What is Autocratic Leadership?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated November 6, 2022

Published May 17, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Just as there are many different positions in a workplace, there are also various leadership styles. You may find that a particular leadership style suits your workplace more than others, so there is value in identifying the differences. In this article, we focus on autocratic leadership by discussing what it is, what characteristics an autocratic leader has, the pros and cons of this style of leadership, and which positions or industries autocratic leadership thrives in.

Related: 10 Common Leadership Styles

What is autocratic leadership?

Autocratic leadership, also known as authoritarian leadership, means one individual has full control over a team's decision-making process. Autocratic leaders often take little to no input from other people but may have a small group of trusted advisors that they consult. If not, they make choices based solely on their own ideas and judgements.

Autocratic leaders delegate tasks and oversee their teams by ensuring members are completing their work on schedule. This type of leadership works best with teams that do not have a lot of skills, experience, or training in the industry and need a firm leader to guide them.

The history of autocratic leadership

Autocratic leadership has a bad reputation because historically, many political autocratic leaders misused their power and became tyrants and dictators. However, this is not a fair representation of autocratic leadership as autocratic leaders don't always use their power to demean their subordinates. Autocratic leadership, when used correctly, can thrive in many industries.

Pros of autocratic leadership

Although autocratic leadership receives some negative backlash, there are plenty of benefits to this leadership style. Here are some of the main pros:

  • Improved productivity: Teams run by autocratic leaders tend to be more productive. This is because autocratic leaders will delegate and reassign tasks to keep employees busy.

  • Less miscommunication: Autocratic leaders typically use more direct communication, which can seem harsh to those not used to it, but it allows team members to only receive necessary communication. Similarly, as autocratic leaders manage their team independently, they tend to have all the answers team members may need without needing to refer to someone else.

  • Fewer stressed employees: As autocratic leaders handle all of the decision-making, other employees do not need to worry as much. This allows employees to focus on completing their own tasks.

  • More efficient decision-making: Managers that work with other people to make decisions tend to take much longer than autocratic leaders do. Autocratic leaders don't need to meet or consult with other employees, so they can quickly and efficiently make a decision on their own. This is especially beneficial in industries that have time restrictions.

Related: Understanding the Process of Decision-Making in Management

Cons of autocratic leadership

Autocratic leadership doesn't work in every environment. Employees that have never worked under an autocratic leader may find it challenging. Here are some cons of autocratic leadership:

  • Micromanagement: As autocratic leaders have full control over the work environment, some end up micromanaging their team. Constant observation and correction leave employees with a lack of motivation, decreased productivity, or burnout.

  • Team members won't be as independent: As employees have fewer major responsibilities under autocratic leaders, they can become too dependent on their manager to make decisions for them. This is a challenge for those looking to work under a different leadership style in the future, or who want to become a manager themselves.

  • Team members not feeling heard: Team members who want to contribute ideas rarely get the opportunity under an autocratic leader. This can make employees feel unappreciated.

  • Hard to build trust: Autocratic leadership makes it hard for both the manager and the team to build a trusting relationship. Autocratic leaders tend to keep information private, so some employees feel misinformed. On the other hand, autocratic leaders may feel like they can't trust their team as they don't get much insight from them.

Related: What is Micromanagement?

What are the characteristics of autocratic leadership?

Some of the primary characteristics of autocratic leadership include:

  • requiring leaders to make most, if not all, decisions

  • not allowing much input from team members

  • allowing leaders to delegate and reassign tasks as they see fit

  • a highly structured environment

  • clearly defined rules and work processes that the leader determines

Related: Work Breakdown Structure Guide

What character traits should an autocratic leader have?

Successful autocratic leaders should have the following character traits:

  • Self-confidence: Successful autocratic leaders are confident enough to independently run their own team. They must be confident enough in their skills and abilities to make decisions by themselves.

  • Self-motivated: As autocratic leaders are responsible for a team, they must motivate themselves and their employees to work efficiently.

  • Clarity: Autocratic leaders need to provide clear instructions and guidelines when delegating new tasks to their team. This ensures the team won't need to continually ask questions that would delay their work.

  • Dependability: With no other managers to consult, team members rely on an autocratic leader for everything, so they must be dependable.

  • Knowledgeable: Autocratic leaders have no one else to consult when making decisions, so they must be extremely knowledgeable to achieve their goals.

Related: Leadership Skills: Definition and Examples

How to be a successful autocratic leader

Now that the traits of an autocratic leader are clear, it's important to know how to make the most of these traits. Here are the things you should do to be a successful autocratic leader:

  1. Listen to team members: Although autocratic leaders are responsible for making decisions, it's still important that you listen to your team. You don't necessarily need to implement their advice, but you should be open to letting it impact your decision. Listening to your team can also build morale.

  2. Establish clear rules: If you want your team to follow your rules or instructions, they need to be clear. This limits any back and forth and helps your team work more efficiently.

  3. Provide the necessary resources: If your team needs any resources or tools to complete their job successfully, provide them. This may be new training, equipment, or maybe even additional staff members.

  4. Motivate your team: Employees are more likely to complete their work on time if they receive the proper motivation. Implementing reward systems or offering positive feedback are quick and easy ways to motivate your team.

Jobs for autocratic leaders

Autocratic leadership is still prevalent in many industries. For example, top positions in the military or law enforcement tend to be autocratic leadership roles. Here are some of the most common jobs autocratic leaders can consider:

1. CEO

National average salary: $125,393 per year

Primary duties: A CEO (Chief Executive Officer) is the highest-ranking position in a company, sometimes held by the owner. This means they're responsible for making major decisions and managing the daily operations of the company. They may have a team of advisors but are responsible for making the final decision, which makes this a great job for autocratic leaders.

Related: CEO vs. CFO: What's the Difference?

2. Correctional Officer

National average salary: $53,773 per year

Primary duties: A correctional officer, also known as a prison guard, is responsible for keeping inmates and other employees in the correctional institution safe. Although they work under a prison warden, correctional officers utilize autocratic leadership as they monitor inmates and patrol the facility alone or with a partner. They typically have to make quick judgments and decisions on their own.

Related: What Does a Correctional Officer Do?

3. Warehouse Supervisor

National average salary: $48,402 per year

Primary duties: Warehouse supervisors use autocratic leadership as they manage a team of warehouse workers by delegating tasks, ensuring employees are using equipment safely and meeting production goals. Warehouse supervisors have strict guidelines to follow and are responsible for training new employees.

4. Restaurant Manager

National average salary: $67,684 per year

Primary duties: Restaurant managers typically do not need to interact with customers or cook. Instead, they delegate these tasks to their staff. Restaurant managers train new employees, inspect food quality, handle escalated customer issues, and ensure employees are meeting productivity and sales goals.

Related: How to Write an Effective Restaurant Manager Cover Letter

5. Surgeon

National average salary: $272,179 per year

Primary duties: Surgeons work with a team of nurses, anesthesiologists, residents, and other healthcare workers to diagnose patient issues and perform surgical procedures. The job often requires surgeons to make decisions that will benefit their patients on the spot, so they need autocratic leadership qualities.

Now that you know the pros and cons of autocratic leadership and have learned about some of the careers that use this style of leadership, you can decide whether this leadership style is something you would like to use in your future career endeavours.

Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate’s experience, academic background and location.

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