An authoritarian leadership style occurs when a leader controls and directs all activities, dictates procedures and policies, and decides what objectives are to be achieved without any meaningful participation by his subordinates. With full control over his team, leaving low autonomy within the group, the leader should have a vision in mind and should be able to motivate his members effectively to complete certain tasks. On the other hand, the group should get the job done, but under very close supervision of the leader who has unlimited authority. Team members’ responses to the orders the receive are then either rewarded or punished.
Commonly referred to as autocratic leaders, authoritarian leaders, sometimes but not always, provide clear expectations for what needs to be done, how it should be done and when it should be done. Under this type of leadership, there will be a clear divide between leaders and followers.
These leaders independently make decisions with little or no input from their members and would uphold stringent control by directly regulating actions, methodologies and rules. Typically, they build a certain distance or gap between themselves and their subordinates with the purpose of stressing role distinctions.
Historically, the authoritarian leadership style dates back to the earliest empires and tribes, but now, it is often used when there is little room for error in certain jobs, like those in the manufacturing and construction sectors. Typically, it fosters little creativity in decision-making, and according to experts, is more difficult to move to a democratic style than vice versa. It is best applied to situations where there is little time for group discussion, but can be seen as abused due to the aspects, like being bossy, controlling and dictatorial.
Authoritarian leaders generally believe that their followers require close and direct supervision all the time, or else efficient performance will not be achieved. This belief is in accordance with one of the philosophical views of humankind by Douglas McGregor, called Theory X, which proposes that it is the role of leaders to control and coerce followers, as people naturally have an inherent aversion for work and would abstain from it whenever possible. The theory also contends that people must be compelled through authority, intimidation and force, and must be directed, controlled or even threatened with punishment in order for them to accomplish the organizational needs. So, in the minds of authoritarian leaders, subordinates who are given autonomy to work would ultimately be unproductive.
Leaders and supervisors would observe downward, one-way communication towards their followers or subordinates, and would control discussions. They would dominate interaction and independently or unilaterally sets procedures and policies. Without offering constant feedback, these leaders would individually direct the completion of tasks, rewards acquiescent obedient behavior, but punishes erroneous actions. In some cases, they can be poor listeners and might use conflict for individual gain.
Incorporating Authoritarian Leadership
To be effective, authoritarian leaders should explain the rules properly to allow their subordinates to complete the task at hand efficiently. They should be consistent, so if they are to enforce rules and regulations, they should do it regularly, so they shall be taken seriously, forming a stronger level of trust. Also, they should respect their subordinates and always recognize their efforts and achievements. When it comes to enforcing rules, they should educate personnel beforehand, so it will not lead to surprises that can lead to problems in the future due to poor or false communication. Furthermore, they should also listen to suggestions from team members even if they cannot incorporate them.
It has been observed that the authoritarian leadership style can increase productivity when leader is present and can produce more accurate solutions when the leader is knowledgeable. It is more accepted positively in larger groups and enhances performance on simple tasks. However, it is also known to decrease performance on complex tasks and even increases aggression levels among subordinates. Nevertheless, this type of leadership is often seen effective when there is urgency to complete a task and for improving the future work of staff whose skills are not quite helpful or applicable without the demands of another.
Pros and Cons
Some of the main characteristics of the authoritarian leadership style include little or no input from group members, leaders making the decisions and dictating all the work processes and methods, group members rarely trusted with important tasks or decisions. Considering these factors, here are the pros and cons of this type of leadership:
As previously mentioned, this type of leadership is beneficial in situations where decisions should be made quickly without consulting a large group of people. After all, some projects require strong leadership to get things done quickly but efficiently.
If you have ever worked with a group on a project that got derailed by lack of leadership, poor organization and inability to set deadlines, then your job performance should have suffered as a result. In such a situation, a strong leader who uses an authoritarian style should have taken charge of your group, assigned tasks to members and established solid deadlines for your project to be completed.
This leadership style is also effective in stressful situations, such as military conflicts, as it allows members of a group to focus on performing specific tasks without thinking about making complicated decisions. In return, it would also allow them to become highly skilled at performing certain duties.
While the authoritarian style of leadership is beneficial at times, there are also instances where it can be problematic. Autocratic leaders who abuse their authority are often viewed as controlling, dictatorial and bossy, which can lead to resentment among their members. Because these leaders make decisions without any consultation, team members might dislike the fact that they are not able to contribute their ideas. According to research, this type of leadership often results in a lack of creative solutions to problems, which can ultimately hurt group performance.
Nevertheless, while authoritarian leadership does have some potential pitfalls, it can be used wisely. For instance, it can be employed when the leader is most knowledgeable or has access to information that other members do not.
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