Mention of autocratic leadership tends to conjure up images of ruthless dictators and authoritarians. While a good part of the masses looks down upon it, this kind of leadership is very much prevalent in many corporations and institutions. This points to the advantages it has that outweigh any perceived disadvantages.
The word autocratic is derived from the Greek ‘auto’ which means self and ‘cratic’ which means rule. Together, autocratic leadership, therefore, means that power is centred on one person who makes all the decisions. This kind of leadership is also known as authoritarian because of this very reason – all the authority and control lies with the person in charge.
Autocratic leadership through the ages
A very renowned form of authoritarian rule is the administration of the Roman Empire. The emperors were firmly in charge and didn’t consult the Roman populace when they needed to make any decisions.
Nevertheless, when making these decisions, they did factor in the welfare of their subjects. In the back of the mind, there was always the knowledge that the masses could band together and topple the system if conditions became unbearable. This one point here is where autocratic leadership and totalitarian rule part ways.
So while a totalitarian ruler doesn’t consider any outside input whatsoever, the autocrat might listen to other ideas but the decision-making lies exclusively in his hands.
Autocratic leadership through a modern view lens
Whenever people heard the mention of autocracy and authoritarianism, minds immediately jumped to dictators and rulers of past times. However, even in the current setting, there are still plenty of corporations and institutions that owe their success to a leader who prefers to employ the authoritarian way of leadership.
Though this leadership style has been very common over the ages, there wasn’t a defined theory proposed by a singular learned mind. Rather, the style evolved over time in a bit to control more efficiently.
In the late thirties, however, Kurt Lewin, R. Lippit, and R. K. White published an essay in the Journal of Psychology detailing the different methods of leadership – autocratic leadership part of them.
According to the researchers, this kind of leadership created discontent within the group because none of the other members is consulted in the decision-making process. The conclusion, therefore, was that authoritarian leadership is only called for if the situation doesn’t require any input from the subordinates. Why waste time discussing if the outcome will remain unchanged?
With the advent of democratic leadership in the later centuries, its autocratic counterpart has fallen by the wayside in the running of many nations. However, it still persists in institutions like the military where its skills come in handy.
There are modern situations where the style suitably lends itself. These include:
- Need for prompt decision making
- Inexperience and low motivation
- Inability to make decisions or implement procedures
Need for prompt decision making
The autocratic style of leadership comes in handy if there is a need for quick decisions. In some instances, the multifaceted features of other types of leadership can be a hindrance to getting the job done. The time it takes to navigate through the bureaucracy can result in catastrophic consequences.
For example, if a business is on the brink of financial ruin, an autocratic leader is needed to quickly issue and implement decisions that will enable the business to navigate through the choppy waters efficiently.
Inexperience and low motivation
If the workforce is mainly made up of inexperienced people, it would take a long time to consult and then reach a consensus. This is because the people have never been in that situation and, therefore, don’t know how to go about it.
Enter an authoritarian. He will make decisions and instructions and expect them to be carried out immediately. This will carry the company even when there’s plenty of inexperience within.
The same applies to motivation – or lack thereof. An authoritarian might not be able to elicit intrinsic motivation in the workforce but he is able to get them to do the required task by effectively applying extrinsic motivation.
Inability to make decisions or implement procedures
There are situations where there’s impending danger of a situation requires the power and control of autocratic leadership. The convoluted nature of democratic decision making wastes valuable time that could be better used making effective decisions.
For instance, in the military establishment, authoritarian leadership makes operations effective. If they spent any time dillydallying around a decision, the enemy would gain considerable advantage over them – essentially making the forces ineffective.
The qualities of an autocratic leader
An autocratic leader is in charge of everything at the organisation. For this reason, therefore, they should be well versed with every aspect of the company. They should also have considerable knowledge of the industry in which they are operating.
Not only will the leader be sure of the path they have charted for the company, but they will also gain the trust of the underlings. When these subordinates are sure that their leader indeed knows what he’s doing, they will throw their weight into achieving the set objectives.
When the leader possesses a wealth of knowledge in the required areas, they are highly driven to ensure that they can achieve the results. And by being in total control, they know that the responsibility for the outcome will fall squarely on their shoulders.
The autocratic leader is, therefore, uniquely motivated to ensure that their vision is achieved so that they’re not considered a failure if it all comes down in a heap.
Since all the power and control lies with the leader, they need to be consistent in their ways. All the subordinates are looking up to him and will buy into whatever vision he fronts. However, if the leader keeps changing the vision and principles, this might create uncertainty in the ranks.
In such a situation, the subordinates might jump ship. This might leave the company with the less talented personnel, further compounding the problems.
As noted above, an autocratic leader is the centre of all the power and control in the organisation. What this boils down to is that whatever direction the company is taking, the leader takes responsibility.
He should, therefore, be able to shoulder all the responsibility that comes with the role of being in charge of everything. By showing the ability to be accountable for everything, the leader is able to make the subordinates buy into his vision for the company and implement it as he instructs them to.
Although an autocratic leader is in charge of everything going on in the organisation and makes all the decisions, there still has to be an element of transparency in what he’s doing. Even though the subordinates can’t oppose the instructions they receive, they know why they are carrying them out.
Therefore, clarity enables the subordinates to buy into the vision and mission. They are then able to implement whatever instructions that the leader sends down the line without any opposition.
Although autocratic leadership is nowadays often associated with the totalitarian regimes, it still has a place in society. Many successful corporations and institutions like the military would be mired in inefficiency and ineffectiveness were it not for the rigours of authoritarian leadership.