When it comes to learning how to be an effective leader, there is no end to the different tips, suggestions, and promoted leadership styles out there. Every style has a unique approach and every style is designed to deliver different results. Among all of the different leadership styles, there is one that tends to get a bit of a bad rap: autocratic leadership.
A century ago, this was the most reveled and most utilized form of leadership. It was forceful and domineering, but it worked for many. Today, it is seen as a strong type of leadership that is only appropriate in certain situations or together as part of a larger arsenal of leadership tools that managers and leaders can use, when necessary to get results.
What Exactly is Autocratic Leadership?
Often known as authoritarian leadership, this approach to leading others is all about control and places virtually no value on group collaborations. It is one of the oldest styles of leadership out there and also one of the harshest, which is why many groups and organizations have started to phase out this type of leadership.
Here are some of the most common characteristics you will find in autocratic leadership:
- The leader is in charge and makes virtually all of the decisions for the group
- The leader takes little to no input from other group members
- The leader dictates all of the methods and processes
- The work environment tends to be very rigid and structured
- Rules are extremely important
- Group members rarely get to make their own decisions
- The goal is always to get the job done no matter what, even if group morale suffers
- Those who are under an autocratic leader typically have no real sense of empowerment
In today’s professional climate, more and more organizations are turning towards more collaborative styles of leadership. However, it doesn’t mean autocratic leadership is obsolete.
Any good leader knows that the more they know about different techniques and styles, the better of a leader they are going to be. Any great leader knows that depending on the group, the situation, and the desired result, sometimes drastic measures need to be taken for the betterment of all parties involved.
This is why it is so important to understand that even autocratic leadership has its value.
6 Ways Autocratic Leadership Can Actually Work
While in many situations, having an autocratic leader can seem like a negative, there are some benefits to this form of leadership. Even if this isn’t your normal leadership style or a type of leading that you feel comfortable with, knowing the situations where this type of leadership can prevail can help you be a more balanced and well-rounded leader for others. Here are six ways autocratic leadership can actually work best.
1. In small groups
Autocratic leadership can often succeed in small group situations, particularly those where no set leader has emerged. Many times, egos and opinions can actually get in the way with smaller groups and distract from the bigger picture or the task at hand. When an autocratic leader steps up, delegates, and determines how things should get done, many times the group can succeed.
2. When there is a lack of experience
There are often situations where several prominent, experienced leaders all work together to help achieve the greater goals. This is why most workplaces have a hierarchy of presidents, vice presidents, and managers. However, in dealing with a group that lacks experience, an autocratic leader is often the only choice.
Say 10 new employees are heading up an entirely new division of a company, and they’ve never worked in the company or in this type of position before. If an autocratic leader is in charge, he or she can make certain things are getting done and they can give direction as needed to guide the others.
3. In high-stress situations
When stress is high and there is a lot on the line, autocratic leadership is often the only solution. Think of the military. When lives are at risk and danger looms, there is often very little time to consult multiple opinions or to lead each person in a way that most motivates them. These are situations where an autocratic leader must emerge and give strict orders.
4. When deadlines are tight
Any person that has worked in print, likely knows that when deadlines are tight there is absolutely no room for error. In deadline-oriented work environments such as news cycles, print media, or legal offices, many times autocratic leadership works. Someone must be in charge and be strict about orders in order for these deadlines to be met. When time is of the essence, this is often the only way.
5. When there is little margin for error
In situations where something has to be done perfectly and there is no room for error, it is often essential that autocratic leadership is used. This is one of the most effective ways to make sure that everyone is following the same guidelines and not just interpreting what needs to be done on their own.
6. If a situation is dangerous
When something could be dangerous and harm either team members or the general public—autocratic leadership is often essential. Electricians, road workers, and construction crews are often best guided by autocratic leaders because they are strong, clear, strict, and concise when it comes to their direction. When rules are this rigid and the leadership is this authoritative, more people will take the imminent danger seriously and do what they are supposed to.
The Negatives of Autocratic Leadership
Autocratic leadership isn’t for everyone and it isn’t for every situation.
There are many people who feel comfortable leading in this way and there are others who don’t. There are also many environments where using this management style can actually do more harm than good, which is why so many organizations are now adopting more collaborative and nurturing management styles.
Just as it is important to know when to utilize autocratic leadership, it is just as important to understand the negatives of this type of leadership so you can determine when not to take this approach.
Autocratic leaders can often be perceived as cold, bossy, egotistical or as a dictator. There is often a great deal of resentment towards autocratic leaders, even those who achieve results because they place so little value on the opinions and ideas of others. While some team members may understand the need for autocratic leaders and respond to this style, it is often difficult for many to discern between strict leadership and having a lack of compassion as a person.
Individuals who operate under an autocratic leader often feel stifled, untrusted and undervalued and may not feel as though they are given the opportunities that they need to grow and flourish in their careers. These individuals often don’t feel creative or as if they can think outside the box or introduce ideas of their own—which doesn’t work with every type of employee.
For leaders who do operate in this way.
It is important to be able to differentiate between being a strict leader and being cruel or disrespectful. While there is a great deal of pressure placed on autocratic leaders, if they are not careful, their way of leading can seep into their personal lives and impact the way they interact with all individuals.
Autocratic leadership can work and it can be very effective in many situations. As a well-informed leader, it is your job to know when this type of leadership is appropriate and how to best use it to get results. It is also important to understand which situations this authoritarian style of leadership can actually fail and cause issues within the team.
Understanding when and how to use autocratic leadership can help any person who needs to see results with this style of leading get the outcome that they need.