What Is Autocratic Leadership Style? Definition, Example Pros And, Cons

Mashum Mollah 22 September, 2022
autocratic leadership style

Companies used to be able to function with autocratic bosses. We don’t live in that world anymore.

–Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Professor/ Harvard Business School

Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler are some so-called examples of autocratic leadership. Now, the reason why I started with the examples is that these people manifest what this leadership style stands for. It manifests absolute control over a group or an organization. But, precisely, these historical figures were dictators – with major traits of autocratic leaders. 

An organizational head exercising absolute authoritarian control over all the decisions made for the organization is an autocratic leader. Moreover, these leaders scarcely take any input from members of the organization.

While we can cite the names of some of the best autocratic leaders in History, the business world also has some instances of leaders following autocratic leadership. Yes, the behaviors of such leaders in an organization clearly resemble a dictator. 

However, there are some benefits to them as well as negative sides. This article is a reflection of what autocratic leadership stands for and its various characteristics, benefits, and limitations. 


What Is Autocratic Leadership Style? An Overview

What Is Autocratic Leadership Style? An Overview

The autocratic leadership style is defined by complete authoritarian control over all the decisions made within an organization and for the organization. Leaders following this leadership style do not seek any help, input, or opinion from the other members of the group or the organization. 

Some common traits of this leadership style exercise punishment, threats, rules, orders, demands, and regulations. In its principles, this leadership style shifts away from the democratic leadership style. Evidently, this leadership style completely differs from and opposes what the democratic leadership style stands for. 

This leadership style features no rewards or recognition for the employees. Its lack of employee morale makes it an outdated leadership style at a time when the integrity, individuality, and freedom of the employees are well-acknowledged and valued. 

However, it is also true that this leadership style is also not without its benefits. Industries facing constant changes and crises need quick decision-making. This leadership style ( almost resembling dictatorship) is capable of quick decision-making compared to the other styles of leadership. 

But, there is a thin line between a dictator and an autocratic leader. A dictator can push their followers to the utmost level (indifferent to any mental or physical harm that happens to them); an autocratic leader will abstain from misuse while also pushing the followers to their utmost capability. 

Background/History Of Autocratic Leadership Style

Background/History Of Autocratic Leadership Style

This leadership style is a “my way or the highway” type of style predominantly followed by military heads and leaders. US president Richard M. Nixon is a prominent name under this leadership style. 

The Pentagon Papers published in The New York Times and Watergate exposé by The Washington Post put the autocratic style of leadership to question and made them less popular than it used to be. The downfall of this leadership style was brought about during the 1970s. 

The association and resemblance of this leadership style with the tyrants like Hitler and Napoleon made it one of the most unpopular during the 70s. However, some leaders displayed an amalgamation of self-determination and progressive ideas when exercising their authority as authoritarian leaders. To exemplify some historical references, we may cite –

  • The roman empire under Julius Caesar.
  • John Smith’s settlers of the US colonies. 
  • Henry Ford’s use of the leadership style. 

Although a controversial figure, Henry Ford contributed to society through his efficient exercise of the autocratic leadership style.

Characteristics Of Autocratic Leadership Style

The autocratic leadership style leaves minimum room for creativity and opinions of the members. The leaders in this model are self-sufficient when it comes to making any organizational decisions. Here are some traits of t

Absolute & Authoritarian 

Verghese Kurien

Autocratic leaders are authoritarian individuals possessing complete control over the decisions made. They call the shots and take little output from the members involved in the group or the organizations. They also have the right to dictate the work process and the methods running in their organization. 

Unwavering Confidence

Barrie Davenport

Since all the decisions are made by them, these leaders display sheer confidence and belief in themselves. They also hardly take any suggestions from the members of the group. But, they are also overconfident at times. Their negligence to take suggestions creates a rigid environment and a sense of lack of trust among the employees. Eventually, it might cause the downfall of the organization. 

Structured Environment

Anna Kendrick

The autocratic leadership style helps create a structured work environment for an organization. Leaders following this leadership style make a structured approach to their work, creating a rigid and rule-oriented work environment. 

Such an environment is suitable for the faster accomplishment of any organizational tasks. No room for mistake is allowed in such a leadership style which makes learning inevitable for the employees. 

Quick & Decisive 

Michelle Obama

The whole decision-making process falls on the shoulders of autocratic leaders. Since they do not indulge in other people’s opinions, they tend to make quick decisions. It can increase work efficiency within the organization. 

During situations of crisis, such decisions are necessary, and it works in favor of the organizations following such a leadership style. However, quick decisions also might not be well thought out, putting the organization at risk. 

Clear Roles

Malcolm Forbes

Autocratic leaders make the roles of the employees within the organization very clear and well-defined. They utilize their authoritative power to define the roles, the rules, and the responsibilities of the individuals and their methods of accomplishing tasks. 

They remain very clear when it comes to outlining these aspects of the organization. In doing so, the autocratic leadership style maintains the smoothness of operation and a hierarchy similar to that of the bureaucratic leadership style

Responsible Leadership

Michael Bloomberg

Autocratic leaders can credit themselves for the decisions that made them being a success. Similarly, any misfortune or shortcoming followed by their incorrect decision-making also falls on their shoulder. They can wear the badge of honor while also bearing the burden of loss done to any wrong decisions on their part. 

Autocratic Leadership Style: What’s Good…And What’s Not So Good?

In the wake of the 21st century, the autocratic leadership style does not seem very convenient or relevant. However, it has worked for Elon Musk in his different business ventures. As expected – there are some benefits and limitations of the autocratic leadership style. Here are some pros and cons worth reading. –

The Advantages Of Autocratic Leadership Style: Pros

Henry Ford 

Here are some advantages of the autocratic style of leadership –

  • Autocratic leadership facilitates quick decision-making. 
  • There is a clear chain of command within the organization explaining the roles and goals of the organization. 
  • Industries requiring strong and directive leadership find it useful. 
  • Autocratic leadership works well for businesses and organizations facing a crisis or a change. 
  • Leaders following such leadership skills have an unwavering confidence level. 

The Disadvantages Of Autocratic Leadership Style: Cons

Masha Gessen

Similar to the pros, there are some major cons of the autocratic leadership style.

  • Leaders do not take any input or opinion from the employees. 
  • Employees working under such a leadership style might feel discouraged.
  • Employee morale gets hurt, causing resentment. 
  • There is no room for creativity under such a leadership style. 
  • Quick decisions might be made out of nearsightedness and limited calculation. 
  • Autocratic leaders often make wrong decisions. Putting the whole organization at risk.
  • Autocratic leaders can often be overconfident.

Autocratic Leadership Style: Case Studies (Examples)

Although Bill Gates has often assumed an authoritative approach in terms of making decisions, however, he left rooms open for discussions and opinions – which makes him more of a democratic leader than an autocratic one.

On the other hand, Donald Trump has shown a modern display of autocratic leadership style. The Oracle entrepreneur Larry Ellison also favors this leadership style to some extent in order to streamline the process of an organization. Here are two case studies of autocratic leadership styles.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk

The Tesla CEO and the founder of SpaceX are creative examples of autocratic leadership. Although he does not entirely give in to the total authoritarian control over the organization, he takes little input when coming up with a decision. Indeed a futuristic vision works behind his many business ventures. However, he is often impulsive about his decisions which are rarely vetted by team members.

Leona Helmsley

Leona Helmsley

The native and mainstream tabloids of the US have dubbed Leona as the “Queen Mean for her harsh decisions. She was in direct control of 23 hotels under her husband’s chain. Her management style clearly exhibits autocratic leadership style within the Helmsley Hotel empire. Her strict management ensured a high standard of service in the hotel chain under her control.

How To Become An Autocratic Leader? 

It is almost unexpected for any industry to assume an autocratic leadership style for management. However, if it is inevitable, leaders can exercise a few areas to improve their autocratic leadership style. Here are a few points to be noted.

Break The Rule & Listen

Break The Rule & Listen 

Autocratic leaders do not allow team members to express their opinions. This is a significant trait that defines them. Although you may not incorporate their ideas while making a decision, it will still be beneficial on the employee’s part to listen to their suggestions. Making employees feel rejected and ignored only pulls the organization downward.

Create Clear Rules & Guidelines

Create Clear Rules & Guidelines

Autocratic leaders require efficient and uninterrupted workflow. Since they have the authority to create and bend the methods and the work process, they should use it. Creating clear rules and work processes for the organization will help improve the work process and facilitate smooth and fast results.

Build Reliability

Build Reliability

As an autocratic leader, your school ensures reliability to your team members. The autocratic leadership style is heavily dependent on the leaders. So, it is necessary on your part to always remain consistent with the creation of the rules, their enforcement, and growth check. If your efforts and monitoring eyes are inconsistent, the team members will have trouble relying on you.

Criticism & Recognition

Criticism & Recognition

It is highly unlikely that autocratic leadership to recognize the employees. However, in today’s time, organizations cannot get things done unless they recognize the efforts of the employees. Besides criticizing the employees, autocratic leaders can recognize their success and efforts.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

I think I have already provided all the information related to the autocratic leadership style. However, here are some relevant questions and answers worth knowing. 

Q1. What Are The Benefits Of Autocratic Leadership?

There are some reasonable benefits of Autocratic leadership. Here are some examples –
1. This leadership makes decision-making easier and faster. 
2. Leaders can unambiguously reach the goals of the organization. 
3. There are clear sets of rules and regulations. 
4. The productivity and the results come much faster. 

Q2. What Are Some Examples Of Autocracy?

Here are some examples of autocracy –
1. Benito Mussolini
2. Joseph Stalin 
3. Mao Zedong
4. Fidel Castro
5. Mao Zedong
6. Vladimir Putin

Q3. How Does Autocratic Leadership Affect Motivation?

Fast-paced organizations find this style of leadership effective and worthy of quick result production. The managers under such leadership are motivated to be confident and make accurate decisions. However, there is no room for the subordinates’ opinions. It might demotivate them and hurt the employee morale.

Is Autocratic Leadership Style Effective? 

A blend of Democratic and transformational leadership styles can be beneficial if you are following an autocratic style of leadership.

Autocratic leadership is effective in specific situations and for specific industries. Businesses going through a crisis or change can adopt this leadership style for quick and productive decisions. Industries with a fast pacing work environment can benefit from this leadership style. I think you have found this article helpful. If there are any further queries, you can ask questions in the comment section.

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Mashum Mollah

Mashum Mollah is a tech entrepreneur by profession and passionate blogger by heart. He is on a mission to help small businesses grow online. He shares his journey, insights, and experiences in this blog. If you are an entrepreneur, digital marketing professional, or simply an info-holic, then this blog is for you.

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