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Historical records suggest that mankind has been ruled by tyrannical autocrats who had all the power in their hands. Earlier, most kings and rulers believed in holding absolute power with them, wherein their subjects had to accept their decisions without questioning.

Though this type of leadership style is not applicable in today's times, there are many leaders who prefer autocratic leadership style even in this modern world. Some examples of autocratic leaders around the world are Adolf Hitler, Engelbert Dollfuss, Fidel Castro, Joseph Stalin, Howell Raines, Benito Mussolini, Martha Stewart, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Hosni Mubarak, etc.

Autocratic/Authoritarian Leadership

This type of leadership is said to be synonymous with dictatorship, where only one person presides with complete authority over the followers or workers. Their decision has to be taken as the golden rule and is never to be questioned or challenged. They plan out everything and order their subordinates to work according to their rules. For instance, if a company has an authoritarian leader as the managing director, the employees in the company would have to work as per the rules set by him. They would not be allowed to participate in any kind of decision-making process. This may hinder the growth of the company by enhancing the productivity. In short, the authoritative leader has full control on those around him and has complete authority to treat them as he wants.

The Autocratic Leader

...enjoys and imposes absolute power.
...strongly believes in overpowering than empowering.
...exercises consistent control.
...undertakes effective decision making.
...maintains efficiency.
...may resort to threat and influence.

Suitable For
  • Military
  • Management of natural disasters
  • Crisis management
  • Traffic control
  • Construction sector
  • Manufacturing sector
  • Organizations with new untrained or unskilled staff
  • High volume of production
  • In case other leadership styles fail
Advantages

Effective in Emergency Situations: The authoritarian leadership works positively during emergency and stressful situations. When such situations arise in a company or an organization, most people are confused and are not able to reach a common solution. During such times, having an autocratic leader will be great as he will take the reins in his own hands and direct the workers or employees to move forward. For instance, if there is a terrorist attack at some place and the soldiers have to rescue innocent people from there. If many people try to give solutions, it may take time and the mission may end in failure. In such situations, having one autocratic person to command the rest of the group on how to go about with the mission can lead to success.

Effective for Group Projects: Another situation where the authoritarian leadership style proves effective is while doing group projects. Many group projects fail because group members depend on each other to make decisions. Such situations demand the need of an authoritative leader who can make decisions for the group. The leader should determine the ways in which the project should be done, divide the job among the members, and also set a deadline for the completion of the project.

Quick Implementation: As the instructions of the leader are carried out in this type of a leadership, their implementation is quick and without any ambiguity. As one person takes faster decisions, the task gets completed within the stipulated time limit.

Leadership Foresight: Many times, a capable autocratic leader is a visionary. With his foresight and ability of accurate decision making, an autocrat steers an organization or a nation towards great success.

Reduces Errors: As the decision-making power rests with one single accountable authority, the frequency of trial and error is reduced at the middle management or junior management level.

Streamlined Operations: In an autocratic leadership, following a strict hierarchy, process management, and reporting systems ensure that the operations are conducted smoothly.

Reduces Information Leak: Many times, competitors are looking for information leak in an organization. However, since the information is not easily passed on to the employees, the probability of gaining access to the classified information is reduced. This is especially important in case of military information.

Smooth Management: As the absolute management of the organization practically rests in the hands of one person, all the functions of business are dealt smoothly.

Disadvantages

Exploitation: In autocratic leadership, there is a possibility that the leader may exploit his employees. Oftentimes, autocrats are driven by their egos. There have been cases where an authoritative employer has fired employees because they showed the courage of disagreeing with him. In politics and military affairs, this can lead to a person turning into a dictator.

Discourages Employees: It is also said that having an authoritative leader hinders workplace communication and socialization. It is very important to have a cordial work environment, where everyone is friendly. Disagreements and conflicts can also crop up, if a group or company is led by an autocratic leader. It can also lead to the demoralization of subordinates in an organization.

Difficult to Handle: An autocratic leader may at times render severe punishments for small mistakes to influence the employees. In order to set an example that he will always have the "last word", an autocrat may even resort to threats, severe actions or termination of services of an employee. An autocrat is capable of undertaking drastic measures to prove his point.

One Man Army: An autocrat does not trust his co-workers easily. He has complete confidence in himself and many times believes in taking the decisions based on his own understanding. This leaves no room for other's inputs and suggestions. In case of combating a natural disaster, it can lead to a problematic situation if a well-thought and systematic decision is not taken.

Fear and Resentment: The employees who work under the supervision of an autocratic leader often harbor the feelings of fear and resentment. It demoralizes the employees and discourages innovation. Employees often fail to register a good idea or suggestion as they are convinced that it will go unheard. In the field of defense, even when they have a good military strategy, subordinates might not be able to muster up courage to voice their opinions.

One-Way Communication: In case of an autocratic style of leadership, the communication often moves in a unilateral top-to-bottom movement. This often results in lack of awareness and knowledge about the decisions of the organization among the employees. Also, authoritarian leadership style promotes one-sided conversation, and due to this, the creativity and leadership skills of the employees become restrictive.

Lack of Leadership: It is the duty of the leader to undertake competency-building through training, awarding opportunity, and delegating responsibility for creating 'future leaders'. However, an autocratic leader does not allow his subordinates to acquire capabilities and skill sets outside their own set of duties. This can impede the growth of the organization. Also, lack of team work causes complex problems in an organization.

Over-dependence: A successful organization is not a fruit of one person's hard work. It is the result of many people working simultaneously to achieve a common organizational goal. Over-dependence on the leader for decision making can be extremely time-consuming and may even lead to the organization incurring huge losses. Moreover, if the leader is capable, the organization will flourish but if he is incompetent, the entire organization will suffer.

Such a kind of leadership has become very rare these days. Employees prefer a leader who follows a democratic or participative style of leadership as compared to an autocratic one. Though there have been cases where adopting an autocratic leadership style has led to the success of the company, it is very less likely for such leaders to remain popular among the employees and workers. This is even more evident in case of an incompetent autocratic leader.

Enforced autocratic leadership may vociferously backfire on weak leaders. Such leaders will create a power vacuum by not taking appropriate decisions. While a good leader would be a person who respects the opinions of his employees while making a decision, it can be said that autocratic leadership should be used or implemented only when the need arises.