Advantages and disadvantages of autocratic leadership style
This detailed article sheds light on some of the advantages and disadvantages of autocratic leadership style. It also explores the definitions of autocratic leadership style and provides the readers with a list of characteristics and examples of autocratic leaders from different fields.
Definitions of autocratic leadership style
According to St Thomas University (2018) the autocratic leadership process generally entails one person making all the strategic decisions for their subordinates.
According to Attner and Plunkett (1994) managers who use the autocratic leadership style do not share decision-making authority with their subordinates. They make the decision first and then announces it. They may sometimes ask their team members to provide feedback, however, the feedback is highly unlikely to change the decisions.
Autocratic leaders generally believe that they are the smartest people around and know more than their subordinates. They, therefore, make all the strategic decisions without any or extremely little inputs from the people who work under them.
However, according to Schaeffer (2002) autocratic leaders are not those who bully people needlessly. They are the managerial equivalent of an emergency room surgeon who is forced to do whatever necessary to save a patient’s life.
Advantages of autocratic leadership style
Many leaders use autocratic leadership style to establish centralised control in exercising the decision-making authority and use that control to accomplish the desired results. The idea here is that with a centralised control, giving guidance and direction to employees is relatively easy.
Autocratic leadership has a clearly defined chain of command. It is therefore easy for the autocratic leaders to make the organisational goals clear to the subordinates resulting in better and higher commitment to the accomplishment of the goals.
Autocratic leadership style works better in situations where swift decisions are needed. Likewise, it is also very useful when organisations face constant change or a crisis. Situations such as dealing with hazardous materials spill and closing or keeping a business open during an accident can be dealt with instantly and effectively with this style of leadership. Likewise, this style is also very effective when a stringent synchronisation of processes is essential to productivity.
Autocratic leadership style ensures that a consistent message is sent from the centre to the employees at the bottom of the organisations. In other styles, there is a risk that by the time employees receive the message, the entire original message could be lost or there could be multiple interpretations of the message that create confusion. Autocratic leadership eradicates this confusion as the command goes straight to the people involved.
Contrary to popular opinions, many organisations are well suited to the autocratic leadership type at some degree. Managers with this type of leadership style, keep a close eye on what is happening in their organisations. This ensures that employees are exercising best of their abilities to get the job done, and time and other resources are not wasted.
Disadvantages of autocratic leadership style
As autocratic leaders usually make decisions without consulting their team members, it may cause team members’ dislike towards the leadership. Therefore, they may not contribute to the team efforts as they should. Many analysists also argue that this style usually leads to an absence of creative solutions to problems, which may ultimately hurt the group efforts.
Most autocratic leaders do not consider the opinions or abilities of their staff members while making decisions. There may be situations when leaders are less qualified than their subordinates. It means employees who are extremely skilled or motivated may begin to lose their incentives to stay active under the current leadership creating conflict in the organisations.
A work environment where autocratic leadership style is exercised is usually not friendly to innovation or creative thinking. This may make many employees feeling intellectually stifled. They may also feel that the leadership does not care about their needs and desires which is unproductive for organisations.
Autocratic leadership style is commonly associated with excessive employee turnover (employees leaving an organisation). This style tends to decrease employee performance when additional duties are imposed on the employees without consultation. Employee morale can also be negatively affected when autocratic leadership is employed.
Examples of autocratic leaders
Though autocratic leadership style is often criticised, it is true that many historic autocratic leaders have been innovators who unleashed revolutions in different fields. Business, sports, politics, and many other fields have witnessed a great number of autocratic leaders throughout the history.
Many analysts argue that late Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple Inc.), Elon Musk, and to some extent Bill Gates are autocratic leaders. Likewise, Leona Helmsley of the Helmsley hotel chain and Martha Stewart of MSLO are also considered to have exercised this type of leadership style. Many prime ministers and presidents around the world are also well-known for their autocratic style.
Characteristics of autocratic leadership style
The main characteristics of autocratic leadership style are as follows:
* Autocratic leaders make all the decisions and pass them down to the people under them for implementation.
* Very limited or no input at all from the subordinates. Team members may have opportunities to provide feedback; however, their feedback is highly unlikely to change the course of action.
* The leaders set rules, and systems for their team members.
To conclude, though autocratic leadership style has several disadvantages, it can be argued that there are some situations autocratic leadership style should yield better results for organisations. Likewise, as an autocratic leader is not necessarily the same as being a fascist, there are people with certain personalities, who may indeed work well under this type of leadership style (Murphy, 2019).
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Last update: 07 April 2021
Attner, R. and Plunkett, W. (1994) Introduction to management, 5th edition, California: Wadsworth, Inc.
Murphy, M. (2019) Does anyone actually like autocratic leaders? new data says yes, available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/markmurphy/2019/11/24/does-anyone-actually-like-autocratic-leaders-new-data-says-yes/?sh=bd0ef4e10de5 (accessed 06 April 2021)
Schaeffer, L. (2002) The leadership journey, available at: https://hbr.org/2002/10/the-leadership-journey (accessed 06 April 2021)
St Thomas University (2018) What is Autocratic Leadership? How Procedures Can Improve Efficiency, available at: https://online.stu.edu/articles/education/autocratic-leadership.aspx (accessed 06 April 2021)
Author: M Rahman
M Rahman writes extensively online with an emphasis on business management, marketing, and tourism. He is a lecturer in Management and Marketing. He holds an MSc in Tourism & Hospitality from the University of Sunderland. Also, graduated from Leeds Metropolitan University with a BA in Business & Management Studies and completed a DTLLS (Diploma in Teaching in the Life-Long Learning Sector) from London South Bank University.