What’s it: Authoritarian leadership is a leadership style in which the leader enforces strict obedience and demands obedience without question. Leaders see success as coming from themselves.
This leadership style is often considered negative because it sacrifices personal freedom. However, it can also be useful in some situations. For example, when the organization is experiencing a crisis, it requires firm guidance from the leader.
Authoritarian leaders take full responsibility for goals, decisions, and strategic pathways to success. To do so, they insisted on absolute obedience from their subordinates.
Examples of authoritarian leaders include Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Kim Jong-un, and Richard Nixon. In Indonesia, the Soeharto regime was also considered authoritarian.
Characteristics of authoritarian leadership
The following are characteristics of authoritarian leadership:
- The leader’s vision is the best for the organization. Therefore, subordinates must make this vision their vision.
- Leaders describe the vision, goals, and tasks in detail. They do not tolerate any deviation.
- Leaders provide clear instructions on what to achieve when to do and how to do it.
- Leaders are results and task-oriented. They also insist on the absolute obedience of subordinates to any given task. So, even though the organization becomes very structured, the implementation tends to be inflexible.
- Leaders control all decisions. Members act as implementers of every decision. They must run it without hesitation.
- Leaders make decisions based on their judgments and ideas. They see their idea as the best and should be implemented by every member.
- Leaders receive little or no follower suggestion or initiative. They ignore the creativity and out of the box thinking of their subordinates. It lowers innovation and creativity in the organization.
- Members feel uninvolved, making them less motivated. They carry out their duties under “fear” and “threats.”
- Leaders keep a close eye on group members. They impose harsh penalties for non-compliance and use their power to threaten sanctions such as dismissal. Supervision is often tighter on members who are seen as disobedient.
Differences in authoritarian leadership and authoritative leadership styles
Authoritative leaders act as mentors. They use authority to guide and motivate members, rather than enforcing obedience. They offer direction and feedback to keep members enthusiastic. That, in the end, created a sense of accomplishment among the subordinates. Also, members voluntarily follow the leader’s direction.
Conversely, authoritarian leaders are more imposing their will. They put forward the absolute obedience of members. In other words, the subordinates should carry out what they tell them to do without question.
Furthermore, in an authoritative environment, members have the opportunity to contribute to ideas and initiatives. These opportunities are almost challenging to come by under authoritarian leadership.
Although equally leader-centered, authoritarian leadership styles view success as coming from themselves. Meanwhile, the authoritative leadership style views success as a combination of a strong vision and members’ strong commitment.
How effective is authoritarian leadership
Although considered negative, authoritarian leadership styles can be effective in some cases. When and where an authoritarian style is effective depends on the situation, the subordinate’s characteristics, and the type of task the subordinate performs.
First, authoritarian leaders perform well in organizations undergoing significant change. When faced with uncertainty, the leader’s assertiveness in directing subordinates is essential. That way, everyone is united to achieve targeted goals. It also reduces the self-interest motive of subordinates.
Second, authoritarian leaders are also effective when organizations need fast and accurate decisions. Construction and manufacturing companies often rely on this leadership style to overcome time frames and ensure quality output. Leadership focuses on decision making, while subordinates concentrate on carrying out tasks.
Third, authoritarian leadership also works best when the organization does not tolerate errors. Few parts of manufacturing and construction activities fit this leadership style, particularly about quality control. Besides, hospitals are another example, where any mistake can result in death.
Fifth, authoritarian leaders can also be effective in high-pressure or emergency environments. Conflict or war is an example.
Pros and cons of authoritarian leadership
The authoritarian leadership style has some positive sides.
First, an authoritarian environment makes it possible to make decisions quickly, especially in stressful and time-limited situations. Also, the chain of command and supervision became clear.
Team members can concentrate on tasks without having to participate in complex decision-making processes.
Second, authoritarian leadership can also be beneficial if subordinates are less skilled or knowledgeable. Leaders can train or organize staff and organize them to achieve goals.
Third, authoritarian environments also offer a structured organization and chain of command. Members have clear assignments, targets, and deadlines. Communication and instruction are also one-way, from leader to follower.
Fourth, the results are more consistent and measurable. Each member must carry out tasks following the instructions, targets, and timeframes. That leaves less room for error.
However, this type of leadership also has several weaknesses.
First, the authoritarian leadership style creates resistance among members. Hate or retaliation can arise and create instability within the organization.
Second, the organization lacks creative problem-solving skills. Subordinates cannot contribute their ideas or initiatives to the organization.
Third, the high pressure among the subordinates. People perform better when they are happier and feel involved and contribute to the group’s future. That, of course, is not the case in an authoritarian environment, which emphasizes absolute obedience. Because creativity and initiative are minimal, subordinates are likely to be frustrated and lose enthusiasm and productivity.
Fourth, organizational success depends on the leader’s ability. Authoritarian leaders tend to ignore the ideas and initiatives of members. If the leaders have qualified abilities, that is not a problem. But, if they don’t have it, it will only result in organizational failure and subordinates’ suffering.
Fifth, the turnover rate is high. Employees do not like working and leave to find better opportunities elsewhere. They seek an environment where they value and empower them more.