An autocratic leader is one that involves an individual taking control of every decision within an organisation. Those with this type of leadership style make choices based on their own ideas and feelings with very little regard for anyone else’s input. While this may seem like a negative and outdated leadership style that comes with many criticisms, there are still a few times when it can be considered appropriate.

Typical Autocratic Characteristics

Those with an autocratic leadership style will typically display these behaviours:

  • Dictates every aspect of a job, including the processes involved
  • Does not accept advice from others
  • Makes all the decisions
  • Does not give any significant power to anyone else in the group
  • Has a set of rules and expects them to be followed
  • May show a distrust towards others and closely supervise.

When is an Autocratic Leadership Style Appropriate?

Although autocratic leadership comes with negative connotations, it has its positives too, which can come in handy in different types of situations.

It is important to have someone who can make confident decisions and promptly, which tends to happen when responsibility lies solely with the leader. Things can often get done quickly under autocratic leadership.

If there are issues with employees, including management and supervisors, such as being too slack, it may be useful to have an authoritarian approach to set goals and process to help boost efficiency. Things become more regimented and coordinated.

It is also ideal in situations where others need to focus solely on the task at hand and not spend time making decisions, leaving the leader to do just that, allowing for a more streamlined process. Such situations are common in the construction industry or the military.

Disadvantages of an Autocratic Leader

The autocratic leadership style comes with a lot of criticism due to its strict and often negative characteristics. Although it can assist in streamlining processes, the style can often be off-putting, resulting in a high turnover of employees.

With an authoritarian in charge, it frequently means that two-way communication does not exist, as orders come from the leader and no further dialogue is welcome. This style can make employees feel undervalued and disrespected. It is also uninspiring to many, making for an inefficient workplace.

When one person is calling the shots without any input from anyone else, employees become dependent on that leader to guide them with day-to-day operations leaving them with very little initiative. This can be problematic when the authoritarian is absent when employees are left with a lack of guidance.

Should We Completely Abandon the Autocratic Style?

The authoritarian leadership style is considered old-fashioned, with a more positive approach now being taken in the form of teamwork and encouragement for creativity and taking the initiative. An autocratic approach may seem frowned upon. However, it is possible to be an autocratic leader, without all the negativity that comes with it, when the time calls for it.

When working in a group on a specific task, it may be necessary to have a definitive leader, otherwise different opinions and egos can get in the way of achieving the goals efficiently. If deadlines are tight, then having one person lead on the project can help it get done quickly.

Autocratic leadership is useful when working with a group of inexperienced employees as it helps employees learn their role.

Sometimes stressful situations may arise, and instead of worrying the whole team about it, a solution may be to leave an experienced leader in charge to make all the necessary decisions.

When used for specific, short-term situations, an autocratic leadership style can be effective. However, if used over a substantial period, there is a greater risk of it having an adverse effect. Evaluate the situation before deciding which approach will be the most appropriate in the circumstances.

Want to Learn More?

Have a look at other leadership styles or get in touch to discuss how we can help you further understand and develop your leadership qualities.

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