Authoritarian Leadership Explained

The term authoritarian leadership is used interchangeably with autocratic leadership and it is essentially defined as a style of leadership that is exemplified by the individual in charge taking control of all the decisions, with little or no input from members of the group.  Typically, authoritarian leaders make choices that are based on their own judgments and ideas and hardly ever accept advice from the followers.  Authoritarian leadership involves absolute control over a task or group.  Authoritarian leadership examples include Bill Gates and President John F. Kennedy.

soldiers in formationAutocratic Leadership Characteristics

Included among the main characteristics of authoritarian leadership are:

• Members of the group offer very little or no input at all
• Decisions are made solely by the leaders
• Leaders of the group dictate all the methods and processes of the task
• Members of the group are rarely entrusted with important decisions or tasks

Industries Ideal for Authoritarian Leadership

• Manufacturing
• Military
• Construction

Autocratic Leadership Benefits

There are some instances in which authoritarian leadership can be beneficial and brings advantages. For example, when a situation requires quick decisions and there is no time for group input.  There are projects that make it necessary to have strong leadership to get things done in a quick and efficient manner.

Additionally, authoritarian leadership is beneficial in stressful situations like military conflicts.  This enables members to concentrate on carrying out particular tasks without having to be concerned about making difficult decisions.

Drawbacks of Autocratic Leadership

There are a number of instances in which the authoritarian leadership style can be challenging and brings disadvantages. Individuals who misuse this style of leadership are typically viewed as being dictatorial, controlling and bossy, which could result in resentment among members of the group.

Since authoritarian leaders make decisions without the input of the group, the members could dislike the lack of contribution.  Additionally, studies have indicated that authoritarian leadership frequently results in the absence of creative solutions to issues.  This could ultimately have a negative impact on group performance.

While there are definitely some pitfalls associated with the authoritarian leadership style, leaders can become skilled at wisely using elements of this style of leadership.  For example, an authoritarian leadership style can be effectively used in situations in which the leader has the most knowledge or he or she is able to access information that is not accessible by other members of the group.

Being an Effective Authoritarian Leadership

Using expertise to get the job done is the immediate goal of authoritarian leadership.  However, it is important to ensure that every relevant person is doing is or her job and important tasks are quickly and correctly handled.

Balancing the morale of team members with the use of authority can be difficult.  However, subordinates will become miserable with excessive scrutiny and too much heavy-handedness will muffle all input from the group.  Being effective at authoritarian leadership means being highly intentional regarding how and when demands are made of the members of the team.

Below are some things that are done by an effective authoritarian leader:

• Respect for Subordinates

A leader can easily end up as inflexible as the rules he or she is attempting to enforce.  As such, it is vital that you remain fair, acknowledging that everyone plays an important role in getting the job done.  Showing respect to subordinates keeps resentment low and boosts morale.  Mutual respect should be the foundation on which your team is built.

• Explanation of Rules

Team members are aware that there are procedures to follow; however, being told why these procedures are necessary will assist them in doing a better job.

• Being Consistent

Fairly and consistently enforce the company line whenever necessary.  Respecting the objective of an individual is relatively easy; however, it is difficult to trust a person who applies different policies to similar situations.

• Educating Before Enforcing

Having your expectations understood by everyone up front will result in fewer surprises in the future.  Being legitimate from the beginning prevents lots of misunderstandings and miscommunications.

• Listening, Even if No Change will Happen

Everyone wants to feel as if his or her opinions are valued, even if they will not result in immediate changes.  Being an effective leader is an indication that team members will   want to share their opinions with you.  It is essential that you make it clear that members are heard, regardless of the outcome.

The Best Time to Use Authoritarian Leadership

An authoritarian leadership style can do more harm than good if it is used on a prolonged basis.  However, sometimes this style of leadership is necessary to get the job done.  When the following situations come about, use the authoritarian leadership style in more of a directing manner as outlined below:

• When there is very little time for advanced planning and forethought and the task is pressing and must be completed in a timely manner
• When individuals need guidance to complete the task with structure and clarity and they are lacking in the skills required to get the job done, without following strict instructions
• When there are dangerous conditions to contend with and rigid rules are necessary to keep team members safe
• When there is a situation that has little or no margin for error

It is important to bear in mind that if team members are not skilled in particular tasks, the authoritarian approach should not be used as a long-term solution.  Ways must be found to mentor, teach and coach team members, so that less directing will be required and more tasks can be delegated to members of the team.

While the value of authoritarian leadership cannot be undermined when a particular management style is required, the authoritarian leadership style is most effective when used in conjunction with other styles of management.  Every since the theories on transformational leadership and situational leadership have been introduced, it has been widely regarded that authoritarian leadership is merely one of a number of leadership styles that can successfully effect change in team members to the desired outcome.  Every leadership style has its benefits and drawbacks and should be utilized only when the circumstances call for it.