The Dominant, Unwavering Autocratic Leader

This article on the autocratic leader is part VII of our 12-part series on the different leadership styles. You can check out October’s Monthly Huddle to get a general overview and follow along each week as we explore them in-depth. 

Autocratic leadership, often called authoritarian leadership, faithfully follows the “top-down” model. It creates a very traditional hierarchy of power, in which each employee is expected to fall in line according to the whims of the person in charge. It’s not a particularly popular leadership style, but there are times when it serves a valuable purpose. 

What Defines an Autocratic Leader?

Autocratic leaders harness complete power over a company. They neither ask for nor want others’ input in decision making, instead choosing to hand down instructions with no room for misinterpretation. They make their expectations loud and clear, ensuring that they are met to the highest standard. 

Under an autocratic leader, you can expect a business to have a very clear structure, and in most cases, with very little group collaboration. They are typically uninterested in feedback from stakeholders, relying on their own, personal experiences to make decisions for the whole team. 

Personality

Autocratic leadership is often seen as “dictatorial,” but that’s not necessarily the case. In their role, they are not seeking to harm their team. They simply want things done in a certain way and refuse to compromise on the path they’ve chosen. 

These leaders are more aptly compared to upper-ranked military personnel and their style should be considered a battle plan. They set the tone sternly, defining roles and duties through one direct channel. Autocratic leaders have an unwavering focus on the final goal and believe that they are the only person who can get the team where they need to go.  

While these types of leaders can come off as cold and cruel, that’s typically not the reality of their personalities. In fact, it’s quite possible they are warm and engaging outside of work. But, on the job, they feel that the best way to get things done is to issue marching orders and ensure each person executes them flawlessly, regardless of feelings or opinions. 

Decision-Making

In a business headed by an autocratic leader, there is no question of who calls the shots. All decisions are handed down from the top, and suggestions are often ignored. While this may create a stern and sterile working environment, there’s no denying that autocratic leaders get things done. 

Situations Where Autocratic Leaders Thrive

  • Fast-paced industries where quick decisions are key to success are the ideal setting for autocratic leaders. They are adept at building efficient, streamlined processes that serve to push a business through turbulent situations. 
  • Small business owners who have a lot at stake often find that an autocratic leadership style is the only way to ensure their investment in the business will bear fruit. They have to run a tight ship on razor-thin margins, so there’s little wiggle room for trying out new concepts recommended by staff. 
  • Companies that are in a crisis need someone with unbreakable confidence to correct the problems as quickly as possible. Autocratic leaders can turn things around in a snap with their commitment to a success plan and willingness to take extreme measures to get the job done.

Wrap Up: The Pros and Cons of Authoritative Leadership

Pros

  • Businesses that are close to going under can suddenly right themselves with the help of an autocratic leader, so long as they have a vision of success and are prepared to pursue it. 
  • For workers who are interested in “doing their job and going home,” autocratic leaders may not be a huge problem. Because they’re not interested in anyone going above and beyond, employees are under no pressure to do more than meet the status quo.  

Cons

  • Employees may grow fearful of their leader, decreasing work satisfaction and harming interoffice culture. 
  • In the event a plan fails, autocratic leaders have no one to blame but themselves. Once a plan is in motion, they are saddled with an enormous responsibility to see it through to the end, often at the expense of others’ feelings.
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