Everything You Need to Know About Autocratic Leadership

Updated 24 April 2023

Autocratic leadership is a leadership style where a person has control of all decisions with little or no advice from other group members. Although those who practise an autocratic style of leadership can be domineering, a greater level of control can be beneficial in certain situations. The success of this leadership style depends on the situation, the task at hand and the characteristics of the team members.

In this article, we define autocratic leadership, explain why it is an effective leadership style and discuss some career options suited to autocratic leaders.

What is autocratic leadership?

Autocratic leadership, also known as authoritarian leadership, is a leadership and management style where a leader makes choices based on their own ideas and judgements rather than seeking input from others. They seldom accept advice from followers because the autocratic leadership style exercises absolute control over a group.

These leaders oversee daily duties and give clear instructions to each member of their team. This is a leadership style used with employees who have less experience or training because they need more direction. It can be used by leaders in a company or team leaders who are responsible for leading a smaller group during a project.

Autocratic leadership works most when used for specific situations. The best way to use this leadership style is to balance it with other leadership styles, such as democratic or transformational leadership. That way, the leader can maximise success.

Here are some characteristics of autocratic leadership:

  • There is little or no participation from other group members.

  • The leader makes almost all decisions without consultation.

  • Group leaders control and impose all work methods and processes on others.

  • Leadership does not entrust group members with any decisions or important tasks.

  • Work must go according to plan and is very rigid, with little or no room for flexibility.

  • Rules are essential, and the leaders outline and communicate them to the group members.

Related: What Does Leadership Mean? (Benefits and Steps to Improve)

Advantages of autocratic leadership

Autocratic leadership can benefit organisations in a variety of ways, including:

  • Facilitates fast decision making

  • Communication becomes clear

  • Improves productivity

  • Effective crisis management

  • Reduces employee anxiety

  • Neutralises a team's inexperience

Facilitates fast decision making

An organisation with an autocratic leadership style has fewer layers of management that have to be involved in decisions. An authoritarian leader is also not inundated with feedback from different managerial levels, which then has to be processed. Because one person is accountable and in control of everything, decision-making becomes quicker than ever. The leader can make speedy decisions after considering the advantages and drawbacks of every choice, and they do not have to waste time in endless discussions with several managerial levels.

Communication becomes clear

When there is only a single channel of communication, relaying information and clarifying details becomes easier. When several layers of management within an organisation try to lead simultaneously, communication from the top leader may get lost or altered by the time it gets to the lower levels. In such a scenario, when the information finally reaches the factory floor or the employees who have to carry out the orders, the original message might have undergone drastic changes. With an autocratic leader, there is no risk of this eventuality because the information goes straight from the leader to the necessary employees.

Improves productivity

Autocratic leaders can communicate quickly and effectively within an organisation, so there are lower chances of disruptions affecting productivity. Employees are unlikely to halt their work or seek deadline extensions because they always receive the appropriate information from their autocratic leader. It nurtures a positive atmosphere in the workplace, which in turn leads to better commitment and consistency in performance.

Effective crisis management

Autocratic leaders can manage a crisis effectively because they are in full command of the situation. They can use their expertise to solve short-term problems quickly and easily. In situations with long-term problems, autocratic leaders can direct the process in order to address the issue effectively. This is much better than having to worry about a top management level consultation or crisis management meeting.

Reduces employee anxiety

Most people, even lower-level employees, enjoy working in organisations where they know and understand what is expected of them. In an environment where workers know what their leader expects, there are fewer conflicts and less stress. This then leads to a more amicable work environment. An autocratic leader offers a stress-free atmosphere because they are responsible for decision-making, so employees don't have to make decisions for themselves. Instead, they can focus on their individual responsibilities.

Neutralises a team's inexperience

An autocratic manager in command of an untested team can easily get things done by giving them specific instructions regarding the processes to follow. The leader's competency benefits the workers and helps them achieve better productivity through the utilisation of the leader's knowledge and expertise. This is especially beneficial in situations where you don't have much time to learn new things or when you need to finish a project quickly.

How do autocratic leaders thrive?

Here are some ways to succeed as an autocratic leader:

  • Consult with a core group

  • Establish clear rules

  • Be reliable

  • Reward success

Consult with a core group

Autocratic leaders should periodically consult with a core group in the organisation and listen to their ideas and feedback. This can help them get a feel of things as they stand in various sectors of the organisation. If this core team has representation from all employees, it will go a long way in making all team members feel wanted and valued. The leader will get a better perspective of their business as they get more information, which can help them make more informed decisions.

Establish clear rules

If an autocratic leader expects the team members to follow specific rules, they must make sure that these regulations are in place and that the entire team knows them. Offer relevant information and the necessary tools to get their work done based on the information provided. Once the rules are in place, give appropriate training to make sure everyone understands what you expect from them.

Be reliable

Autocratic leaders can work well with the support of their team as long as the team members believe they are reliable. Inconsistent actions from leaders cause confusion and mistrust, which can lead them to lose the respect of their team. Leaders don't just need to establish and enforce rules – they also need to follow them to set an example. For instance, leaders should be available and accessible in case their employees need them. Their presence and willingness to help their employees at all times will prove their reliability and commitment.

Reward success

Although a leader might be the central figure in an organisation, they cannot do all of the work alone. All leaders owe their success to the members of their teams. Because of this, it is essential to reward employees for success. Otherwise, they may lose motivation.

Jobs suited for autocratic leaders

Autocratic leaders are successful in many industries and professional settings. Military and law enforcement are two areas that benefit from the use of authoritarian leadership because it helps leaders create order and navigate high-pressure situations more effectively. Some other fields of work, such as medicine, manufacturing and construction, also suit autocratic leaders well.

Here are some jobs that work well with the autocratic leadership style:

1. Correctional officer

National Average Salary: $70,683 per year

Primary Duties: The primary duty of a correctional officer is to abide by the strict rules of the judicial system to ensure the safety of inmates and fellow correctional officers. They must patrol the correctional institution, secure the facility and inmates and help in various elements of inmate rehabilitation. Having an autocratic leadership style helps correctional officers manage their teams and ensure that employees follow the rules. Each facility has a warden who works authoritatively to make decisions for the well-being of the inmates based on judicial law.

Related: How to Become a Correctional Officer

2. Warehouse supervisor

National Average Salary: $66,572 per year

Primary Duties: The manufacturing industry needs people who work under specific guidelines to produce quality materials. Warehouse supervisors train employees, regulate and maintain production standards and report on production quality. These tasks need an authoritative style of leadership. These supervisors often resort to an autocratic leadership style to make sure that their teams operate equipment safely, meet production goals and create quality products.

3. Restaurant manager

National Average Salary: $62,073 per year

Primary Duties: The primary duty of restaurant managers is to lead their team to offer quality customer service and food to patrons. Their responsibilities include training employees, safeguarding production quality and managing customer relations as needed. An autocratic leadership style is suitable for a restaurant manager because it helps them maintain high-quality service and deal with any emergencies that occur.

4. Surgeon

National Average Salary: $125,658 per year

Primary Duties: A surgeon works in a high-pressure environment. As the leader of the operation team, the surgeon leads the way in stabilising patients, performing surgical procedures and quickly tackling emergencies. In the operating room, the autocratic leadership style is the best way to support the team's focus. It also allows the surgeon to delegate tasks quickly and confidently.

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