Autocratic leadership is in place at a number of businesses. It is vital to their success because error-free outcomes are consistently necessary. Even though this type of leader is usually one of the most unpopular style that is used, it is common because it generates results.
An autocratic leader demands absolute compliance. You either perform tasks in the way they are ordered, or you discover that you don’t have a job. It is a leadership style that is prevalent in the military, in sports, and in politics.
To sum up this leadership style in one sentence: “It’s my way, or it’s the highway.”
In the past, autocratic leadership was always associated with dictators and tyrants. They used their political power to threaten those beneath them to complete specific tasks, like paying a higher tax rate. In modern theory, it has become a style that is well-suited for businesses which must hire inexperienced employees, but then still must meet quality quotas to maintain their cash inflows.
What Is the Definition of Autocratic Leadership?
The English word autocratic comes from the combination of two Greek words. The literal definition of the word means “self-rule.”
An autocratic leader is the driving force of a team. They are the energy that produces an engine which drives a project forward. They might be the CEO of a company, an entry-level manager, or the mayor of a small town – it doesn’t matter. Their leadership style is self-driven, which helps to drive results in others.
Autocratic leadership is often considered to be an authoritarian leadership style. Although this is not always true, most autocratic leaders make independent decisions without the opinions of others. They rely on their own expertise, not the experiences of their team, to create forward progress on the work which needs to be done.
From a business perspective, that makes sense. You want to manufacture products or offer services that are free from errors. Creating specific guidelines, then ordering compliance, can make this happen.
From a governing standpoint, however, the issue of autocratic leadership is far more ominous. Not only are you requiring the political leader to make every decision, you are putting them into a position where they must always make the correct decision.
If there is one general truth about humanity, it is this: humans are fallible.
The History of Autocratic Leadership
We often use rose-colored glasses to look upon the autocratic leaders we’ve experienced in the past. Some of the most significant events in world history came about because of the actions of an autocratic leader.
Julius Caesar brought the Roman Empire into the role of a global superpower.
John Smith helped to establish the colonies in the New World that would eventually form into the United States.
Henry Ford created an assembly line process which helped to make the automobile affordable for more households, despite the fact that he failed at his first auto startup, the Detroit Automobile Company, in just 18 months.
We find that there are two extremes found in the role of an autocratic leader, even when they are using their position to provide for the general good of others. Julius Caesar brought Rome to prominence through bloody purges of political opponents. Ford brought higher wages to workers, then hired a former Navy boxer to intimidate employees from organizing into a union.
Many people tend to focus on the good that happened with an autocratic leader present, justifying their thoughts by having the “ends justify the means.” That is why a leader like Donald Trump can be immensely popular, even though he lies frequently and is under several investigations. Because his actions are beneficial to some, the “questionable” conduct can be overlooked.
If you’re not sure if a leader is an autocratic leader, you can look for three specific attributes: 1 – a desire to win at all costs; 2 – discipline to get the job done; and 3 – structured preparation to build a team.
Autocratic Leadership in Sports
Most sports teams have a head coach who uses autocratic leadership. You won’t find people like Bill Belichick, Mike Krzyzewski, or Tony LaRussa operating in a democratic fashion with their coaching style.
Can you imagine Bill Belichick going into a team meeting with 5 different plans for an upcoming game, then asking his team to vote on the one they think will be most successful? Or Mike Krzyzewski asking his players to vote on who makes the starting lineup for each basketball game?
Of course not. That is because sports are based on a need to perform specific actions at a specific time. Some head coaches might delegate play calling duties to their quarterback, but the rest of the team follows the play that is called. You do that because there is a need for accuracy and consistency.
If Tom Brady called for a deep throw down the middle, but his linemen decide to block on a slant for a run, the play would have a lower chance for success. That is why autocratic leadership is almost always present in sports at every level – including youth sports, like Little League.
Autocratic Leadership in Business
Most corporations are well-suited for the autocratic leadership style as well. Smaller businesses don’t usually use this type of leadership because they rely on the experiences of everyone to be successful.
Larger businesses, however, will use an autocratic leadership style which starts at the top. Most of today’s biggest companies, such as Walmart, McDonald’s, and Facebook, use this type of leadership within their C-Suite to improve efficiencies.
That is because the structure of autocratic leadership is simple. The leader orders something to be done, so the worker does it. That makes it easier to streamline internal processes, which can turn into a case for long-term survival for the company.
With that being said, there are some industries which are better suited for autocratic leadership than others. Here are some examples.
The Restaurant Industry: When a customer visits a restaurant, they have certain expectations that must be met. Their food must be safe to eat. It must be delivered in a timely fashion. The meal must taste good. They must receive services from the waitstaff that is pleasant and efficient. To meet all of these expectations, an autocratic leadership style is used, beginning with the owner or general manager, then filtering its way down to each employee.
The Defense Industry: The military will often use an autocratic leadership style because soldiers need to rely on instinct and consistency in times of danger. Defense contractors follow the same lead. The equipment that is produced for the military must meet specific quality standards. Those who use these assets must have confidence in the way their equipment operates. With autocratic leadership, the specific manufacturing processes necessary to create that consistency are able to exist.
The Aerospace Industry: Can you imagine boarding an airplane where assembly workers could vote on the quality of the parts that were used for construction? Would you fly in a plane where there was no direct supervision over the quality of the craftsmanship being used? With airplanes flying at an altitude of 35,000 feet or more, you must have error-free processes in place to protect those who use the final products.
In business, there is a need to be adaptable. There are times when a different leadership style is necessary for specific situations. What you will find, however, is that the primary leadership style fallback in large companies is almost always the autocratic leadership style.
Autocratic Leadership in Politics
Although many countries elect their leaders through a democratic process, the general population is electing people who will govern using autocratic leadership.
Take the United States as an example. There are 100 senators and 435 congressional representatives elected to the national government. In Congress, one of their roles is to create legislation that applies to the county as a whole. Once they vote on it, the bill gets sent to the President for a signature.
Then the Supreme Court can weigh-in on the legal validity of that legislation if someone brings a lawsuit challenging it.
Now imagine that the general population would need to vote on every piece of legislation to approve it before it could become law. That is the difference between an autocratic leadership style and a democratic leadership style.
We are asked to follow the laws which are passed at every level (city, county, state, and national) because we have elected people into those governing roles. They tell us what to do, so we do it. If we choose to break a law, then we have consequences to face because of it.
In a democratic leadership style, we’d get to vote on the laws first. If a majority approved of it, then we would all need to follow it. If not, then the law would be rejected, and no one would need to follow it.
That is why the autocratic leadership style is such a powerful one. It is also why the decisions made by these leaders must be right all the time, because they impact everyone.
Keith Miller has over 25 years of experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.
What do Adolf Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte, Queen Elizabeth I, and Vladimir Putin have in common? They are all examples of autocratic leadership—when one leader exercises complete, authoritarian control over a group or organization—or in the case of these famous autocrats, vast empires.What are autocratic skills? ›
Autocratic, or authoritarian leaders, are often described as those with ultimate authority and power over others. These leaders tend to make choices based upon their own ideas alone and do not listen to their team or seek input from others.What is autocratic leadership give an example? ›
Definition: Autocratic leadership is a management style wherein one person controls all the decisions and takes very little inputs from other group members. Autocratic leaders make choices or decisions based on their own beliefs and do not involve others for their suggestion or advice.What are the 3 leadership styles give an example of each? ›
- The autocratic business leader. The autocratic leader understands the strength of authority. ...
- The democratic business leader. A democratic leader encourages the free exchange of ideas throughout the team. ...
- The laissez-faire business leader.
It requires one individual to make all the decisions for others without any input or advice. Famous autocratic leaders include Napoleon Bonaparte, King Henry III, and Queen Elizabeth I. This type of leadership style is helpful during stressful and last-minute circumstances.What is autocracy and examples? ›
In autocratic governments, the power of the ruler is absolute; dissent is not tolerated. For this reason, scholars have often linked autocracy with totalitarian regimes, such as that of Adolf Hitler in Germany and Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union.What is an example of autocratic leadership in school? ›
Authoritarian leaders make decisions independently with little or no input from the rest of the group. For example, if a principal within a school makes a decision for the school without talking to the teachers or getting teacher input, the decision is autocratic.
However, there are some very successful companies who use the autocratic style to great effect, with McDonalds being one of them. In this case, McDonalds don't ask for suggestions or input from employees on any decisions the business makes or when it comes to changing working practices.Is Bill Gates an autocratic leader? ›
Bill Gates adopted an autocratic leadership style in the early years of Microsoft to ensure the company grew at the pace that he had envisioned. Autocratic leaders believe that the best way to manage their team is to control the way they do their work.Who is an example of a autocratic leader in sport? ›
(silver, example) In sports a referee is autocratic because they must make fast decisions and not go back on them, if they do players will think them weak and argue.
- Strong Character. Leaders with strong character earn the respect of their peers. ...
- Committed, Swift Decision Making. ...
- Available When You Need Them. ...
- Additional Resources.
Lewin identified three styles of leadership: Autocratic, Democratic, and Laissez-faire. Over time, more leadership styles have emerged, and one that is commonly grouped in with Lewin's three is Transformational Leadership.What are the 4 types of leadership skills? ›
The four leadership styles managers use are autocratic, democratic, laissez-faire, and paternalistic, and each will be most effective depending on particular situations. Autocratic leadership is a style in which the leader has complete control and makes all decisions.What is an example of authoritarian leadership? ›
Authoritarian leadership involves absolute control over a task or group. Authoritarian leadership examples include Bill Gates and President John F. Kennedy.Is Jeff Bezos autocratic? ›
Jeff Bezos leans heavily toward the autocratic leadership style. One book reports that Bezos exhibits some straightforward signs of autocratic leadership, including: Bezos frequently overrules a lot of decisions, even among the top minds on his team.Is Elon Musk a autocratic leader? ›
Elon Musk exemplifies the creative side of autocratic leadership. While Musk's business ventures have been driven by his unique vision, Musk takes very little input and often makes impulse decisions that haven't been vetted by team members.Is Steve Jobs an autocratic leader? ›
'Steve Jobs' leadership style was autocratic; he had a meticulous eye for detail, and surrounded himself with like-minded people to follow his lead. ' His creative awareness, his 'meticulous eye for detail', was clearly a driving force in Apple's success.What are 3 different types of autocracies? ›
Absolute monarchy (such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Brunei and Eswatini) and dictatorships are the main modern day forms of autocracy. Oligarchy, meaning "rule of the few", is a form of power structure in which power rests with a small number of people.What other examples of autocracy do you know of? ›
- The Soviet Union while ruled by Joseph Stalin.
- Italy while ruled by Benito Mussolini.
- Japan while ruled by Hirohito.
- Germany while ruled by Adolf Hitler.
- China while ruled by Mao Zedong.
- Cuba while ruled by Fidel Castro.
- Venezuela while ruled by Nicolas Maduro.
- Russia while ruled by Vladimir Putin.
An autocratic person or organization has complete power and makes decisions without asking anyone else's advice.
According to a leadership theory formulated in 1978, there are two leaders, transactional and transformational. The man behind Starbucks applies the latter. Transformational leaders inspire their team and encourage members to develop as individuals and be part of a collective team to work towards achieving objectives.Is Disney autocratic? ›
Another example of his autocratic leadership style was the lack of decision making by the employees. Walt Disney was known to fire people on the spot if they disagreed with his final decision; however, at the same time he would ask for input from an employee occasionally.What type of leadership style does Coca Cola have? ›
We believe that everyone at Coca-Cola has the capacity to lead, and everyone should be able to see some aspect of themselves within the leadership definition. Leaders at Coca-Cola Commit to: Be the Role Model, Set the Agenda, and Help People Be Their Best Selves.What are examples of autocracy? ›
Examples of autocracy
The Soviet Union while ruled by Joseph Stalin. Italy while ruled by Benito Mussolini. Japan while ruled by Hirohito. Germany while ruled by Adolf Hitler.
In autocratic governments, the power of the ruler is absolute; dissent is not tolerated. For this reason, scholars have often linked autocracy with totalitarian regimes, such as that of Adolf Hitler in Germany and Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union.What are the two types of autocratic? ›
An autocracy is a government in which one person has all the power. There are two main types of autocracy: a monarchy and a dictatorship.Who is an autocrat and what does he do? ›
An autocrat is a person in authority who has complete power.What are the advantages of autocracy? ›
- Decision-making. Faster and easy decisions come about because the leaders do not face opposition. ...
- Easier Goal Setting. When one person or a few people who are like-minded set goals, it is easy to focus and offer direction. ...
- Increased Efficiency. ...
- Clarity in Line of Authority. ...
- Obvious Path-setting.
Tim Cook took over the job of CEO of Apple from Steve Jobs in 2011 and has now helmed the company for over a decade. His managerial style is said to be democratic, in sharp contrast to Jobs's autocratic style. Cook fosters cooperation among Apple's talent and encourages consensus-building among high-level employees.Is Jeff Bezos autocratic or democratic? ›
Is Jeff Bezos an autocratic or democratic leader? Jeff Bezos leans heavily toward the autocratic leadership style. One book reports that Bezos exhibits some straightforward signs of autocratic leadership, including: Bezos frequently overrules a lot of decisions, even among the top minds on his team.