinated response.

There are some leadership approaches that sit between autocratic and democratic. These styles allow team participation up to a point. However, the manager reserves the right to make the final decision.

  • Managers adopting an ‘I sell’ philosophy will try to persuade their teams to accept their viewpoint.
  • Managers adopting an ‘I consult’ approach will seek the opinions of subordinates before taking a decision. This is moving closer to a democratic style of management.

cmyk_group-2The best managers adopt leadership styles appropriate to the situation. Stephen’s preferred leadership style is to take a democratic approach. He consults widely as he feels that staff respond better to this approach. For example, when planning a major stock reduction programme, he encourages his managers to put forward ideas and develop plans. This increases team motivationand encourages creativity. Some mistakes may be made, but they are used as a learning experience. However, as a store manager, Stephen deals with many different situations. Some may be business critical and it is important that he responds to these in the most appropriate way. In such situations, Stephen may need to adapt his leadership approach and exert more authority.

Martin is Tesco's Programme Manager for Education and Skills


The democratic approach is characterised by an ‘I share’ philosophy. Decisions are made within teams, with each member having equal input. Martin is Tesco’s Programme Manager for Education and Skills in the UK. He has a range of responsibilities associated with people, processes and standards. Martin may use a democratic approach when setting training budgets. Managers can suggest ideas to make cost savings and they can jointly discuss their proposals with Martin. By empowering his managers, he gets them to take ownership of the final agreed budget.

Laissez-faire is at the other end of the spectrum from autocratic. A laissez-faire manager takes a ‘hands-off’ approach and trusts teams to take appropriate decisions or actions with broad agreed boundaries. For example, Martin might leave an experienced departmental manager to develop a budget. This could be because he trusts that the manager has a good knowledge of the needs of the department and of the business.

Tesco | Developing appropriate leadership styles