What Is Autocratic Leadership?

Team following an autocratic leader
Autocratic leadership can have benefits and downsides, depending the situation. PhotoAlto/Milena Boniek / Getty Images

Autocratic leadership, also known as authoritarian leadership, is a leadership style characterized by individual control over all decisions and little input from group members. Autocratic leaders typically make choices based on their ideas and judgments and rarely accept advice from followers. Autocratic leadership involves absolute, authoritarian control over a group.

Like other leadership styles, the autocratic style has both some benefits and some weaknesses.

Continue reading to learn more about some of the key characteristics of this style and the situations in which this style is the most effective.

Characteristics of Autocratic Leadership

Some of the primary characteristics of autocratic leadership include:

  • Little or no input from group members
  • Leaders make the decisions
  • Group leaders dictate all the work methods and processes
  • Group members are rarely trusted with decisions or important tasks

Benefits of Autocratic Leadership

Autocratic leadership can be beneficial in some instances, such as when decisions need to be made quickly without consulting with a large group of people. Some projects require strong leadership to get things accomplished quickly and efficiently. When the leader is the most knowledgeable person in the group, the autocratic style can lead to fast and effective decisions.

Have you ever worked with a group of students or co-workers on a project that got derailed by poor organization, a lack of leadership and an inability to set deadlines?

If so, the chances are that your grade or job performance suffered as a result. In such situations, a strong leader who utilizes an autocratic style can take charge of the group, assign tasks to different members and establish solid deadlines for projects to be finished.

In situations that are particularly stressful, such as during military conflicts, group members may prefer an autocratic style.

It allows members of the group to focus on performing specific tasks without worrying about making complex decisions. This also allows group members to become highly skilled at performing certain duties, which is ultimately beneficial to the success of the entire group.

Downsides of Autocratic Leadership

While autocratic leadership can be beneficial at times, there are also many instances where this leadership style can be problematic. People who abuse an autocratic leadership style are often viewed as bossy, controlling and dictatorial, which can lead to resentment among group members.

Because autocratic leaders make decisions without consulting the group, people in the group may dislike that they are unable to contribute ideas. Researchers have also found that autocratic leadership often results in a lack of creative solutions to problems, which can ultimately hurt the group from performing. Autocratic leaders tend to overlook the knowledge and expertise that group members might bring to the situation. Failing to consult with other team members in such situations hurts the overall success of the group.

Autocratic leadership can also impair the morale of the group in some cases. People tend to feel happier and perform better when they feel like they are making contributions to the future of the group.

Since autocratic leaders typically do not allow input from team members, followers start to feel dissatisfied and stifled.

While autocratic leadership does have some potential pitfalls, leaders can learn to use elements of this style wisely. For example, an autocratic style can be used effectively in situations where the leader is the most knowledgeable member of the group or has access to information that other members of the group do not. Instead of wasting valuable time consulting with less knowledgeable team members, the expert leader can quickly make decisions that are in the best interest of the group.

Autocratic leadership is often most effective when it is used for specific situations. Balancing this style with other approaches including democratic or transformational styles can often lead to better group performance.

K., Liippit, R. and White, R.K. (1939). Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created social climates. Journal of Social Psychology, 10, 271-301.

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