leader talking to friends around a table

What is a Directive Leader?

A directive leader establishes clear objectives and gives detailed instructions to implement those objectives. They value stability and accountability and use a task-oriented approach to achieve success.

This approach entails providing well-defined directions to team members, such as:

  • Assigning responsibilities
  • Establishing deadlines
  • Defining a task
  • Communicating rules and boundaries

When Is Directive Leadership Beneficial?

There are three main circumstances where a directive leadership style can be beneficial:

1. Ambiguous directions. Directive leadership is beneficial when team members are given assignments or procedures that are vague or unclear. A directive leader can support team members by providing clarity. They will establish the necessary guidance and structure to set team members up for success.

2. Urgent deadlines. Amid emergency, tight-deadline situations, directive leadership can help tackle issues and make decisions quickly. Directive leaders identify solutions and assign tasks to each team member.

3. Novice team members. Anyone new to a team or a specific role may need more direction in order to manage their responsibilities competently and effectively. Directive leadership can define tasks, set up milestones, and clarify priorities, thus providing a pathway for the novice to gain autonomy in future responsibilities.

What Is the Difference Between a Supportive Leader vs. a Directive Leader?

Three key areas differentiate supportive leadership from directive leadership:

While a supportive leader provides team members with high levels of autonomy, a directive leader takes on a more proactive role.
Supportive leaders are focused on developing relationships, and directive leaders are focused on developing competencies.
Supportive leaders value innovation and creativity, while directive leaders value consistency and structure.

The Pros and Cons of Directive Leadership


Directive leadership provides:

  • Structure: Directive leadership builds structure during times of uncertainty. Directive leaders tell individuals exactly what needs to be done and how. This structure provides team members the assurance that the leader will give the framework to navigate through a daunting situation.
  • Consistency: Objectives, milestones, and deadlines are at the core of directive leadership. This consistency offers team members clarity on what is expected of them and how to be successful. Directive leaders establish these expectations to drive dependable performance and outcomes.
  • Ease: From the leader’s perspective, directive leadership gives them direct control over the team and its success. The leader can make decisions independently, which often expedites project timelines and processes. From the team member’s perspective, they only have to be focused on the task at hand. They do not have the pressures of exploring and making the final decisions that will affect the outcome of each assignment or the team direction as a whole. Both leader and team members benefit from the ease provided when decision making is simplified.


Directive leadership is not the appropriate approach in all situations. There is a cost to being directive such as:

  • Lack of ownership: Directive leaders do not allow high levels of autonomy for team members. Instead, they take the reins. As a result, team members may not have a sense of ownership over their work and roles. If team members have not been a part of developing a decision or solution, they may not have full commitment to the path forward.
  • Lack of innovation: When leadership is not collaborative, team members are deterred from thinking outside the box. They may feel restricted or constrained to only following the prescribed processes and procedures. This restriction can prevent them from reaching their full creative potential, and therefore negatively impact the organization with the missed opportunity of what the team could bring to the table.

Leaders need to discern whether the benefits of a directive approach outweigh its costs given a particular situation. What is needed more in each situation, consistency or innovation? Ease or ownership? Consider these factors to know which approach is right for your team at the time.

How to Be a Directive Leader

The following items illustrate the characteristics directive leaders embody and practical ways to execute them.

1. Take Initiative with Confidence

Directive leaders must possess the confidence to set goals and delegate tasks. Practical ways to take initiative include:

Anticipate upcoming issues and discuss them with the team promptly. When brainstorming solutions and strategies, create backup plans for if the unexpected occurs.
Take a solution-oriented approach. It can be easy to become emotionally charged during high-pressure situations. Rather than getting bogged down in the problem, focus on the solution. Take a moment to slow down and objectively look at the issue in order to navigate a clear path forward.

2. Establish Milestones and Deadlines

Directive leaders create a specific protocol that outlines steps to success. Thus, it is important to establish standard written procedures and verbally explain these processes to your team.

This involves creating and communicating the following:

  • Objective: The goal of a given assignment, project, or initiative.
  • Milestones: Smaller goals team members need to achieve along the path towards the objective.
  • Deadlines: Dates team members must achieve their milestones and objectives.

Establishing these expectations builds the framework for your team and a clear roadmap to the success of your goals.

3. Apply a Directive Style When Needed

Remember, a directive leadership style is beneficial in certain circumstances. A strong leader refines their intuition to know when and where to apply a directive leadership style. Being successful in this requires:

  • Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of team members. Knowing who your team members are and their capabilities is essential in determining whether a directive style would maximize results. For example, suppose the team includes experienced professionals who are experts in their roles. In that case, consider opting out of the directive style to make space for innovation and to maintain high morale. Or, if the project merits skill sets that fall under the team’s “weaknesses,” you may consider applying a directive leadership style to specific parts of the project.
  • Listening intently to understand the objectives and needs of a given project. For example, if the organization is assigning a project to your team, visualize the project’s key goals in relation to the skill sets and resources available on your team. From here, you can assess if there are any gaps and how they should be filled. This process provides a launching point for establishing a specific step-by-step protocol.

Adopt the Right Leadership Style with CMOE

CMOE’s Flexible Leadership Workshop helps leaders feel more confident in managing the numerous circumstances they face each day. The program instills the expertise and skills in applying the right leadership style to the right situations to achieve desired outcomes. Learn more about this workshop today.