This article describes the Autocratic Leadership, also known as authoritarian leadership, in a practical way. After reading you will understand the definition and basics of this powerful leadership tool.
What is Autocratic Leadership?
A ship without a captain is rudderless and will always sail off course. In terms of organisations, a leader is also important in determining the course to be plotted. Autocratic leadership is a style that ensures that organisations strive for nearly flawless results.
The definition of Autocratic Leadership
The word ‘autocratic’ originates from the ancient Greek word ‘auto’, which means ‘self’ and ‘cratic’, which means ‘power’. It’s clear that the autocratic leaders are known as self-directing. They like to give commands to a group of people under their management and make quick decisions.
Autocratic leadership involves absolute, authoritarian control over a group of people. Autocratic leaders are typically trusted with decisions or important tasks.
Nevertheless, autocratic leadership is one of the least popular management styles and certainly not suitable for each organisation. In this leadership style process, there’s one person who pulls all the strings and makes all decisions on a strategic level. Employees in the departments under their control, must follow.
Autocratic Leadership Participation
Autocratic leaders typically have a lot of power and completely excludes any form of say and participation of employees, which can be a downside of the autocratic leadership style. In the 70s of the previous century, the autocratic style became less popular compared to other current leadership theories.
Under the influence of the Human Relations theory, people became the central factor. It then became important to discover what their motivation is; what exactly makes people want to carry out their work?
The word ‘labourers’ changed to ’employees’. Employees were given a voice in the company’s decisions. This isn’t present in autocratic leadership; participation of employees is simply unthinkable.
However, a distinction can be made between an exploiting and benevolent type of autocratic leadership style. In exploiting autocratic leadership, the leader determines what happens, without any contradiction from his / her employees and subordinates.
After all, it must simply be done. In benevolent autocratic leadership, the leader still decides what should happen. But he / she explains his reasons to his subordinates in hindsight. Although there’s still no participation in the latter style, it’s a first step towards starting a dialogue with employees.
Throughout the years, autocratic leadership has been frequently criticised. There were several reasons for this. The autocratic management style mainly acquired fame due to military and political leaders, sports coaches and icons from the industrial period.
Think of former American president Nixon, the rich founder of the eponymous Rockefeller concern and German dictator Adolf Hitler. It’s often associated with tyrants and dictators who use authoritarian means to lead subordinates and achieve a high level of productivity and output.
Nevertheless, many historic autocratic leaders were innovators who unleashed revolutions in society or industry, for instance. They had the gift of combining progressive ideas, self-government and autocratic leadership. A few examples of leadership includes:
- The rise of the Roman Empire under the leadership of Julius Caesar
- The first mass production of cars under management of Henry Ford
- The start of a network of roads in Europe by Napoleon Bonaparte
Regardless, autocratic leadership has a negative connotation. It is often viewed as a fall back position of incapable managers who aren’t able to motivate and inspire their employees.
Leadership Style Characterized
What follows is an explanation of the primary characteristics of autocratic leaders. An autocratic leader is the sole ruler. Autocratic leaders usually lead on the basis of tasks rather than employees. An autocratic leader often makes employees feel uncomfortable, as they have the need to be seen and heard.
After employees have worked for an autocratic leader for years. However, it’s difficult for them to get used to a different style of leadership.
They will initially be suspicious of a participating leader. They’ll be mistrustful and think that the new leader is testing their efforts and the execution of their activities.
The autocratic style is very useful in a number of cases. First, new starting, not experienced small groups of employees require more instructions and less participation. Employees who must be trained for production processes in the fast food industry also perform well under the autocratic leadership style.
This type of leadership style is also common in professions where decisions about life and death are made. The shorter lines and fast instructions prevent misunderstandings. In the healthcare industry, the police, fire brigade, the army, the autocratic style is a must and absolutely indispensable.
Rene Langer, co-founder of PICKHVAC says “The role of the autocratic leader himself is essential. He / she assigns tasks himself, takes important decisions and demands that group members properly perform the assigned tasks. Organisation comes first and attention for employees comes second.”
An autocratic leader doesn’t look for the opinions or expertise of employees who report to him / her. He / she makes the decisions for the entire group, the team or the organisation. They work in a highly disciplined way, have lots of knowledge and are well-prepared.
Disadvantages of autocratic leadership
Some benefits of the autocratic leadership style are described below.
Lack of trust
Employees’ trust in their employer is key to a successful working relationship. Rather, the basis of the autocratic leadership style is distrust. Leaders assume they don’t work. Their direct supervision is required to achieve good results. This is not sustainable and ultimately lead to performance problems. That’s because employees experience low morale.
In this leadership style, it is mainly about the reputation of the leader, not that of the employees. Leaders in these types of positions tend to oversee every little detail of the work done. That’s why many autocratic leaders turn into strict micromanagers. When this happens, you have the chance to decline.
Employees must rely on their autocratic leaders when it comes to feedback, instructions and assessments. When employees start making a decision in the work they do, they are almost always obliged to go to the leader rather than make the decision themselves. This makes it nearly impossible for managers to leave the workplace, as employees once became dependent.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Which aspects of an autocratic leader are useful in the modern world? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more additions?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- De Hoogh, A. H., Greer, L. L., & Den Hartog, D. N. (2015). Diabolical dictators or capable commanders? An investigation of the differential effects of autocratic leadership on team performance. The Leadership Quarterly, 26(5), 687-701.
- Schoel, C., Bluemke, M., Mueller, P., & Stahlberg, D. (2011). When autocratic leaders become an option—Uncertainty and self-esteem predict implicit leadership preferences. Journal of personality and social psychology, 101(3), 521.
- Van de Vliert, E. (2006). Autocratic leadership around the globe: Do climate and wealth drive leadership culture?. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 37(1), 42-59.
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