What is Autocratic Leadership?
Autocratic leadership, also known as authoritarian leadership, is a leadership style at work that is characterised by an individual controlling the decision-making process with very little involvement or influence from team members or colleagues. It can often be construed as ‘dictator-like’ as decision-making is quick and rarely influenced by others' ideas, which can create a feeling of authoritarian control within a team.
Authoritarian leadership communication is often straight-to-the-point, with very little open conversation and debate where ideas can be shared. Although this might reduce creativity it can boost productivity, with leaders giving clear and effective instructions, establishing comprehensible rules and streamlining communications. This communication style can, however, impact trust and transparency, discouraging any open communication and implementing a high level of control from one individual. Some employees might feel as though their opinions aren’t valued, affecting morale as a result.
Qualities & traits of an autocratic leader
Some very common qualities and traits of an autocratic leader include:
Discourages group input
Doesn’t tend to encourage feedback
Creates a structured workplace environment
Confidently takes on all decision-making responsibilities
Clearly defines processes, rules, and regulations
Provides clear and productive direction
The application of autocratic leadership style, in most cases, can be very clinical, which poses many benefits as well as many drawbacks.
Advantages of an autocratic leadership style
Some advantages of being an autocratic leader include:
1. Quick decisions are made
Because there is no need to come together as a group or team, share ideas and discuss possible decisions, the decisions are solely those of the leader, and so can be made quickly and efficiently.
This means that autocratic leadership is suited to high-stress situations at work, where challenges are posed and need to be dealt with quickly.
2. Structure and direction are established
With fewer people involved in making decisions and setting goals, it’s far easier to create and set structure and direction. One person makes the decisions, and one person delegates tasks to move towards those decisions – it’s a clear-cut, and arguably very efficient process.
3. A clear chain of command is established
With a strong autocratic leader, a clear chain of command is often established through direction and structure. This can allow for streamlined processes and more efficient workflows, which can be crucial for some workplaces to thrive.
4. Organisational goals are met with efficiency
As a result of clear internal goals, a set structure and a well-understood direction that is set within the team, any organisational goals are far more likely to be met with efficiency.
5. Productivity can be improved
As we’ve already mentioned, autocratic leadership can boost productivity. An autocratic leader provides clear and effective instructions allowing employees to grasp a concept and work towards it without the need for clarification, discussions and so on. This can mean work is completed in a shorter timescale and in a standardised, particular way, helping an organisation’s overall productivity flourish.
Disadvantages of an autocratic leadership style
Some of the disadvantages that autocratic leadership styles can bring include:
1. Less creativity
With the lack of collaboration and group work that comes with an autocratic leadership style, often the creativity that stems from that is lost. With stricter expectations and direction, free-thinking and collective ideas that can be bounced off each other are lost, and so too are new and exciting ways of making decisions and facing challenges in the workplace. It can be stifling for many employees, so it’s something that should be managed carefully!
2. People can feel invaluable and misaligned
Because others’ opinions or feedback aren’t taken into consideration within an autocratic leadership style, it can often lead to employees feeling as though they aren’t valued within the company, which can be demoralising and disengaging.
Certain employees can also feel removed from the vision that’s created, simply because they didn’t have any input in creating it. This can, again, lead to feelings of resentment, especially if leaders aren’t transparent about why things are moving in the direction they are.
3. Morale can be negatively affected
If individuals don’t feel as though they are being appreciated or used in any way, or if they don’t align with their leaders’ goals and the work that is being assigned to them, then it’s highly likely morale will be lost. We all like to be heard from time to time!
4. Reduced autonomy
Despite the benefits of a clear and well-established chain of command, those lower down in the process can often lose any opportunity to think and act autonomously, stifling creativity further. This can often lead to less motivation and excitement at work, which means employees are less inclined to contribute or invest time and energy at work. This could be inhibiting for autocratic leadership effectiveness.
5. Impacts trust and transparency
Another drawback of autocratic leadership is that it can lead to a lack of open communication, both with superiors and with team members. This lack of openness and transparency can create an environment of distrust, which creates a host of other issues like wellbeing concerns, lower morale, engagement and productivity, and eventually could lead to high levels of staff turnover.
The differences between autocratic & servant leadership styles
Whilst autocratic leadership is focused on the individual in control, and solely their judgements and opinions, servant leadership focuses on serving all team members and employees, holding them as collaborative partners rather than resources (Pfeffer & Sutton, 2006). The biggest difference therefore is that autocratic leaders direct their teams, and servant leaders try to serve them.
Pfeffer, J., & Sutton, R. I. (2006). Hard facts, dangerous half-truths, and total nonsense: profiting from evidence-based management. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.