Authoritarian Leadership Style: Definition and the Basics

Authoritarian Leadership - Toolshero

Authoritarian Leadership style: this article explains Authoritarian Leadership Style in a practical way. This article contains a general definition of this leadership style, its characteristics and benefits. After reading this article, you will understand the basics of this leadership style. Enjoy reading!

What is Authoritarian Leadership Style? Theory and meaning

Authoritarian leadership is a now outdated form of management that, especially in recent decades, is sure to create a lot of resistance among employees. The word authoritarian comes from the Greek language and derives from the word autocratic. ‘Auto’ means self and ‘cratic’ means rules. It is often compared with the leadership behavior of a leader with the autocratic leadership style.

An example of a leader who adopted the autocratic leadership style is Bill Gates. In the early days of Microsoft, he was convinced this leadership style would grow the business as he envisioned.

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Authoritarian leadership definition

This leadership style can be defined as a leadership style in which, without accepting participation, the authoritarian leader makes all the decisions themselves and delegates the tasks.

This leader will check and punish their employees more severely and quickly and will never involve them in complex decision making.

When the results are disappointing, or when the leader expects this to happen, the authoritarian leader will use his power to threaten sanctions such as dismissal so that undesirable behaviour can be prevented. It is of no surprise that nowadays, these leaders are not very effective leaders. The negative effects of authoritarian leadership are discussed in this article, as well as benefits resulting from this leadership style.

Managers with this leadership style exert a lot of negative influence on the employees and have an image of them that corresponds to the vision from McGregor’s Theory X.

Authoritarian leaders, or autocratic leaders, prefer to focus on results and tasks rather than on the employees who make the results possible.

This supreme ruler assumes that employees have little ambition, prefer to avoid responsibility and only strive for individualist goals. This way of thinking ensures that the leader tolerates little feedback, does not enter into discussions and always maintains control.

This leadership style is therefore often assessed as unpleasant, dominant and insensitive. The anti-social skills possessed by the authoritarian leader often lead to resistance among employees because they feel subordinate.

The feedback this leader gives to their employees is often negative, not very constructive and is sometimes accompanied by overt anger.

Authoritarian Leadership : Coercive power

In 1959, John French and Bertam Raven determined five forms of power after doing extensive research. They discovered that authoritarian leaders mainly use their coercive power (Coercive Power). Characteristic of coercive power is that there are often threats of negative consequences. Later, several other researches were published by the Journal of Applied Psychology.

The opposite form of reward power is expressed in reprimanding, threatening with dismissal or assigning tedious or difficult tasks. There may also be a threat to withdraw a promised promotion.

However, these forms of blackmail are not effective and cause the group’s morale to seriously drop. In general, it’s just threats because there are no legal grounds for dismissal.

Authoritarian Leadership Characteristics

A workplace which is led by an authoritarian leader shows some interesting characteristics.

Lack of creativity

Because the authoritarian leader decides everything themselves and executes it in their own way, they don’t give the employees the chance to give their spin on the tasks to be performed.

This way, the creative ability of the employee is never developed or discovered and that is a missed opportunity for both the employee and the company.

After all, creativity stimulates growth and innovation within an organisation and also ensures increased productivity. The need that every person has to do meaningful work is also satisfied by developing creativity on the work floor.


The demotivating feeling that occurs among people who work under an authoritarian leader is partly due to the lack of creative development and partly due to fear of sanctions.

The fear of sanctions causes them to be extrinsically negatively motivated. The demotivating circumstances ensure that people under an authoritarian leader often walk away from it.

Employees know that they have to carry out the orders they receive without contradiction, which means they will never do more than is necessary.

Lack of a sense of responsibility

This effect also comes from an authoritarian leadership style. The employees feel like they’re just a number, without value, because their input is cut off or not even heard.

When they achieve success, they are not or barely appreciated by the authoritarian leader, while they get a thorough scolding when things go less well. This also removes the bond of trust between the leader, and the employees will never tell him anything in confidence.

Passive aggressiveness

The frustration and fear that arise from authoritarian leadership can take on unpleasant forms. The dominance that is strongly present among authoritarian leaders creates resistance.

Because the group members constantly have to comply, they become angry and uneasy. There’s no room for these sorts of feelings under an authoritarian leader, which means they often express these feeling to weaker people within the team or at home to family and friends.

The same happens, for example, in education, where students express the pent-up aggression, which they build up with a strongly authoritarian teacher, to younger or milder teachers.

Benefits of Authoritarian Leadership style in the workplace

While the number of authoritarian leaders has been sharply declining in number and appreciation, there are also situations and circumstances where authoritarian leadership is effective and desirable.

In teams where consensus is not easily reached because of a high diversity of team members or a group that is only briefly going to be working together, the authoritarian leader sees quickly what needs to be done and who is best suited for this.

This leadership style is also suitable for places where authority is desirable, for example in the army or prisons. It is therefore self-evident that for each team and each task, it must be determined which leader is suitable.

A natural leader is also able to change their style and use the correct dosage of each style. Some examples of situations where authoritarian leadership is desired:

  • When employees do not do their job properly, either because of incompetence or inexperience, close monitoring and guidance is required. An authoritarian leader must shirk from giving constructive feedback.
  • Even when employees are lazy or do not take the initiative, they need guidance. An authoritarian approach to lazy employees generally has more effect than when you are kindly asked if he or she wants to perform a certain task.
  • In the army, in police forces, in special institutions.

To summarise

An authoritarian leadership style can be extremely effective in certain situations, but it often has adverse effects on the group members or employees. They don’t feel heard and have nothing to say.

The decreasing sense of commitment causes productivity to deteriorate and potential is lost. Because the authoritarian leader only gives orders without allowing other views, employees never go the extra mile.

The employees’ creativity also slowly dies if they’re not allowed to take the initiative or present new ideas. The dominance in an authoritarian leader in combination with abuse of power can cause passive aggressiveness in the workplace.

When employees need an extra push, an authoritarian style can work out better.

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It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Do you recognise the explanation of the authoritarian leadership style or do you perhaps recognise an authoritarian leader in your own environment? What do you think are factors that contribute to good leadership?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Shaw, M. E. (1955). A comparison of two types of leadership in various communication nets. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 50(1), 127.
  2. Flood, P. C., Hannan, E., Smith, K. G., Turner, T., West, M. A., & Dawson, J. (2000). Chief executive leadership style, consensus decision making, and top management team effectiveness. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 9(3), 401-420.
  3. Bhatti, N., Maitlo, G. M., Shaikh, N., Hashmi, M. A., & Shaikh, F. M. (2012). The impact of autocratic and democratic leadership style on job satisfaction. International Business Research, 5(2), 192.

How to cite this article:
Janse, B. (2018). Authoritarian Leadership Style. Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero:

Original publication date: 01/02/2018 | Last update: 05/01/2024

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Ben Janse
Article by:

Ben Janse

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.


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