What’s it: Autocratic leadership is a leadership style in which decision making is concentrated on the leader. Leaders make decisions and solve problems on their own with little input from their subordinates. This leadership style involves absolute and authoritarian control over a group.
Characteristics of autocratic leadership
The characteristics inherent in an autocratic leadership style are:
First, the authority is in the hands of one person (leader). Leaders make nearly all decisions, including goals, tasks, projects, and work processes. They dictate all work methods and processes to their subordinates and do not entrust essential decisions to subordinates.
Second, jobs tend to be highly structured and inflexible. It’s nearly impossible to bring up creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. It stifles innovation. Absolute control hinders the ability of subordinates to be creative.
Third, leaders exercise authoritarian controls and closely monitor their subordinates. To run the organization, they set strict rules which the subordinates must obey. They clearly communicate these rules so that subordinates understand and implement them without question.
Other characteristics of autocratic leadership are:
- Leaders view the interests of subordinates as less important than the organization
- Leaders place high demands on their subordinates
- The leader does not ask for or accept input from subordinates for decision making
- Empowerment of group members is low
Examples of autocratic leaders
Leaders may be able to demonstrate more than one leadership style. They adopt different leadership styles depending on the situation. However, experts see that leaders have one or two dominant styles visible most of the time despite having some character.
Here are some examples of autocratic leaders in history:
- Adolf Hitler
- Attila the Hun
- Genghis Khan, King Henry III
- Napoleon Bonaparte
- Queen Elizabeth I
In business, some examples of adopting an autocratic style are:
- Martha Stewart
- Donald Trump
- Leona Helmsley
- Michael Bloomberg
- Henry Ford
- Gordon Ramsey
- John D. Rockefeller
Pros and cons of autocratic leadership
Like other leadership styles, autocratic leadership styles also have several strengths and weaknesses. Although considered bossy and dictatorial, this style can be beneficial and effective, depending on the situation, the types of tasks the group performs, and team members’ characteristics.
Advantages of autocratic leadership
Some of the advantages of autocratic leadership are:
First, leaders carry the vision and direction of the organization. They take the initiative and build a clear vision and direction for future success. They then develop a set of ways to achieve it and instruct their subordinates to implement it.
Second, decision making is faster. This becomes important because business and competition are increasingly dynamic. Leaders spend less time trying to influence others. Thus, they spend more time thinking about and making important decisions.
Third, subordinates can focus on working well according to directions. Because the leader determines the tasks, work standards, and deadlines, subordinates only have to do it.
Fourth, communication is more direct. Autocratic leaders provide all the necessary information to subordinates to carry out tasks. It simplifies the lines of communication.
Fifth, productivity increases. Specialization often calls for autocratic leaders. Leaders map and sort the work process into sections and assign tasks, targets, and deadlines for each subordinate.
Disadvantages of autocratic leadership
This leadership style has received a lot of criticism for several reasons:
First, leaders act as a dictator. They use authoritarian means to persuade and threaten subordinates to perform tasks.
Second, autocratic leaders can paralyze and hinder empowerment. They often ignore the needs of their subordinates. This situation creates a lot of pressure and increases stress among subordinates.
Third, autocratic leaders paralyze and inhibit empowerment. They only think of their subordinates as a machine supplying information for their decision making.
Fourth, autocratic leadership also results in a lack of creative solutions to problems. Subordinates cannot contribute to ideas and initiatives. As a result, such an environment is detrimental to overall performance.
Fifth, the turnover rate is high. High stress and pressure hurt employee morale. They choose to look for better job alternatives.
Sixth, the organization becomes highly dependent on the leader. If the leader does not have the competence to succeed, the organization will be doomed to collapse. Conversely, if the leader is competent, fair, and innovative, the organization will run smoothly. Further, such dependence becomes disastrous, for example, if a successful leader leaves the company or dies.
Why autocratic leadership is terrible and uncommon today
In today’s modern world, autocratic leadership is less common than in the past and is disliked for several reasons. Now, subordinates are more educated and skilled. Thus, when the environment does not allow them to explore their best abilities, they are more likely to turn to other places.
Also, the growth of the knowledge-based industry is driving decision making at all levels. Mentoring as a leadership style is increasingly popular among millennials, who generally dislike authoritarianism.
When is autocratic leadership best used?
First, when the situation calls for a brave and willing leader to make difficult and unpopular decisions. As Abraham Lincoln did during the Civil War in the United States, such a situation requires many autonomous decisions.
Second, autocratic leaders are effective when there is a lot of pressure involved. In very stressful situations, such as during war, group members may prefer an autocratic style.
Third, autocratic leadership styles are appropriate when a large proportion of the staff are less experienced and skilled. The leader distributes various tasks to complete.
Thus, group members can focus on doing specific tasks without worrying about making complicated decisions. They become highly skilled at performing specific tasks, which ultimately benefits the success of the whole group.
Types of work, such as construction and manufacturing, often take advantage of autocratic styles. In this situation, the boss makes sure that everyone has straightforward tasks, deadlines, and rules to follow. The autocratic style ensures that projects are completed on time. Workers also follow safety rules to prevent accidents and injuries.
Third, autocratic leadership is suitable for work environments that require high accuracy and few errors. By implementing strict rules and controls, leaders ensure employees work according to standards and without errors.
Apart from manufacturing, this leadership style is also suitable for hospitals and airlines where life and death decisions are involved. Likewise, in the restaurant industry, customers expect consistent service. And, an autocratic leadership style is well suited to meeting those expectations.