Among all the leadership styles, the autocratic leadership style is the one with the poor rep. But is it truly as bad as it is made out to be?
Rajeev Peshawaria, an experienced HR professional who has held positions as Chief Learning Officer at Coca-Cola and Morgan Stanley, writes:
Perhaps the biggest inconvenient truth of the current times is this. We've been idealizing democratic and all-inclusive leadership far too much when the need of the hour is — and always has been — autocratic, top-down leadership.
According to Peshawaria, "To drive breakthrough results in today's age of speed, top-down autocratic leadership is indeed required."
Being an exceptional leader means knowing which is the right leadership style for you.
This article aims not to judge whether the autocratic leadership style is good or bad leadership for you. It seeks to set out all of the facts in front of you to help you make an informed decision.
Without further ado, let's get started.
Autocratic Leadership Definition
Autocratic leadership is a leadership style where the leader makes all the decisions without taking any inputs or suggestions from the group members. It is often widely referred to as the authoritarian leadership style.
The autocratic management style is the polar opposite of the Democratic or Laissez-Faire leadership style. Authoritarian leaders make all decisions based on their own beliefs and ideas. These leaders often tend to exert influence over the work of the other group members.
It's fair to say that working under such leaders will take some getting used to. Employees may feel as though their views are unheard, leading to disengagement.
But we can't ignore a simple fact. The autocratic type of leadership creates some really strong leaders.
Autocratic leaders are self-driven, resilient, and less vulnerable to external influences. When dealing with a major organizational crisis or change, an autocratic leader might be the perfect leadership style that your people need.
Characteristics of Autocratic Leadership
The secret behind how autocratic leadership work is simple. Establish high-level control and use it to produce the desired results. Let's see what we can expect from an authoritarian leadership role:
1. Final Decision Makers
The driving force behind the autocratic leader is that they will always be the final decision-maker. No group members are trusted with decisions or important tasks under such a leadership style.
Because it allows little to no input from the team, autocratic leaders make almost all the big decisions. It requires them to keep abreast of every major development, happenings, and research related to the company operations.
Autocratic leadership makes for much faster decision-making since the line to get a decision finalized is short. It saves a lot of time that would have been spent on needless permissions.
2. Highly Structured Processes
Autocratic leaders are perfectionists in a way. They tend to create highly structured and rigid work processes. Meanwhile, there is a high priority to set clear rules and follow them strictly.
There is an obvious command line under the autocratic management style. It is especially effective in groups where strong leadership is needed.
The rigidity of the leadership style also helps in streamlining employee performance. A strong autocratic leader sets clear expectations and goals that empower employees to do their jobs more efficiently.
3. Lack Of Trust
Since the autocratic leadership style discourages employees from sharing their ideas and inputs, it hampers the boss-employee relationship greatly.
It gives employees the impression that they are insignificant to the company. Employees get rarely trusted with important decisions and duties, which causes discontent among them.
4. Clear Communication
Since there is a clear command line, there is no communication gap and a greater level of transparency. It ensures that all tasks and deadlines get completed in time.
However, autocratic leaders don't or rarely seek any form of feedback from their employees. It may result in misdiagnosis of the workplace issues.
Autocratic leadership Advantages And Disadvantages
Let's explore whether an autocratic leadership style is the right one for you:
Benefits of Autocratic Leadership Style
Despite facing criticism, there are some tangible benefits that an autocratic leader brings to the company.
1. More Cautious
Autocratic leaders are overly cautious to the point of being a flaw. Their love for rules makes them very particular about the tasks that they prioritize. They only proceed with a project after long hours of research and analysis.
Unlike Laissez-Faire leaders, autocratic leaders do not feel pressured to accept every (or any, to be accurate) idea offered by group members.
Not all ideas are great. The time, effort, and resources spent on bad ideas can turn out to be quite expensive in the long run. But the probability of such a thing happening in the autocratic leadership style is almost nil.
2. Systematic Goal Setting
Autocratic leaders are clear about what they want and expect from their teams. Such transparency allows employees to set precise goals and commit to them.
3. Highly Structured Work Environment
The structure is vital for a company to flourish. People instinctively know who to turn to when things go wrong under autocratic leadership. It offers a clear sense of direction to team members as they know who is in charge.
Having an authoritative leader can also bring a productivity boost. Deadlines are quickly met, and projects get completed efficiently.
4. Quick Decisions
It is normal to encounter cases where leaders must make quick decisions. When there are fewer people involved in the decision-making process, this process becomes must faster.
With an outstanding autocratic leader on board, group members can always count on someone to make the right call.
Disadvantages of Autocratic Leadership Style
Autocratic leadership isn't all sunshine and rainbows. It has its own set of drawbacks, thus negatively affecting the company.
1. Hampers Innovation
We know that autocratic leaders love to live by the rule book and don't care for others' opinions. While this might have worked great with past generations, millennials and Gen Z workers will feel less than thrilled working under such a boss.
A too rule-oriented leader won't be ideal for a company (or workforce) that needs creativity to strive. Even if we let the rules and regulations part slide, the exclusion from any decision-making abilities can be the final nail in the coffin for any form of innovation.
With a lack of innovation, not only the employees but the company will grow stagnant. It will almost be impossible to compete with the market standards- if not now, then a few years down the line.
2. Low Morale
The main drawback to autocratic leaders is that they can be strict and restrictive. Employee morale would suffer as a result of such leaders in charge.
And any good leader understands that a lack of morale can have a significant impact on your business. All will suffer, including company culture, efficiency, commitment, and success. Eventually, you will notice several employees intending to leave the company.
3. Less Autonomy
An autocratic leadership style is not for a company where collaboration is vital to the culture. A collaborative culture sustains itself on solid communication, exchanging ideas, and great relationships—all of the factors that an autocratic leader will fail to create.
Under this leadership style, employees feel like they are not a part of the company's journey. People tie their worth to performing tasks and completing goals. That negatively impacts how they feel about the company and their job.
Employees lose their sense of independence when they work under an autocratic leader. They are more likely to experience burnout if they experience continuous yet rigid performance standards.
4. Degradation Of Work Relationships
The autocratic leadership style doesn't focus on building meaningful work relationships. When there is a lack of peer-to-peer connection or even boss-employee relationships, the culture grows toxic. The conflicts increase while people indulge in unhealthy competition.
Any mentoring program has no function under autocratic leadership. Since there is no one to show new hires the ropes, they are likely to feel at odds with the work culture.
There are also far fewer occasions to learn from one's peers. Team members who learn through constructive collaboration and knowledge sharing can not achieve their growth under autocratic leadership.
A strong leader can guide you through a crisis, but they must be agile to survive it.
With autocratic leadership, any form of positive change or transformation will not be quick or sudden. As a result, in a crisis, you might not want these leaders to guide you.
A great example of this is the Covid-19 pandemic, where the abrupt shift to a remote culture required urgent digitalization efforts. It also needed leaders to be profoundly empathetic and flexible, which the autocratic leadership lacks.
Autocratic Leadership Examples
Now that we have discussed the pros and cons of the autocratic leadership style let's look at some famous examples of autocratic leaders.
1. Elon Musk
Elon Musk is quite possibly the poster child of being the modern-day genius. Musk is notorious for doing things that people consider impossible. Musk has exercised the autocratic leadership style at each of his various enterprises, such as Tesla and SpaceX.
2. Jeff Bezos
The founder of Amazon practice leadership with a mix of autocratic and transformational styles. Bezos is a highly structured person who has made Amazon what it is today. The high and rigorous standards set by Bezos have turned the Amazon business model into a massive success.
3. Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs, the mastermind behind the world's most valuable company, led in an autocratic manner. Jobs was meticulous to a fault and always followed his ideas, despite the advice of other team members.
4. Henry Ford
Although he was an autocratic leader, Henry Ford revolutionized the world by introducing the first commercially manufactured car for mass usage.
5. Bill Gates
Bill Gates' management style is a mix of autocratic and transformational. However, like most leaders, Gates too adopted the use of more than one leadership style. Most of Bill Gates' success is due to his ability to make quick decisions.
Every leadership style has got both bad and good aspects. The autocratic leadership style is no different.
If practiced in an efficient manner, it can help you become a great leader capable of bringing great change. If done in the wrong way, it can transform you into an organizational bully.