What’s it: Authoritarian leadership emphasizes strict obedience wherein the leader enforces rules and policies to control subordinates and requires them to obey without question. Leaders view success as coming from themselves.
Authoritarian leaders take absolute power. They take full responsibility for goals, decisions, and strategic path to success. They impose absolute obedience from subordinates to carry out what they aspire to.
This leadership style is often considered negative because it sacrifices personal freedom. Nonetheless, it can also be effective in some situations. For example, the organization is going through a crisis and needs firm guidance from the leader. In such conditions, authoritarian leadership is needed. Leaders can make quick decisions. In addition, they can direct people to move towards what they plan to do to get through the crisis by minimizing deviations.
Examples of authoritarian leaders are Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Kim Jong-un, and Richard Nixon. In Indonesia, its critics also see the Suharto regime as authoritarian.
What are the characteristics of authoritarian leadership?
Several aspects characterize authoritarian leadership. First, leaders think their vision is the best. There is no better alternative. Thus, they impose their vision on subordinates to achieve.
Second, the leader describes the vision, goals, and tasks in detail. They give clear instructions about what is to be accomplished when to be done and how to be done. And subordinates must carry out the tasks assigned to them without deviation.
Third, leaders are results and task-oriented. They force subordinates to obey absolutely any given task. So, even though the organization is highly structured, its implementation tends to be rigid.
Fourth, the leader controls all decisions and activities without subordinates’ meaningful participation. And subordinates only act as implementers for every decision. Therefore, they should run it without hesitation.
Fifth, authoritarian leadership leaves low autonomy. Thus, it is difficult for subordinates to self-actualize and develops themselves.
Sixth, leaders make choices based on their judgment. They see their idea as the best and should be implemented by every subordinate. Likewise, when they don’t get along with a subordinate, they can do whatever they want, including firing him for no apparent reason.
Seventh, the leader receives little or no suggestion or initiative from followers. As a result, they ignore creativity and out-of-the-box thinking from their subordinates. It makes innovation and creativity in the organization low.
In addition, because subordinates feel uninvolved, they are less motivated. They carry out their duties under “fear” and “threat.”
Eighth, the leader closely supervises subordinates. They rely on and dictate policies and procedures within the organization. In addition, they provide harsh penalties for any disobedience. They often use their power to threaten sanctions such as dismissal. Supervision is often stricter for subordinates who are considered disobedient.
How authoritarian leadership differs from authoritative leadership?
Authoritative leaders act like mentors. They use authority to guide and motivate subordinates instead of forcing obedience. They offer direction and feedback to keep subordinates enthusiastic. It ultimately creates a sense of accomplishment among the subordinates. In addition, subordinates also voluntarily follow the leader’s direction.
In contrast, authoritarian leaders are more imposing. They prioritize absolute obedience from subordinates. In other words, subordinates must do what they are told without question.
Furthermore, in an authoritative environment, subordinates have the opportunity to provide ideas and initiatives. But on the other hand, these opportunities are almost hard to come by under authoritarian leadership.
Although both are leader-centered, authoritarian leadership styles view success as coming from themselves. Meanwhile, the authoritative leadership style views success as combining a strong vision and high commitment from subordinates.
Where is authoritarian leadership effective?
Although considered negative, the authoritarian leadership style can be effective in some situations. When and where the authoritarian style is effective depends on factors such as the situation at hand, the characteristics of the subordinates, and the types of tasks the subordinates perform.
First, authoritarian leaders work best when the organization is undergoing significant change or crisis. In times of uncertainty, the leader’s firmness in directing subordinates becomes crucial. That way, everyone is united to achieve the targeted goals. It also reduces the self-interest motive of the subordinates.
Second, authoritarian leaders are also effective when the organization requires punctuality to finish work. Construction companies often rely on this leadership style. While it is important to get work done on time, authoritarian leaders are important to ensure specifications meet requirements.
Third, authoritarian leadership works well when the organization does not tolerate mistakes. Few manufacturing jobs fit this leadership style, especially when quality is a critical point to support competitive advantage. The leader focuses on making decisions and providing details about the tasks, how to do them and when to complete them. Thus, subordinates concentrate on carrying out the task without many questions. It also minimizes deviations during the work being done.
We see some manufacturers replace their workforce with machines. They adopt high technology to reduce the deviation. Thus, besides supporting more output, this technology also ensures quality output according to standards. And technology is replacing authoritarian styles, which are difficult to develop because of today’s more skilled and educated workforce.
Then, the hospital is another example where any mistake can result in death. Some jobs in hospitals it is often more authoritarian than democratic.
Fourth, authoritarian leaders can also be effective in high-pressure or emergency environments. Conflict or war is an example. The leader holds the highest command, and every subordinate must obey it. Without a single command, soldiers can get confused because several people at the top level may give different commands.
What are the advantages of authoritarian leadership?
The authoritarian leadership style has several positive sides. First, it allows for quick decision-making. Quick decisions are vital, especially in stressful and time-limited situations.
Second, the chain of command becomes clear. The leader holds supreme and absolute power. So, subordinates know to whom they should be responsible.
Third, decision-making is concentrated on the leader. Sometimes, it is necessary to minimize inconsistencies in decisions when delegating them to subordinates. Moreover, it minimizes bad decisions by subordinates because they are not good decision-makers.
Fourth, an authoritarian environment increases work focus and job engagement. Subordinates can concentrate on tasks without having to participate in complex decision-making processes.
Fifth, authoritarian leadership is beneficial if subordinates are less skilled or knowledgeable. The leader dictates the work and details all aspects through policies, procedures, and work instructions.
Sixth, the authoritarian environment makes the organization more structured. Subordinates have clear tasks, targets, and deadlines. And the chain of command is clearly defined. Communication and instruction are also one-way, from leader to follower.
Seventh, the results are more consistent and measurable. Each subordinate must carry out tasks according to instructions, targets, and timeframes, leaving less room for error.
What are the disadvantages of authoritarian leadership?
Although it allows for quick decision-making and several other benefits, authoritarian leadership is often viewed negatively, especially regarding the psychological effects it causes. First, this leadership style creates resistance among subordinates. Resentment or retaliation can arise from being dissatisfied with the leader. Finally, it creates instability within the organization.
Second, the organization’s success depends on how qualified the leader is. If the leader has qualified abilities, it will not be a problem. But, if you don’t have it, it will only result in organizational failure. In addition, an authoritarian environment also produces suffering for subordinates.
Third, authoritarian leaders try to maintain power. They not only maintain a strict hierarchy and adopt a top-down style of communication. However, they may not be willing to share information with subordinates if it is to their detriment. Finally, this creates distrust and distance between subordinates and leaders.
Fourth, low innovation. Subordinates find it difficult or unable to contribute their opinions or initiatives to the organization. As a result, innovation in the work environment is low, and the organization lacks creative problem-solving skills.
Fifth, high pressure among subordinates. People perform better and are happier when they feel engaged, self-actualizing, and contributing to their work. However, the authoritarian environment does not provide opportunities for employees to realize their thoughts. Authoritarian leaders tend to ignore the ideas and initiatives of subordinates. Because creativity and initiative are so limited, they will likely be frustrated and lose enthusiasm and productivity.
Sixth, high turnover. Employees do not like to work. Their morale fell in the face of an authoritarian environment. Ultimately, they opted out of the company to find better opportunities elsewhere. They seek an environment where they value and empower themselves more.
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