What is the Autocratic Leadership Style?
Also known as authoritarian leadership, the autocratic leadership style is a leader that usually has most of the power, authority, and responsibility in a situation or in an organization. In this leadership style, decision-making by the team is rare; instead, the team is tasked with implementing the leader’s decisions and choices. The autocratic leader has a clear sense of what they want, and how they want things done.
The first widely accepted study of leadership styles is credited to American-German Psychologist Dr. Kurt Lewin. Lewin’s articles introducing the concept of authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire leaders appeared in the “American Journal of Sociology” in the 1930s.
Dr. Kurt Lewin introduced the concept of leadership styles in the 1930s.
The autocratic style was popular for decades but became less accepted in the 1970s when other modern leadership styles emerged. The autocratic leader is now commonly associated with oppressors and dictators.
You may ask the question, “when is the autocratic leadership style most effective and beneficial?” The simple answer is the autocratic leadership style is effective in instances when a quick decision is required, or absolute quality is expected by a team. Today, we find this style used most commonly in manufacturing, the armed forces, high-end restaurants, media companies, and construction work.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Autocratic Leadership
Like the other leadership styles, the autocratic leadership style has a number of variations. At its worst, autocratic leadership can be stifling, overbearing, domineering, and demoralizing. But at its best, the autocratic leader can be liberating for teams who work well with clear guidance or directives. This leadership style can also be a great fit for organizations that previously lack focus or a clear mission. In these cases, the autocratic leader can help teams have a singular focus and clarity with objectives.
How does this leadership style compare with your own style? How does it compare to your manager? Whether you are an autocratic leader, another style, or a combination of styles below are some advantages and disadvantages to the autocratic leadership style to consider:
- Effective when decisions must come quickly
- Helps businesses or projects that may have become stagnant due to poor organization or lack of leadership
- During stressful situations, autocratic leaders may be more effective in leading a team through to resolution
- Potential abuse by powerful personalities
- Can stifle staff and discourage team creativity
- Modern teams may not react well to the style
- May discourage open communication between teams
Yes, there are pros and cons to each of the leadership styles, but understanding the balance is key to being a successful leader. Still unsure about your own style? To learn more about your style as a leader or an aspiring leader, take our short quiz that will give you a sense of your own style. To start the 2-minute leadership style quiz, click here.
Famous Leaders with Autocratic Leadership Style
From rulers of kingdoms to highly-decorated generals, below are a few of the many leaders that have displayed the autocratic leadership style.
- U.S. Gen. George C. Patton
- U.S. President Richard M. Nixon
- Genghis Khan
- Napoleon Bonaparte
- Billionaire John D. Rockefeller
RECAP: Autocratic Leadership Style
Want to know more about other leadership styles? Select one of these links for more comprehensive information about each style: Situational Leadership | Servant Leadership | Democratic Leadership | Supportive Leadership | Transactional Leadership | Laissez-fair Leadership | Transformational Leadership | Charismatic Leadership