What is Autocratic (Authoritative) Leadership? Pros and Cons

Autocratic Leadership is also known as Authoritarian Leadership. All processes operate under rigid rules and procedures, creativity and free-thinking are not a priority. The competencies of the leader matter tremendously, as most of the decisions are made by the individual. Group members are not allowed to be in positions of leadership, so all rests with the authoritarian leader.

Autocratic Leadership is a polarizing topic in places that favor democratic governmental structures. In areas where creative thinking is a key, people are empowered to make decisions, and leadership is decentralized, the autocratic direction will likely be unpopular.

As time and cultures have changed, there has been a negative connotation attached to autocratic leadership. Some may feel the traits and beliefs held by autocratic leaders take away creative thought, innovation, and lower employee morale. And it is true for creative industries.

However, autocratic leadership is often effectively used when group members:

  • do not have access to some information due to confidentiality and therefore can’t provide adequate input or make decisions without all the information
  • do not have time to learn, consider, debate the scope of information due to a quick pace, and/or the decisions and arrangements must be made rapidly
  • do not have enough competency, knowledge, experience
  • are put in potentially hazardous and dangerous settings

Therefore, any of these settings may be a reason that leaders feel it is necessary to be more authoritative than in other contexts.

Examples: military, emergency missions, manufacturing, construction businesses.

Part 1

Traits and Principles of Autocratic Leaders

Below are some of the most popular characteristics attributed to autocratic leaders:

  1. Unlimited Rule

    The leader is in charge no matter what. They decide the procedures, regulations, and policies.

  2. Reliance on Self

    At the core of its name, autocratic means “self-rule” in Greek. Because leaders do not accept input from colleagues, they are made to rely on their intuitions and beliefs.

  3. Full Accountability

    Since autocratic leaders decide on the measures of completion for projects and what tasks are undertaken, these individuals are taking most of the responsibility for the success of the endeavor. If it does not work out, the blame will most likely be on their head.

  4. Possessing Expertise

    It would be foolish to bring in an autocratic leader who was not prepared to handle the demands of full responsibility and complete leadership. Therefore, autocratic leaders are expected to have a good amount of expertise and experience in the area they are being brought in to address.

  5. Drive and Tenacity

    It takes an ambitious person to be in the lead driver’s seat. Autocratic leaders likely possess determination, and a tenacious nature to succeed and get things done. They have to be ready for challenging times, failures, and uncertainty.

  6. Clarity and Consistency

    An effective autocratic leader operates with a level of transparency. Since they are making most of the decisions, they have to be skilled and adept at clearly telling others what they need. These leaders also need to express a consistency in their communications and actions. The environment has to be secure. Therefore, autocratic leaders will work to keep rules, procedures, and policies the same.

Part 2

Qualities of Autocratic Leaders

  • Confidence is a primary quality autocratic leaders possess.
  • Being in charge entirely requires a belief that they are capable and ready for any challenge that comes their way.
  • These leaders need to give off confident and secure energy to their workers since they depend on them as the sole decision maker.
  • The leader has to embrace responsibility since they will shoulder most of it, and be willing to be held accountable for unsuccessful projects and endeavors.
  • An effective autocratic leader will be expected to communicate clearly and effectively to subordinates.

Part 3

Advantages of Autocratic Leaders

  • Rapid DecisionsIn companies where there are multiple levels of leadership, decisions, and feedback from senior management can take a long time to make it to employees. Since one person is in charge of autocratic leadership, arrangements can be made rapidly. This prevents workers from having to halt projects or push back deadlines, negatively impacting productivity.
  • Quick Crisis ManagementAn autocratic leader can more easily manage a crisis when they are calling the shots. If there is a short-term budgetary problem or a large number of positions left unfilled, an autocratic leader can immediately bring their expertise to the situation and manage the problem.
  • Potentially Decrease Employee Stress This is a less likely advantage, but one that could occur depending on the personality of the employees that make up the organization. Some individuals are uncomfortable with having to make decisions or come up with new ideas. It can create stress for employees who want just to come to work and complete their tasks. Therefore, an autocratic leader who shoulders the burden of decision making could create a less stressful environment for someone who does not place a high value on creativity input.

Part 4

Disadvantages of Autocratic Leaders

  • A Threat of Micromanagement For the person that gives way to autocratic leadership, it is likely difficult to turn it off and on. As a result, there is a likelihood that autocratic leaders can become micromanagers and not allow any room for employees to do their work.
  • A Lack of Ownership If autocratic leaders are always taking responsibility for how work gets done, employees do not have the opportunity to take ownership or accountability for their work. This can decrease employee morale, and can put all blame on the leader, even an error if it is not his or her fault.
  • CultureWhat happens if a leader does not practice ethics and refuses to create a fair working environment? Who can step in to make the leader accountable and stop the behavior? This is one of the leading criticisms of autocratic leadership. The work environment depends solely on the moral compass of an autocratic leader.
  • High DependenceIf all decisions rise and set on the leader, then there is not a plan in place for if they have to leave for any reason. Employees can become so dependent on the leader that they are unable to function if they were not around.
  • A Lack of TrustRegardless of if the relationship is personal or work-related, humans yearn to be in trusting partnerships. At its core, autocratic leadership styles do not make trust a priority, and interactions do not sustain lasting relationships. This will drive down morale and could have a detrimental impact on engagement.

Part 5

Autocratic Leadership Best Practices

  1. Practice Active Listening

    Autocratic leaders have to let employees know that they do care about what they have to say. Employee engagement can increase or decrease depending on how leaders treat their feedback. While the final decision may rest with the leader, it sends a valuable message to take into account the ideas employees have.

  2. Brush Up on Communications

    If all of the directives and rules are coming from the leader, then they need to ensure they are conveying the most unambiguous messages possible. This will decrease confusion and frustration.

  3. Always Be Respectful

    There are times when authoritarian leadership is necessary, but tasks and feedback should always happen in a way that is respectful to workers. No one should be made to feel like they are less than anyone else. Failure to do this could create an environment that leads to high turnover. A little consideration goes a long way with workers.

  4. Be Fair

    Employees will not react favorably to a leader who is not consistent in how they respond to disciplinary violations. Leaders need to make sure they are treating everyone the same, and that they enforce the same policies regardless of who the employee is.

Autocratic leaders need to make sure they are respectful and make the creation of trusting relationships a priority even if they are making the final decision. Again, consideration and compassion go a long way, and successful autocratic leaders understand that human capital is their most important asset.


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