What is the autocratic leadership style?
As the name suggests, the autocratic leadership style is a form of management demanding absolute obedience from the team members. Autocratic leaders make unilateral decisions on everything based on their views.
They tend to believe themselves to be the smartest on earth, while less likely accepting others’ recommendations and opinions. They generally distrust in others’ ability and advice.
Autocrats would manipulate everything in their business (no matter how small it is). They do not usually reward their employees. They would use every chance to establish personal authority in the organisation. In other words, they try to establish dominance and portray themselves as the superior leader. In doing so, they tend to distance themselves from the employees.
Autocratic leadership is more prevalent in the early years of history as kings and emperors centralise all the powers to make decisions themselves without any check and balance.
In recent years, these people can be considered as autocratic leaders:
- Donald Trump, the President of the United States
- Martha Stewart, founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia
- Adolf Hitler, leader of Nazi Germany
- Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, prime minister of Italy
- Napoleon Bonaparte, French statesman
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The danger of autocratic leadership in the workplace
Autocratic leadership has been heavily criticised for its tyranny features. It is usually associated with force and threat to achieve some goal. Its negative impact is mainly seen in a chain of causal events in the employees.
Undesired employee behaviour and higher turnover rate
As this style of leadership ignores the team members’ voices and views, the members would treat it as a derogation of their value and efforts. And they would find it disrespectful.
These team members would be more self-protective in their feelings and behaviour. They would rank their individual interest higher than the organisation or team. As such, this is detrimental to building a sense of belonging and team morale.
As a result, they will:
- be less motivated and empowered;
- not make extra efforts to benefit the team or organisation. Instead, they follow tight the instructions.
- In turn, they will be less creative; and
- have some retaliatory behaviour.
In other words, a self-centred leadership style can cause team members more self-centred .
In turn, the authoritativeness of the autocratic leader may be challenged as the members are not inspired to follow the leader. Also, the ability to motivate team members to commit to the team or organisation is substantially lowered. Eventually, there will be a higher personnel turnover.
In our other leadership posts, we have emphasized the importance of two-way communication and active listening in effective communication.
Contrary to that, autocratic leaders make communication one-way and disregard the thoughts, views and feedback from their team members. This communication breakdown stifles cooperation and interactive contributions.
In businesses requiring constant feedback, such as the servicing industry, the communication breakdown between staff and the management would delay the implementation of necessary improvements in response to customers’ feedback.
Over-reliance on the leader
As autocratic leaders seek to create personal authority and distance themselves from others, the whole team or organisation will heavily rely on the leader.
This can create three problems:
- A good and competent autocrat with vision will drive the team further to the good side. Meanwhile, an incompetent autocrat will drag the whole business or project down.
- The leader must be very reachable for decisions to keep the business running. Team members will frequently look for him for review and approval. If the leader is in a long conference or a place with no mobile network, there can be a huge risk of delay in decision making.
- Over-reliance on the leader will pose pressure on the leader as well. An autocratic leader understands his business needs him very much. This creates pressure on the leader to respond quickly, make accurate decisions and put 100% of his time and focus on the business.
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Can the autocratic leadership style work effectively?
In this democratic society and under the influence of other leadership theories, people have been casting doubts on the effectiveness of autocratic leadership in running organisations and projects.
Although autocratic leadership style is often less welcomed, it remains effective in some business situations.
In the business world, autocratic leadership can effectively work in:
- smaller projects and businesses with fewer members
- situations requiring an authoritative leader
- ensuring quality
In smaller projects and businesses
Autocratic leadership style can work in smaller projects and businesses. This is especially when there lack systems and organisations.
There needs a strong leader to take ownership of the project, give directions and distribute the work. The leader will need to get things organised and executed according to the agreed schedule.
In situations requiring an authoritative leader
Because of the nature of centralising the powers in the leader, autocratic leadership works in businesses requiring:
- the ability to make decisions swiftly
- immediate improvement for efficiency and performance
This avoids the process of consultation in which different interested groups may have comments based on their interests and procrastinate the decision-making process.
Autocrats can respond more quickly to save the business from the crisis in time. This is because they have control over the decision-making process. Also, they get away with lengthy administrative procedures and discussions.
In ensuring quality
The highly authoritative style ensures quality and is effective in managing people who are low-skilled and inexperienced and in situations where work is repetitive. This is effective in teaching them what “should be” and asking them to follow exactly the “should be” , which would result in increased productivity and work quality assurance.
For example, autocratic leadership is needed in restaurants to ensure meals are prepared up to standard.
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Are you an autocratic leader?
Try to pitch yourself in “What is autocratic leadership style?” above and see how much you can fit in.
Also, you are likely to be an autocratic leader if you have the following thoughts:
- consultations and discussions procrastinate the progress and lower efficiency
- being questioned or challenged is irritating
- strict and detailed rules are essential and must be followed
- you need absolute respect and obedience
How can you make your autocratic leadership effective?
Autocratic leadership style is almost the opposite of democratic leadership. If you are autocratic, you can still be an effective leader in most situations (in addition to those mentioned in “Can autocratic leadership style work effectively?” above).
All you need to do is to get something out of democratic leadership and blend with your leadership style. You may try to:
- ask for your members’ input. Hold some brainstorming sessions. Actively listen to their thoughts and get involved like a member. Even if you ultimately do not adopt their ideas, acknowledge their contribution. They would feel valued.
- make your standards and requirements clearly known to the members. They should be consistent and should not be easily revised.
- delegate some of the work to your members. Give them ownership of work and avoid micromanaging. Acknowledge them if they did a good job. This motivates the people and boosts team morale.
- empower your members. Walk them through your instructions but leave them with some room for flexibility. By doing this, you are developing your team’s sense of belonging.
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Can you work well under autocratic leadership?
Along with the line of “Can autocratic leadership style work effectively?” above and the characteristics of autocratic leaders, there are people who can well adapt to autocratic leadership.
It is likely than you can work well under an autocratic leader if you:
- believe strict rules and orders can increase efficiency
- enjoy abiding by rules as you think they give a lot of certainties
- like working in repeated tasks
- do not like making extra efforts at work, other than following the instructions tightly
- enjoy status quo, as opposed to ambitiously climbing up the career ladder
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We’d love to hear from you!
Whether you have worked under an autocratic leader or you recognise yourself as an autocratic leader, share with us your experience and thoughts!
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- Three Key Elements to Nurturing Leadership
- The 6 Most Compelling Leadership Qualities
- Leadership Communication – Speak like a Leader
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