What Is Autocratic Leadership?

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Autocratic leaders often favor win/lose partnerships, wherin their subordinates are losers.
Autocratic leaders often favor win/lose partnerships, wherin their subordinates are losers. (Image: angry boss image by Dmitri MIkitenko from Fotolia.com)

Autocratic leaders are people who you hate to love. Such leaders seek to wield absolute power over their followers, soliciting compliance on the basis of intimidation. Through the autocratic leadership style, such individuals engage in a virtual dictatorship, rarely rewarding the efforts of their subordinates.

Characteristics

Autocratic leaders are "primarily concerned with task accomplishment, not the happiness or satisfaction of followers," according to the "Encyclopedia of Leadership, Volume Four" (See Reference 1). To this end, such leaders express aloofness from their followers, and typically opt to motivate their followers by punishing poor performers as opposed to rewarding top performers.

Advantages

Under certain conditions, autocratic leaders are able to promptly wrest order from chaos. Indeed, certain organizations, "such as the Armed Forces, are so complex that they may need autocratic leadership to keep the group functioning (See Reference 2)," observes Dr. Elizabeth Bolton, Professor of Community Development at the University of Florida. Contrasting leadership styles, such as laissez faire leadership or participative leadership, frequently fail to retain their effectiveness under complex conditions.

Disadvantages

While wielding absolute power often provides an autocratic leader with an adrenaline rush, such a leadership style is anathema to healthy emotional growth. These leaders are usually quick to place blame, and my experience depression if unable to handle crisis situations that arise during a busy work day. Since such leaders often prefer to be hated than loved in the context of a work environment, they are often prone to shy away from opportunities for emotional enrichment outside of a work environment.

Examples

Not merely world dictators or control freaks, autocratic leaders can be found in pressure-filled "newsrooms under deadlines, troops on a battlefield, and a sailing ship in a storm are all good examples of situations that warrant autocratic leadership (See Reference 3)," argue authors Charles B. Dygert and Richard A. Jacobs in their book "Creating a Culture of Success". Additionally, parents of toddlers and leaders of drug rehabilitation facilities are both positive examples of autocratic leaders whose efforts are beneficial to their communities.

Implications

Within an organizational context, autocratic leadership does not provide guaranteed results. Rather, it yields greater benefits in certain circumstances than it might in others. This style of leadership can be useful when dealing with a large number of employees, who are engaged in relatively simple tasks. By focusing on the bottom line, autocratic leaders are often able to increase worker productivity, organizational output and even profit margins.

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