What’s it: Autocratic leadership is a leadership style in which decision-making is concentrated on the leader. Leaders prefer to solve problems and make decisions independently without or with little input from subordinates. This leadership style involves absolute and authoritarian control over subordinates. Also known as authoritarian leadership.
Autocratic leaders expect subordinates to obey. They asked subordinates to follow their orders without question. Thus, subordinates do not have the opportunity to provide input into key decisions. For this reason, subordinates’ motivation is low because they feel powerless.
However, this style is important in some situations, such as during a crisis. This leadership is needed to make decisions quickly, which are then implemented by subordinates without deviation.
What are the characteristics of autocratic leadership?
There are several characteristics inherent in the autocratic leadership style. First, the authority is in the hands of one person (the leader). Leaders make almost all decisions, including goals, tasks, projects, and work processes. They dictate all work methods and processes to subordinates and do not entrust key decisions to subordinates.
Second, work tends to be highly structured and rigid. It is almost impossible for subordinates to bring out creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. Absolute control hinders their ability to be creative.
Third, leaders exercise authoritarian control and closely supervise their subordinates. To run the organization, they introduce strict rules, procedures, and policies that the subordinates must comply with. They then communicate it to subordinates to understand and execute without question.
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Fourth, the leader views the subordinates’ interests as less important than the organization. Thus, they pay less attention to their subordinates’ interests. For this reason, empowerment in autocratic environments is low.
Fifth, leaders place high demands on their subordinates. For example, they ask subordinates to obey what they decide.
Sixth, the leader does not ask for or receive input from subordinates for decision-making. Instead, they rely more on themselves about what is good and bad for the organization.
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Seventh, the key information is in the leader. They keep the information to themselves. They only tell subordinates what they need to know.
Eighth, work and communication relations are rigid. Communication is one-way, from top to bottom. Subordinates have little or no opportunity to comment on anything.
Who are examples of autocratic leaders?
Leaders may exhibit more than one leadership style. They adopt different leadership styles, depending on the situation. However, according to experts, leaders generally have one or two dominant styles despite having several characters. And the style is seen almost all the time.
Who are the figures who have an autocratic leadership style? 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 figures who adopt an autocratic style are:
- Martha Stewart
- Donald Trump
- Leona Helmsley
- Michael Bloomberg
- Henry Ford
- Gordon Ramsey
- John D Rockefeller
What are the advantages of autocratic leadership?
Like other leadership styles, autocratic leadership also has some advantages and disadvantages. Although considered bossy and dictatorial, this style is effective, depending on the situation, the task, and the team’s composition. Let us discuss one by one the advantages of autocratic leadership.
First, the leader brings vision and direction to the team. They take the initiative and establish a clear vision and direction for future success. They then develop ways to achieve them and tell their subordinates to do them. Autocratic leadership allows the organization to quickly achieve its vision because everyone is moving toward the vision without deviation.
However, not all autocratic leaders are visionaries. And this is bad for the organization.
Second, decision-making is faster because the authority lies with the leader. Subordinates are just carried out. Leaders can spend less time thinking about and making critical decisions. Then, they asked the subordinates to carry it out.
Quick decision-making becomes necessary when companies face a crisis. The increasingly dynamic competition also requires quick decisions and, therefore, this leadership style.
Third, subordinates can focus on work. Leaders determine tasks, work standards, and deadlines. Meanwhile, they just wait for orders and then carry them out according to directions.
Fourth, communication is more direct. Autocratic leaders give clear instructions. They also provide all the necessary information to carry out tasks and do the job. It simplifies communication.
Fifth, output increases. Specialization often requires an autocratic leader. They map and sort the work process into sections and assign tasks, targets, and deadlines for each job. And subordinates focus on their respective jobs.
What are the disadvantages of autocratic leadership?
Although it allows for quick decision-making, autocratic leadership also invites cons. First, the leader acts as a dictator. They use authoritarian means to persuade and even threaten subordinates to perform tasks.
Second, autocratic leaders stifle and hinder empowerment. They are often concerned with their ego and ignore their subordinates’ needs. This situation creates great moral pressure among subordinates, leading to high stress.
Third, autocratic leaders make decisions without consulting group members. They perceive subordinates as machines supplying information for their decision-making. Subordinates cannot contribute to decisions, even if it is related to their work area.
Fourth, autocratic leadership relies on its own mind. Subordinates cannot contribute ideas and initiatives. As a consequence, creative solutions to problems are minimal. Finally, there is no room for innovation and creativity. Such an environment can be dangerous for an organization, especially when the environment is rapidly changing and requires innovation to stay adaptive.
Fifth, high turnover rate. Stress and high-pressure harm employee morale. They are demotivated because the work environment is rigid. They cannot contribute to the work area or organization in which they work. Finally, they choose to look for better job alternatives elsewhere.
Sixth, the organization becomes very dependent on the leader. The organization will be doomed if the leader does not have the competence to succeed or is a visionary.
On the other hand, if the leader is competent, fair, and innovative, the organization should be without problems. However, shocks may appear at a later date. High reliance on leaders can be disastrous when they leave the company or die.
Seventh, high stress afflicts the leader. They have to make many key decisions for the company. Thus, it makes their mental load increase and can lead to stress.
Why is autocratic leadership bad and unorthodox today?
In today’s modern world, autocratic leadership is less common than in the past. Now, subordinates are more educated and skilled. So, when the environment does not allow them to explore their best abilities, they are freer to move to other places. As a result, environments with autocratic leadership have little opportunity for growth.
In addition, the growth of the knowledge-based industry is also driving decision-making at all levels. Mentoring as a leadership style is increasingly popular among millennials, who generally dislike authoritarianism. In addition, distributing authority across various managerial levels can reduce the leader’s workload. They can focus on more strategic aspects and leave the rest to lower levels.
Where is autocratic leadership effective?
While they tend to be unpopular in modern business, autocratic leaders can be effective in some situations. But, apart from depending on the environment in which they work, it also depends on the tasks to be completed and the subordinates’ abilities and willingness. So, where can they be effective?
First, autocratic leaders can be effective when situations require them to be courageous and willing to make difficult and unpopular decisions. Such a situation requires many autonomous decisions, as did Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War in the United States.
Second, autocratic leaders are effective when a lot of pressure is involved. In highly stressful situations, such as during a crisis, subordinates may prefer an autocratic over a democratic style because it is more assertive and clear.
Third, an autocratic leadership style is suitable when subordinates lack experience and skills. The leader dictates various tasks to complete. Meanwhile, subordinates focus on the work instructed without having to bother – because they are not involved – with complicated decisions. Eventually, they become skilled at performing the task because they are specialized.
Jobs in the manufacturing industry often rely on an autocratic style. In these situations, the leader ensures everyone has clear tasks, deadlines, and rules to follow. Construction work is the same. The autocratic style ensures that projects are completed on time. Workers also follow safety rules to prevent accidents and injuries.
Fourth, autocratic leadership is suitable for work environments that require high accuracy and few errors. By implementing strict rules and controls, leaders ensure employees work to standards and without errors.
So, this leadership style is suitable in industries such as hospitals and aviation, involving life and death decisions. Likewise, in the restaurant industry, customers expect consistent service. And the autocratic leadership style fits well with those expectations.
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