Adolf Hitler, Attila the Hun, Father Junipero Serra, Genghis Khan, King Henry III, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Queen Elizabeth I, these are just some people in the world’s political history who demonstrated autocratic leadership. In business, we have Martha Stewart, Donald Trump, Howell Raines and Leona Helmsley as examples. But what is autocratic leadership in the first place?
Autocratic leadership is a form of management where “authority” is in the hands of one person alone. This person can be the leader, manager, or business owner, who typically has complete control over a project, work area, or whole business and makes decisions with little to no input from group members. That is, autocratic leaders tend to make choices based on their judgment and ideas alone, implementing absolute authoritarian control over their group or organization.
Typical Characteristics of Autocratic Leadership
As mentioned, autocratic leadership involves absolute, authoritarian control where:
- Leaders tell everyone what to do, dictate all the work methods and processes, and enforce their own ideas and judgment.
- Decisions concerning goals, tasks, projects, processes and so on are created by the leader alone; there is little or no input from others.
- Team members are rarely asked or trusted with decisions or important tasks, creating no real sense of empowerment.
When Is It Best Used?
While an autocratic style of leadership is considered more traditional and, in some cases, outdated, there are situations where this form of leadership works best, such as:
1. When quick decision is needed: Autocratic leadership is most effective in work environment or in instances where decisions need to be made quickly, or if tasks have to completed with great urgency. This is because when the responsibility is on the leader alone, decisions can be instantly created as the leader is free to act without having to consult team members.
2. When close oversight is needed: There are work activities and environment where workers tend to slack off when the management style is lenient. This can be avoided when leadership is autocratic, with worker’s activities are being closely watched and workers who fall behind are quickly identified and corrective measures are implemented.
3. When work process needs to be streamlined: Autocratic leadership works best in work situations that require strict coordination, such as the military and construction settings where most situations are particularly stressful. It allows members to focus on their specific tasks without having to worry about making complex decisions.
4. When poor performance needs to be corrected: This leadership plays out well when there is a need to address a business’ poor performance. With an experienced, knowledgeable and strong leader at the helm, a turn-around in performance can be achieved.
The Downside of Autocratic Leadership
May lead to high turnover rate.
While a number of studies have shown that autocratic leadership can increase productivity, this positive result usually lasts only in the short term as it is normal for employees to work harder when placed under tight control. Research have shown that this leadership style can lead to high turnover rate (with the best people often leaving the company) because it negatively affects employee morale and doesn’t create a sense of empowerment among staff. Also, employees are found to have greater resistance towards autocratic leadership style, resulting to apathy, absenteeism and decreased productivity.
Creates communication problem.
In a work environment where communication is often one-way (with little to no feedback), misunderstanding and communications breakdown can happen.
Leadership may feel to keep up with new trends.
While autocratic leadership is advantageous when it comes to making quick decisions (as the decision-making process is the responsibility of one person) this form of management may face challenges in this age of technological and sociological complexity, where leaders should be flexible and adaptable to change.
Hinders initiative and cooperation.
Team members who are proactive and knowledgeable about their job may find it hard to operate in a work environment which provides them little room for self-innovation and initiative. Also, when the job calls for teamwork and cooperative spirit, the autocratic form of leadership may become a hindrance.
The future of the organization is dependent on the performance of leader.
The heavily centralized command system of autocratic leadership entails that everything depends wholly on the leader. This means that if the leadership is capable, competent, fair and strong, the organization will run smoothly. If it is the opposite, the entire organization suffers.
Operation is paralyzed when the leader is absent.
With decision-making reserved for the leader alone, subordinates may become heavily dependent to the point that they may become incapable of running operations when they lose contact with their leader. At worst, operations may collapse or shutdown when the leader is absent. This puts unnecessary pressure on the leader to work at full capacity, leading to stress and health problems.
How to Make Autocratic Leadership Style Work for You
1. Respect your subordinate.
Most autocratic leaders have the mentality of “my way or the highway”, forgetting that staying fair and acknowledging everyone’s contribution in the business or the organization can go a long way. As a leader, it helps to remember that making subordinates feel they are respected can keep everyone’s morale up and resentment low.
2. Inform and educate before you enforce.
As mentioned above, communication can be a big problem in this leadership style. To avoid miscommunication, see to it that everyone understands your goal, purpose, or expectations. This will help reduce surprises down the road, and ensure that you and your subordinates are on the same page.
3. At least try to listen.
Even if you will follow your own opinion, judgment and ideas in the end, make it a point to listen to your group members. Everyone wants to feel that his or her opinion is being heard or appreciated no matter the outcome, even if it is not going to bring an immediate change.
There are occasions or situations where a centralized control is needed in order to achieve the desired result or performance. However, this leadership style may not be best to use at all times, especially when your goal as a leader is to foster teamwork and cooperation, build trusting relationships with colleagues and subordinates, and promote initiative among employees.