Designing Leadership Curricula for 3 Types of Leaders

If leadership trainers and management course designers intend to produce effective leaders, they first must understand the environment in which such leadership is to be exercised.

Management consultant, author, educator and business thought leader, Peter Drucker once said: “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.”

As a founding father of modern leadership theory, Drucker had a deep understanding of what makes a good leader. Yet, many of today’s leadership training curricula show scant appreciation of the fact that, in order to produce good results, leaders must be trained. And that training should directly reflect the attributes of the environment in which they are expected to lead.

Training Bosses and Leaders

No two companies adopt the exact leadership traits. In every organization, there is a management style that is as distinct as the fingerprints of each individual who works there. So when we are preparing to train leaders to function in those unique environments, the training curriculum must take into account the type of leadership styles that work best in those organizations.

At a very high level, if organizational culture is penalty based (for instance in the military, where you pay the price for missteps), then front-line managers need to be trained using a “rigid” style. Such “leaders” are considered, by definition, to be bosses. 

On the other hand, organizations that function in a collaborative and consultative environment (such as well-governed private corporations) need leaders to be trained using a positive, “flexible” leadership style. 

More specifically, these two broad categories produce three distinctive leadership styles. Here’s what leadership training curriculum designers need to consider when developing courses for each type of leadership candidate:

  1. Training Autocratic Leaders

Leaders in this group usually command people to follow their directives. Training curriculum for such leaders must include:

  • Analyzing and critical thinking: So they can understand what the organization needs to accomplish
  • Excellent communications: Because they must tell people what to do, explicitly and clearly (and not leave it for individuals to figure it out)
  • Accountability: Autocratic leaders must be trained to hold people responsible. They also must learn to accept responsibility for every decision they make—the buck stops with them!

Organizations that thrive in such environments include start-ups and military-type entities, or companies in intensely competitive environments, with little or no time to deliberate leadership strategy.

  1. Training Democratic Leaders

Leaders in this group usually follow a participatory and consultative leadership style. Training curriculum for such leaders must include:

  • Consensus-building: This skill is important because the leader does not impose his or her will, but seeks to drive the organization forward through decisions based on consensus.
  • Good listening skills: Consultative leaders must be trained to be great listeners, or else they might not be able to make well-informed decisions. 
  • Excellent time management skills: Unlike the serial-minded autocrat, who is good at taking an issue, deciding on it, passing an edict, and moving on, multi-tasking democratic leaders often deal with many issues on the go simultaneously. They need to be good stewards of not only their own time, but of their management team, as well 

Most private-sector organizations are run by democratic leadership. However, many leaders running successful global entities (e.g., Apple under Steve Jobs) were known to practice a semi-authoritarian style.

  1.  Training Laissez-Faire Leaders

Such leaders are known to follow a rather hands-off leadership style, where the organization is run on the backs of team members who cooperate to get the job done. Training curriculum for such leaders must include:

  • Big-picture thinking: Leaders that run laissez-faire organizations don’t like to get involved in the minutia of leadership—therefore, they need to be trained on how to set the big picture for their teams to focus on. 
  • Team-building skills: Because laissez-faire leadership is characterized by “working through others,” such leaders must know which “others” to surround themselves with, and what skills are needed in the organization.
  • Delegation skills: Hands-off leaders need to be good delegators, because they make the organization work by employing the skills of others (subject matter experts or SMEs), and not through their own efforts.
  • Conflict resolution: By definition, where there is more than one SME working on a project, there is bound to be conflict. Laissez-faire leaders, therefore, must know how to resolve conflict effectively, so organizational goals are met.

If you care to look for them, you’ll find successful, thriving organizations whose leaders embrace all of the three leadership styles—and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some businesses thrive under one-person leadership, while others will only survive under a leader with a participative style. 

As trainers, however, we must understand what kind of leadership the organization requires, and then design the curriculum accordingly. Once you understand whether you are training bosses or leaders, your task of creating the right curriculum becomes that much easier.

Curriculum Design Guidelines

Although instructional designers should use these three leadership styles as a broad guideline to create their content, it is important to understand there will be other “hybrid” leadership types to which curriculum must be adapted. 

For instance, hybrid leadership philosophies might include:

  • Servant leaders: Where leaders are chosen (not appointed)
  • Charismatic leaders: Who need to be trained to inspire and motivate
  • Transformational leaders: Where leaders need keen analytical and observational skills to identify what impacts the organization, and how best to transform its culture

These, and other hybrid, leadership styles feed off the primary three styles discussed above. Course designers, therefore, must first identify the primary style and design their curriculum, and then personalize it based on the hybrid styles identified here. 

Trained Leaders Make Organizations Work

As Peter Drucker noted: “So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.”

If leadership trainers and management course designers intend to produce effective leaders, they first must understand the environment in which such leadership is to be exercised. It is only after instructional designers understand that end goal that they will have an appreciation of the type of leaders they need to produce through their training content.

Marina Arshavskiy holds a Master’s degree in Instructional Design and ELearning. She is committed to helping organizations become more effective by creating groundbreaking, result-oriented learning solutions. Arshavskiy has consulted extensively with private organizations and government entities, both in the United States and abroad. Her course designs have won multiple awards and have helped take organizations to the next level. She has been passionately involved in instructional design and e-learning for almost 15 years, and is the author of the “Instructional Design for ELearning: Essential guide to creating successful eLearning courses.” Her major area of expertise is design of innovative eLearning courses that bring results and improve performance. For more information, visit: or