Polar Opposites

Polar opposites are formed by defining two ends of a spectrum. They may be used to indicate a basic choice between alternatives – an Either…Or…. model, a tug of war between competing options. They may arise from defining a pair of contrasting types, and then acknowledging that there are some cases which will lie somewhere on the continuum between the two.

For example, an early model of two contrasting leadership styles was that of the Autocratic Leader and the Democratic Leader. Initially this model was made up of a list of characteristics of each type of leader.

A development of this simple approach was to establish a continuum, with at one end extremely autocratic leadership behaviour, and at the other extremely democratic behaviour, with a range of identifiable points in between.

This model is obviously more sophisticated than the two simple categories, which reduced all behaviourS into a choice between Autocrat and Democrat. Finer shades of meaning can be applied to particular behaviours. In addition, the model focuses on behaviour rather than on types of leader – so I might behave in a more democratic fashion in one situation – negotiating targets with my team – and a more autocratic fashion in another – selling them a proposal I want them to carry out.

Leadership Styles (Based on R Tannenbaum and WH Schmidt 1973 ‘How to Choose a Leadership Pattern’ Harvard Business Review May/June)