The Advantages and Disadvantages of Autocratic Leadership

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, holding an iPhone at a conference AP

When considering which leadership style to adopt for your business, you must weigh the pros and cons of each. After all, different industries and niches are better suited to different management methods, and what works for you in one area might not work in another.

Autocratic leadership is one such example of this. Authoritarian by nature, you exercise complete authority over your company's policies and procedures, as well as the direction and control of all employees and work-related activities. Essentially, you are the only decision-maker in the organisation.

Unsurprisingly, as a more extreme style of leadership, it isn't suited to every situation. Therefore, it's necessary to take a close look at its pros and cons and consider when it might be an appropriate approach to implement.

Here are the key advantages and disadvantages of autocratic leadership:

Pros

Fast decisions can be made

Sound judgement is a hugely important leadership quality, and as a senior manager, you need to be of strong character. Therefore, it's only natural that seasoned veterans of the field are better able to adapt to this leadership style, and capitalise on its benefits. By being more autocratic in your approach, you can exercise a better sense of character judgement in future hires, an ability to set and prioritise goals, and overall clarity in all the major decisions that your company takes.

Should any crises arise, autocratic leaders are also more likely to avert a situation from escalating. Since this style dictates that there is no consultation, no flexibility, nor any room for debate, there is no need to consider the contributions of others when reaching a final verdict on your course of action. If your company is in serious trouble, then it may require you to take the reins and do what is necessary to keep it alive until you are on a more even footing.

It is beneficial for the improvement of inexperienced workers

Although autonomy and minimal oversight is a plus in some work environments, this isn't always the case; it can be difficult to be an employee with little to no guidance from above – especially for new hires. In such instances, an autocratic leadership style can enable you to be a more effective leader. For individuals who are inexperienced in your given line of work, as well as relatively unmotivated employees, having a clear sense of what must (and must not) be done in a given workday can lead to increased productivity and a more settled atmosphere.

Indeed, when workers know what their role is and what exactly their deadlines are, they are more likely to finish any delegated work within a set timeframe. These same employees will also able to complete projects more accurately and consistently, as well as without frequent interruptions on your part – enabling you to focus on other things, too.

There is a reduction in employee stress

Building on the point above, it's a reality of the workplace that uncertainty can negatively affect productivity. By allowing your employees to focus consistently on their given assignments, you alleviate stressors that can affect the quality of their work. Staff feel an increased self-confidence in their aptitude to complete tasks, as even the most minute details are given to them in extremis by their senior.

It's worth noting that this is only beneficial if you possess expert knowledge of the task at hand (including understanding the time constraints needed to complete a project). If you are dictating to subject matter experts who know more about their work than you do, then this management style is unlikely to be received well at all.

Cons

There's no room for flexibility

In a system of dependence, an autocratic leadership style creates a lack of trust between you and your workers. Because of the strict method in which employees are micromanaged, there is no room for flexibility within the work environment.

This lack of adaptability within your workforce can lead to your employees feeling devalued, particularly with regards to the seeking of their input. This, in turn, may cause your best people to look for work elsewhere – ideally with a company that places a higher value on their expertise, concerns, and loyalty to the business.

You're shutting down the potential for improvement

In any aspect of life – but particularly within small businesses – good communication is the cornerstone of success. Not only is it essential to discuss your mission and vision statements with your employees — after all, a mutual alignment of values is crucial to the progression of your company — but strong communication between upper management and entry-level employees creates an open and transparent culture. This, in turn, cultivates an environment where everybody can contribute their ideas to the benefit of the company.

If your recruitment policy is based on the hiring of intelligent, ambitious employees who can bring their own ideas to the table, then it makes no sense to restrict them and tell them what to do. You should be bringing people in that can improve your business, and autocratic leadership doesn't lend itself to this.

Employees experience lower morale and productivity

As touched upon above, an autocratic approach is likely to cause a sense of disconnect between you and your employees. As a result, you will also likely see a drop in your staff's morale and productivity. Many employees want to feel a sense of belonging and unity within their workplace, and an authoritarian approach diverts from the things that help to build this culture, such as the mentoring of employees, positive modelling of expected behaviours, guidance and support, and the formation of genuine relationships between people.

This is why very few of the world's top CEOs implement such a style, as in most modern environments and industries – such as in tech – autocratic leadership is not well received.

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Ultimately, when pondering if the benefits of an authoritarian leadership style outweigh the drawbacks, keep in mind that the structure is not necessarily favourable for every leader. Don't be afraid to combine traditional methods, either; it's possible to be autocratic in some aspects of your leadership and democratic in others.

What do you think? Is there a place for autocratic leadership in a modern, increasingly millennial workplace? Let us know your experiences and opinions in the comment section below.