Autocratic Leadership Style | Definition and Explanation

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What is Autocratic Leadership?

Autocratic leadership is a style of leadership whereby the leader exercises control over the group based on their own judgement, without any input from team members.

An autocratic leader typically makes decisions on behalf of their team, telling them what to do, how to do it, and what is expected of them. They typically do not entertain suggestions from their team and expect full conformity to their instructions.

The autocratic leadership style may also be known as authoritarian leadership, or the directive style of leadership.

Characteristics of Autocratic Leadership

In a world where so many other forms of leadership are being used and discussed in the workplace, especially facilitative and democratic leadership, it would seem at first glance that autocratic style of leadership is outdated.

Yet, there is a place for such a form of leadership. Generally, autocratic leadership is needed when there is an extreme urgency to complete a task or full conformity from the team is necessary.

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While listening to feedback is important, there comes a time where feedback is unnecessary given the circumstances.

One great example would be military leadership. In the military, orders from the top are expected to be followed ‘to the T’. There are no concessions or compromises; there is no room for discussion.

There is a simple reason for this: you cannot have your men question your orders or sit down to discuss in the war zone. A decision has to be made from the top, and that decision has to be followed through no matter what.

Any delay in executing the order could mean life or death in the battlefield.

Imagine a soldier requesting a focus group when the whole platoon is under fire in the trenches. It could mean disaster, not to mention a lot dead soldiers.

Pros and Cons of Autocratic Leadership

Pros

  • Task-oriented
  • Clear authority and predictable outcomes (if used properly)
  • Useful in situations that need quick, decisive leadership

Cons

  • Minimal mechanisms to provide feedback
  • Team members can feel like they’re part of a ‘machine’ rather than a team
  • Tends to discount creative solutions in favour of tried and true methods

Should I Use Autocratic Leadership With My Team?

Nonetheless, it is unlikely you should be adopting autocratic leadership in your team. Every individual does have their unique perspectives on certain problems and issues and it’s always good to hear from others before coming to a judgment.

Autocratic leaders generally don’t do well in the workplace — they often come across as overbearing, insensitive and stubborn. Team members usually resent and avoid leaders that adopt this form of leadership.  In the workplace, a more facilitative or democratic style is appreciated by most teams, as they take into account the thoughts, opinions and feelings of all involved.

Related: Directive Leadership

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