Autocratic Leadership

What is Autocratic Leadership and When is it Effective?

Autocratic Leadership

I have a vivid childhood memory of visiting a jam-packed market with my uncle who was in the army. As you can imagine, navigating markets in India isn’t easy. Life spills over and falls at your feet at each step. 

It was a sight to see my uncle clearing the way. “Move aside”, “Roll your cart to the other side.” People obeyed and did exactly what he told them. He wasn’t in uniform. There wasn’t a hint of aggression in his tone. Just the way he delivered “orders”, made people comply. 

I witnessed raw leadership, stripped to bare bones that day.  

Today we’ll discuss a leadership style that revolves around this core principle – autocratic leadership. It’s one of the three leadership styles mentioned by the famous psychologist Kurt Lewin. The other two being – Laissez-faire and democratic leadership. We’ll not get into them in this post. 

Yes, Kurt Lewin is the same person who created arguably the most popular change management model of all time. 

What is autocratic leadership?

Autocratic leadership is a style of leadership when the leader who has the power to make strategic decisions on their team’s behalf acts on it without their input. It’s also referred to as commanding or authoritative leadership. 

Autocratic leaders bestow unlimited authority on themselves. They have total control over their team members who have low autonomy themselves. Autocratic leaders set team goals, create the execution plan and monitor the progress closely. They make independent decisions even if the input from the team would help them. 

Is autocratic leadership useful?

Reading about autocratic leadership makes it seem the root of all evil. However, in certain situations, it’s not just useful but the only viable option.

The head surgeon in the middle of the surgery won’t take a vote to decide which tools to use. A CO commanding his platoon in an ambush won’t look for approval. 

However, it’s not just life & death situations where autocratic leadership is useful. Here are a few benefits of autocratic leadership:

  1. Increases the speed – Because the power to make decisions is concentrated at the top, no time is lost in redundant meetings and chains of bureaucracy. This speeds up the overall decision-making process. Autocratic leaders can adapt their team faster to market conditions than their more democratic peers. 
  2. Better alignment – Since there are no different power centers in the organization, it’s the leader’s way or the highway. This makes it easier for the team to rally behind one goal and vision. 
  3. Relieves pressure – The leader doesn’t ask the team to make strategic decisions. They only need to focus on their to-dos and not worry about broader repercussions. The leader who has unlimited authority also carries equivalent accountability. 

What are the perils of autocratic leadership?

Being an extreme leadership style, unsurprisingly there are plenty of disadvantages of autocratic leadership as well:

  1. Reduces morale – There is a clear divide between the leader and their followers. This reduces the sense of ownership in the team, ultimately affecting the overall morale. Such an environment isn’t conducive for ambitious employees and leads to high turnover. 
  2. High risk – There is only one person making strategic decisions without input from the team. This leads to a higher risk of making uninformed decisions that can jeopardize the team’s goals. 
  3. Promotes flattery – Autocratic leadership promotes a culture of flattery in the team because the leader holds the strings for everyone’s destiny. The leader runs the risk of surrounding themselves with an army of yes-men. 

To gain its benefits, autocratic leadership should only be used when the conditions demand it. If a leader indulges in such behavior just to stroke their own ego, it’s a recipe for disaster. Sooner than later, the team will revolt and the internal dynamics would fall apart. 

This begs the question…

When is autocratic leadership effective?

Autocratic leadership carries a high risk/reward. It works wonders when used under the right conditions. However, it also can cause critical damage if the leader uses it simply for a power trip. 

There are three conditions that make autocratic leadership a popular option:

  1. Shortage of time – When the clock is ticking and the situation demands an immediate response, there is not better alternative than autocratic leadership. It cuts time wasted in bureaucratic procedures.
  2. Knowledge – When the leader is the most knowledgeable person in the group. It won’t make sense for an experienced CTO to get a marketing intern’s opinion on which developers to hire. Similarly, a high school football coach won’t ask their students for recommendations on the right technique. 
  3. Risk – During high-risk situations, people naturally tend to gravitate towards autocratic leaders. Teams feel more comfortable when the high risk is shared by their leader rather than themselves. 

What are some examples of autocratic leadership?

There is no dearth of examples of autocratic leadership in politics, so let’s look at a couple of examples outside of it:

Steve Jobs

Perhaps the most renowned effective autocratic leader of our times. Richard Branson once said that Steve Jobs’ leadership style was autocratic. He had a meticulous eye for detail and surrounded himself with -minded people to follow his lead.

Jobs’ relentless pursuit of perfection played a vital role in making design an important part of an industry where it was always an afterthought.

The reason why he is widely respected despite not being the nicest man in the office is because of his creative genius, sheer passion, and hard work.

It’s the classic example of a leader embracing autocratic leadership in pursuit of perfection and not for stroking their own ego. 

Gordon Ramsey

Let’s ignore his outlandish insults that make for great TV. Gordon Ramsay’s approach to managing his kitchen staff is a great example of autocratic leadership. Each person in the team has specific roles and focus only on them, while Gordon conducts the entire operations the conductor of an orchestra. Gordon shields the team from external factors and grooms them to strive for excellence. 


5 Examples of Autocratic Leadership

Autocratic Leadership

An authoritarian method of management, the autocratic leadership style is built upon the concept of having one person in power, making the vast majority of decisions.

As an autocratic leader, you hold complete authority over your company's policies and procedures, immediate direction and control of your employees' work-related activities, and the final say on the goals and targets of the organisation. Unsurprisingly, as such an extreme form of leadership, it is not always implemented capably by those in control, while it isn't always accepted by employees, either.

Examples of Autocratic Leadership

Therefore, to help you gain a better understanding of how to implement such an approach – including the circumstances in which it works best — we've profiled five autocratic leaders that have generated success – or courted disaster.

1. Leona Helmsley (Helmsley Hotels)

Dubbed the «Queen of Mean» by mainstream tabloids in her native US, Leona Helmsley was regularly recognised for her harsh and authoritarian leadership within the Helmsley hotel empire. Undeniably strict in her management of the company, the ex-real estate broker directly controlled 23 hotels in her husband's chain by the beginning of 1989. 

The hotel's marketing campaigns even played on this image, depicting her as a commanding sovereign intent on only the best for her establishment's guests. This same mentality was evident in her daily management, including the severe and often insensitive way in which she treated those working within the chain.

Although Helmsley was often harsh and unsympathetic, her demanding and authoritarian style proved successful for Helmsley Hotels. Any employees deemed to be carrying out a sub-standard job were reprimanded or instantly dismissed, creating a culture in which high standards of service were expected – and subsequently delivered – at all times.

2. Elon Musk (Tesla and SpaceX)

Jean_Nelson / Deposit Photos

A dogmatic and controversial leader, Elon Musk is one of the most influential CEOs and entrepreneurs in the world today. Having exercised an autocratic leadership style at each of his various enterprises, including car manufacturer Tesla and space exploration agency SpaceX, he has regularly overseen prosperity and success.

Aside from his strong personality and innovative genius, Musk is ambitiously insistent, setting exceptionally high standards for his hires. This includes intense scrutiny of the products that they create, even if it means changing his mind and discarding an idea after months of effort and in-depth planning.

However, that other famous Silicon Valley genius, Steve Jobs, Musk also combines authoritarianism with a visionary approach. As his former head of HR at SpaceX, Dolly Singh, once observed, «[t]he thing that makes Elon is his ability to make people believe in his vision».

The South African-born billionaire also understands the benefit of mentoring employees, which, even if done firmly, can create a solid leadership foundation for a company.

This is a wise lesson to heed, as strong middle management is the cornerstone of many successful organisations.

3. Howell Raines (The New York Times)

As executive editor of the New York Times from 2001 to 2003, Howell Raines was intent on utilising the newspaper's budget and resources as fully as possible to cover what he felt were the most critical stories of the time. He referred to this approach as «flooding the zone».

Indeed, in an industry where tight deadlines and high standards are defining features, Raines' autocratic leadership style seemed the perfect fit, if not among employees then certainly with readers.

However, his story perfectly illustrates what can happen when you push things too far.

Deputy editor Joe Sexton allegedly told board members that the newsroom staff felt «less led than bullied» under Raines' leadership, with other senior employees claiming that the then 58-year-old was «feared» rather than respected.

Eventually, he was forced to resign by the Times' owner, Arthur Sulzberger Jr, having already alienated and lost a large segment of the publication's key reporting staff.

4. Martha Stewart (Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia)

everett225 / Deposit Photos

One of the top female CEOs in living history, Martha Stewart is a leader who has utilised her keen sense of detail to build her business into the hugely influential conglomerate that it is today.

Perhaps as a result of her detail-oriented personality, Stewart has often taken on a more authoritarian and meticulous style in regards to managing her company, making her an excellent example of autocratic leadership example done right.

Though some may argue that this style of leadership does not work, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSLO) is a clear example that, under suitable circumstances and when implemented appropriately, can result in an organisation transforming into a sum greater than its parts.

5. Donald Trump (The Trump Organization)

PopularImages / Deposit Photos

Choosing to have all the power of the Trump Organization resting on his own (and a very limited selection of others') shoulders, Donald Trump is the key decision-maker for his eponymous conglomerate – or at least, was, prior to his current obligations.

Despite – Leona Helmsley – demanding high standards from his employees (and firing anyone not up to scratch), he also offered high salaries as an incentive, with many employees claiming his management style was strict but fair.

Interestingly, in his current role as US President, Trump has had to temper certain aspects of his autocratic tendencies, reliant as the position is on compromise with the country's governing houses.

This is proof in itself that different circumstances and different environments require you to be flexible in your leadership approach, and that for those who can adapt quickly, there is plenty of success to be found.

Even if you are successful in your business endeavours, this should not stop you from pausing and trying to consider how you can become a better leader. There is always room for improvement, and no proprietor – regardless of the leadership style that they have chosen to adopt – should be above self-betterment.

Evidently, when considering the above examples, the authoritarian method certainly has its share of success stories. However, because it is not an ideal fit for every employee or environment, you should take into consideration your overall company goals, as well as the temperament and outlook of your employees.

Are you attempting to implement an autocratic leadership style in your business? What are your experiences so far? Let us know in the comment section below!


Autocratic Leadership: Everything You Need to Know

Autocratic Leadership

It’s not always clear what an autocratic leader looks and if that style of leadership actually works in a business setting.

It’s sometimes suggested that this style, and styles it, are necessary in hard times to make sure everyone digs in and works hard towards the company goals. Whereas, a less authoritative approach is better utilised when a company needs to realise its potential. But why is this and is it even true?

So, without further ado, let’s look into just what autocratic leadership is and if it can ever actually work…

1. What Is Autocratic Leadership?

Autocratic leadership, also known as authoritarian leadership, can, most simply, be defined as a structure where there is one clearly defined “boss” at the top who holds most, if not all, of the control over distribution of workload and responsibility.

An autocratic leader does not take input from other members of the team when making decisions. Operations, methods, processes and delegation are all decided by the autocratic leader and the autocratic leader only.

In essence, autocratic leadership is the opposite of democratic leadership.

If you know anything about democratic leadership, you’ll know that it sounds preferable to autocratism and there are many studies that suggest this kind of approach is, understandably, more preferred by employees and team members. So, why on earth would you ever adopt an approach that goes directly against that?

Let’s look at a common misconceptions around autocratic leadership…

2. The Misconception of Autocratic Leadership

Let’s make no mistake, there is a reason that autocratic leadership exists. It’s not a fluke or a mishap. Autocratic leadership has been widely adopted by many organisations far and wide. We’d be naive to not consider the reasons autocracy has found a footing in a business context throughout the years.

So, when do organisations adopt an autocratic style? It’s mostly a last resort, when a company’s back is up against the wall and they need to generate results quickly no matter the method.

Why is this, though? Why, when we look at generating results, do we naturally look towards a hardline leadership approach autocracy? Does autocratic leadership guarantee results? Or have business owners been getting it wrong for years?

Well, when we look at what traits are usually associated with an autocratic leader, we can see that they create a solid structure, within the organisation, with clearly defined roles and clarity of direction for all. Great — it can be really important for workers to be able to easily understand the structure of the business and a central vision that everyone is working towards.

An autocratic leader will set up clear lines of communication through the fact that there is one clear focal point at the top where decisions are made.

Let me warn you, however, this does not mean the same thing as opening up lines of communication. In reality, an autocratic leader discourages open and honest communication even though these lines are clarified.

It’s a paradox that often occurs in businesses — giving communication a clear direction can actually discourage it.

Essentially, if you’re looking towards autocratic leadership as a managerial methodology for your business, you’re looking for someone to crack the whip with little, or no, regard for the wellbeing of your team members.

Let me remind you, if it wasn’t already clear, this is not a form of leadership that I recommend — even in hard times. If you want to get the best your team, no matter the circumstances, you need to nurture them into generating the performance you want. An autocratic leader, by definition, is the opposite of nurturing.

So, what’s the real truth about autocratic leadership?

3. The Truth About Autocratic Leadership

So, we've spoken about why you might be thinking about adopting an autocratic leader but what is the honest truth about that kind of strategy?

In an organisation that practices autocratic leadership, group members are rarely trusted with decisions or important tasks which can be a demotivating factor for many. When you build your organisation in the model of an autocracy, you strip away the responsibility of individual members which gives them every reason to feel demoralised within their roles.

Workloads tends to be regimented and meticulously ordered. Because of this, traits creativity and innovation are discouraged in the workplace and employees are told to perform their role as it is outlined, leaving no room for them to grow or contribute ideas to the business.

We spoke about the ability to clearly define the lines of communication in business through autocratic leadership, but the trade-off for doing this is that you actually end up stunting communication across the board. Just because your teams know who to come to for a dialogue, doesn’t mean they will.

Let’s make something clear — this is not a slight on the personality of an autocratic leader, merely an observation of the effectiveness and impact of setting up a structure of autocracy. Plenty of autocratic leaders care for the progression and development of their staff but they are hamstrung by the system in which they operate.

At the end of the day, you can expect to drive your team to high performance and generate a culture of self-motivation if you don’t give your employees the tools to develop themselves. Autocratic leadership stunts personal growth as it gives team members no freedom to define their roles or provide input into the key decision that affects the business direction.

Just to reiterate, autocratic leadership is a style of leadership that directly contradicts the way I believe a team should be lead. By their nature, autocratic leaders do not follow the 10 Leadership Disciplines I’ve outlined in my Manifesto and are widely considered to be a dying breed in the modern business world — thank goodness!

Ultimately, employees don’t perform well when they feel they aren’t trusted in their roles. Adopting autocratic leadership tells your employees that you don’t trust them enough to give them input into the business’ direction. Why would anyone want to work for an employer who doesn’t trust them?

If you want to learn more about what leadership styles I do recommend, why not attend my next Leadership Athlete Masterclass?

Every success,



Autocratic Leadership – Key Characteristics, Strengths, and Weaknesses

Autocratic Leadership

Hitler, Genghis Khan, King Henry III, Napoleon Bonaparte, Queen Elizabeth. 

To name a few, these are some of the highly authoritative figures the world has ever known. These are the emblems in the world’s political history who set the standards of autocratic leadership.

Today, if we look at the corporate sector, we have emblems Martha Stewart, Donald Trump, Howell Raines and Leona Helmsley who have certainly become quite the protagonists in the autocratic leadership.


So what is this concept of autocratic leadership? 

Autocratic leadership is also known as the authoritative style of leadership is a special kind of leadership which favors individual control over all decision making.

As the name suggests, it is the type of leadership where a single person takes up the authority of leading and does not concern himself with the group choices, their ideas or judgments.

An autocratic leader makes his own decision which he finds of absolute significance. It is the type of leadership which controls an entire group. 

Just many other leadership styles, autocratic leadership has its strengths and weaknesses. It has certain key characteristics which make this particular leadership style stand apart from other styles. 

However, a general concept that surrounds this leadership style is that autocratic leaders tend to be bossier or dictator type leaders who prefers to keep a bird’s eye view on the entire situation. 

Are you wondering where such leadership style can be really effective? Do you want to understand the Ins and Outs of the Autocratic Leadership style? Here on out, let’s learn all about this leadership style. 

Characteristics of an Autocratic Leader

Many of us are seeking to become leaders, but when it comes to adopting a particular style, we may easily find ourselves trapped in a fix. However, if you’re an autocratic more authoritative styled person, then to become such a leader, there are a few characteristics you should definitely possess.

  • You make all the important decisions 
  • You don’t consider input from team members 
  • You dictate all the working methods and processes
  • You don’t trust your teammates with important decisions
  • You have a highly structured working environment 
  • You discourage creativity and out-of-the-box thinking
  • You want to instigate rules and make sure everyone follows

If you possess all the following traits, this sets you a class apart autocratic leader from the market. 

What are the Benefits of Autocratic Leadership?

An autocratic leader may have quite the negative first impression, but they definitely have a positive impact on the wrong groups and worst situations. When there are situations where you have to make abrupt decisions, an autocratic leader can turn quite beneficial as they don’t confuse the teammates. 

Usually, such leaders don’t bother themselves with consultations with other team members. They own the project, they have the experience, it’s their resources on the line, they only care about the results.

Certain projects require strong leadership, for example, setting up an industrial plant and running its operations or leading a military coup in social war zones or manning a ship or piloting a plane.

These are situations where a single wrong decision can greatly impact the outcomes and can turn the tides in the person’s favor or against him. At such occasions, strong leadership is quite the necessity.


However, to be an autocratic leader, one must possess par excellent knowledge and a tremendous amount of field experience. If you don’t possess either, you are not the one who fits the role of an autocratic leader. As far as where such leadership style display strength is concerned, 

1) Small & Weak Groups where Leadership is Greatly Missing

Autocratic leaders are commonly required in groups where leadership is in dire need. For example, if you’re a part of a small group and nobody is moving in the right direction.

Everybody wants to call the shots but nobody is prepared to take up any responsibility. Such are instances where autocratic leadership is necessary.

A strong leader places individuals in correct formation and extracts the best. 

He ensures that all processes are streamlined and through his knowledge and experience, he can guide them better. It empowers the team members to work at their fullest potential and give results. 

2) Places Where Strong Pressure is Very Much Required

Another place where we can see autocratic leadership making its mark are situations under pressure. For instance, when there is some political unrest within a country or a war going on.

Here autocratic leaders can take charge and particularly handle stressful situations.

Under such leadership, subordinates can focus on accomplishing particular tasks with ease and without much mental effort. 

It allows the group to hone their skills and perform their active duties proficiently. Also, it provides the ultimate benefit which enables them to contribute towards the success of the entire business group. 

3) It Best Suits in Situations Where Rules are Highly Important

There are certain conditions where following the rule greatly matters.

Here, it is important that you have a clear concept on what your task is and you can easily follow the rules to accomplishing them.

With an autocratic leader by your side, you are able to focus on how to achieve those tasks on deadline. They make sure projects are accomplished on time and workers follow all the rules to do so. 

For example, if you’re employed at a construction site and you want to create a building, you need to ensure that your construction workers follow the rules accurately and create the perfect building. 

The Downside of Autocratic Leadership

While autocratic leadership has some astounding benefits, it also has some serious issues which certainly can’t be ignored. People who are autocratic leaders are bossy and dictatorial in nature. 

Bossiness is great for situations; however, it can create some strong resentment among subordinates. 

They have no input or no say in how things are to be done. This can turn problematic when highly skilled and fully capable members are left feeling that their experience and information is undermined.  

Some common problems with autocratic leaders are: 

1) It Discourages Inputs from Groups 

When you are under the rule of an autocratic leader, decision making becomes quite the hassle. It’s because an autocratic leader seldom pays attention to what the group is suggesting on a matter.  

They rely more on their inner intuitions and their vast amount of knowledge on handling operations. They may ask researchers to perform their research and make decisions those researches.

Many autocratic leaders tend to overlook the need of bringing insight from knowledgeable individuals or experts who can bring more authentic solutions to the table. Often they fail to acquire adequate consultation which immensely results in hurting the overall success of the business group.

2) It Has a Detrimental Effect on the Morality of the Group

Individuals feel happy and they perform much better when their morality levels are high. If individuals have low morale, it can seriously hurt their motivation to be productive. Many autocratic leaders do not normally allow input from team members and that can also cause a morality breakdown in teams. 

A good team is one where there exists an open culture. With autocratic leadership, open culture does not exist. 

What Should one Do to Thrive as an Autocratic Leader? 

The autocratic style of leadership is good for certain settings, and if you want to strive as an autocratic leader, there are certain things which are required for individuals to fit in the leadership role.

  • As a leader, it is your duty to establish logical, clear, concise and effective rules. 
  • As a leader, you should be able to provide proper knowledge and tools to achieve goals. 
  • As a leader, you should be a person on whom others can rely on with their tasks. 
  • As a leader, you should have the will to motivate yourself and others to achieve big. 

If you have the following traits up your sleeves, then you can definitely fulfill the role of an autocratic leadership style.

This leadership style might’ve significant pitfalls but it can be quite effective in situations.

If your team members have weak knowledge or they are inexperienced, such leadership style can help you to easily take over the situation and see that the objective is met in due time. 

Do you have what it takes to become an autocratic leader? Share your thoughts with us. 


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