Autocratic leadership centralizes power in the hands of the leader and democratic leadership divides power between leader and followers. This difference defines the appropriate style for a company, based on its profile.
What kind of leader would you like to be or have in your company? There are many possible styles and among them are autocratic leadership and democratic leadership. What do you know about these concepts?
You probably already know what leadership is and understand that, nowadays, having someone who performs this function well is essential for the company’s competitiveness and its results. The leader is the one who influences the employees to do what they want and always in the best way possible.
To understand if your company needs an autocratic leader or a democratic leader, keep reading to learn more about it!
Autocratic leadership and its characteristics
Autocratic and democratic leadership are often compared when it comes to different ways of leading. We live in a period in which the idea of making more space for employees to actively participate takes the focus away from the idea of the autocratic leader.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you don’t need to know what the autocratic leadership style is and what its advantages and disadvantages are. After all, as we will see later, each company has its own dynamics that determine the appropriate path to be followed.
The Priberam dictionary’s definition of autocracy is: “1. Absolute power; 2. Government of one, with no more law than his will”. Therefore, when we talk about autocratic leadership, we are talking about a situation in which the control for decision-making is in the hands of only one person.
This person is the leader, someone who rarely solicits the opinion of others, especially those of his subordinates. For that reason, he tends to make decisions based on his own understanding of each situation and goal.
Low employee participation
In autocratic leadership, it is the leader who defines the methods and procedures to be adopted in the work routine. This is because employees have little space to share their thoughts and contribute to any strategic changes in processes.
With that in mind, let’s look at an example of authoritarian leadership. As you know, article 58 of the Consolidation of Labor Laws (CLT) determines that “the normal duration of work, for employees in any private activity, will not exceed 8 hours a day, provided that no other limit is expressly set”.
Based on this limit, the autocratic leader can even ask his employees at what time it is best to start the journey, at 7 am or 8 am, for example. However, instead of opting for the majority’s preference, the leader can simply make the choice he thinks is best.
Structured and rigid work process
Being the only one to define how the work process should be, those who exercise autocratic leadership tend to present well-structured procedural definitions to employees. Yet, it tends to be rigid in its compliance, giving little or no room for variation;
To make sure that the processes are being conducted the way he wants, the autocratic leader closely monitors the routine of the employees. This makes him himself have a high and demanding workload.
None of this happens without reason. Autocratic management follows a dynamic in which one gives orders and the others obey them. With control in the hands of the leader, he has almost complete responsibility for the results obtained by his team, whether they are positive or negative.
It has to be that way because, as mentioned, the decisions are up to him and, therefore, it is fair that the leader be held accountable for the consequences that these decisions produce.
With what has been said so far, it may seem that the dynamic leads us to a context of “everything for the leader and nothing for the subordinates”, but it is not quite so.
In autocratic leadership, the work of employees is recognized. It is precisely because of the rigid structure that a well-defined reward system is created to keep professionals motivated.
In other words, in order to withstand the pressure, workers are presented with benefits that they can earn if they fulfill their role well. We talk, for example, about bonuses (financial recognition), awards and others.
The advantages and disadvantages of autocratic leadership
Every leadership style has positives and negatives, and this would be no different with autocratic leadership.
Advantages of the autocratic leadership style
The characteristics of autocratic leadership today make this style less and less popular. However, we can highlight the following advantages:
- Speed in decision making
If the leader does not need to rely on the opinion of others to make decisions, implement changes or define actions, the process becomes much faster.
This is because it tends to be easier to organize the ideas of a single person and take them as a basis, without having to evaluate different counterpoints, to make a decision.
As a result, the company can save time and have a more efficient work dynamic.
- Suitable for times of crisis
Eventually, every company has to deal with crisis situations, be they less or more serious. In general, it is common that what is out of the routine causes fanfare, stress and insecurity and autocratic leadership can be a good answer.
If decisions are centered on the leader, it is up to him to find and point out the ways to solve the problem. This tends to make team members under your command feel safer and less stressed, which positively impacts their performance in the face of crisis.
- Improves the performance of inexperienced or low-skilled teams
Teams with little experience or with low qualifications tend to have more difficulty acting autonomously. It is more common for them to get lost in the middle of processes and not know for sure which paths to follow to complete each stage of their work with efficiency and quality.
To deal with this, autocratic leadership is a good strategy. In this style, the leader gives orders and closely monitors the conduct of processes. As such, he points out exactly what needs to be done and oversees each step to ensure they are carried out correctly.
As a result, those being led tend to gain knowledge, experience and qualifications to perform their duties, generating better results.
- It favors the specialization of the led
In the autocratic leadership style, decision-making is the exclusive responsibility of the leader, leaving employees to focus on the bureaucratic tasks of their work. As a result, these employees tend to specialize more and more in the fulfillment of their duties.
What’s more, experienced professionals who can focus on the tasks they specialize in tend to work with agility, being more productive for the company.
Disadvantages of an autocratic leadership style
So that you can put the information in the balance and make your analysis of autocratic leadership, we also need to go through the disadvantages that the style presents:
- Great dependence on the leader
Have you ever heard the saying “nobody is irreplaceable”? Managers who value their companies’ human capital know that finding equal replacements for their best employees can be a very difficult task.
However, eventually, it may be necessary to find someone to replace someone who plays a role as strategic as leadership, even if only momentarily.
So imagine the weight of dependency that autocratic leadership creates when all decisions about methods, processes, evaluation systems, and more go through a single person.
In a temporary absence, the difficulty of dealing with the situation tends to be considerable, if the company needs to replace the professional, it will probably have to undergo a restructuring based on the ideas and evaluations of the new leader.
- Less organizational development
The disadvantage presented above is related to an obstacle arising from low organizational development. With employees focused only on the bureaucratic part of their jobs, the development of relational skills is not benefited.
As a result, the company can hardly see which of its employees have the potential to assume higher positions. Something that meets the need to find a replacement for the leader and make the transition smoother, to the point of having less impact on the organization’s routine and results.
- Little appreciation of knowledge and little innovation
If employees are hardly heard or if their considerations are not taken into account in autocratic leadership, their knowledge is undervalued and understimulated.
The absence of challenges, the lack of opportunity for growth , is among the common reasons for resignation requests. So, if there is little room for the employee to get involved and develop, their willingness to continue in the organization may decrease over time.
Furthermore, following the leader’s mind only in the autocratic leadership style, the company has little room to change and innovate. Creativity tends to be left aside, giving space to systematization based on a rigid and well-defined work structure.
- Greater risk in decisions
It is also necessary to keep in mind that if decisions are not taken collectively, there is a greater chance that the result will not be positive. This is because unilateral decisions may not cover the whole or the majority, nor consider all factors to guide actions and processes.
Let’s go back to the example given about defining the time for the beginning of the workday. If most employees said they prefer the day to start at 8 am, but the leader maintains the 7 am schedule, they may have to deal with frequent delays, demotivation, and high turnover .
- Possibility of disagreements
Finally, when subordinates’ opinions are not heard or taken into account—that is, when they realize that whatever they say, the leader will decide based on his or her own criteria—there can be resentment.
This resentment can affect performance, productivity and even generate disagreements between leader and team members. All of this negatively affects the organizational climate and can also impact the way employees, in general, view the company.