Autocratic Leadership- The Complete Guide


Leading a group of people is a complex responsibility. To make an impact in society, a leader ought to choose the most appropriate method of leadership to produce the best possible results for a given environment and people. What is Autocratic Leadership?

Autocratic leadership uses the top-down approach to influence and guide followers towards a specific goal. Leaders who adopt this style entirely depend on themselves and use their own knowledge when making decisions or solving problems. Let’s review this leadership style in detail.

Characteristics of Autocratic Leadership


There is a clear chain of command on the flow of activities and responsibilities. The clear reporting lines ensure the smooth flow of operations. There is strict supervision of people and activities. This reduces the time taken to complete activities as everyone is aware of their part. 


Team members do not participate in the decision-making process since the leaders depend on themselves the majority of the time. There is limited interaction with the leader and oftentimes even with other members of the team. Everyone is focused on the processes and systems that have been put in place to facilitate operations as opposed to social interaction.


The leader is aware of almost all aspects of the operations since they have to make independent decisions. This leader has to be extremely skilled and knowledgeable if they are going to be on top of things. They are also multi-taskers as they manage and organize several activities and issues by themselves.


The transfer of information tends to be one-sided, that is top-down approach, from the leader to the people and not the other way round. This communication is often very concise to avoid debates or queries from the people. There is no consultation during policy development and instructions are dictated to the team.

Decision Making

There is a quick selection and implementation of the course of action to be taken in a particular situation because there is little or no consultation. Assembling groups to do anything takes a lot of time hence the autocratic leader avoids it. Courses of actions developed in this manner can be very subjective as they are geared towards operations and not people. They are result-oriented with a focus on business needs instead of employee needs. 


This is curtailed among team members. They are required to adopt decisions and actions as they are dictated to them without any adjustments. They have to follow rules and regulations to the letter without any inconsistencies. Team members are operational “tools” used to implement ideas and undertake tasks as opposed to influencers.


These leaders nurture a high-performance environment and teams. Membership to the team is dependent on their ability to achieve desired results in the shortest time possible. This is a high-pressure environment that does not tolerate weaknesses, gaps, or delays. Both the leader and team maintain high-performance levels on a daily basis and in every undertaking. They maintain high standards in quality and quantity at all levels of operations. Rules and regulations are of extreme importance to this leader as one cannot achieve excellence without a high level of discipline.


This leader is basically micromanaging their environment and people. The team cannot make decisions hence they have to wait for direction and guidance. There is no creativity or innovation from the team members because protocols have to be followed. The outcome of such a work culture is a high dependency on the leader. No one or nothing can move without them. In their absence, operations are stalled if not entirely cease unless instructions are left behind on the course of action to take while they are away. Therefore, this leader has to plan way in advance and anticipate problems to overcome this limitation within their team.


The leaders understand very well that everyone depends on them as a result; they have to meet expectations and protect their environment. These leaders have a clear understanding of their environment and requirements to make it successful. They have great ideas that they break down into tasks for the team members to execute, in essence making it palatable for them. They describe these ideas in detail and provide the necessary resources for them to be achieved. They even go a step further to demonstrate some elements of the operations to the team members in order to enhance adoption levels and reduce inconsistencies. This makes the team have a better understanding of both the concept and methodology.


These leaders have a firm belief in their abilities and intellect. Their mere presence in a room exudes a sense of power and authority. If you’re going to be independent, you might as well have complete trust in yourself. This gives the team a sense of stability and security because they believe the leadership is more knowledgeable than them and has resolved numerous situations single-handedly in the past. This kind of leader is rarely idle, they are constantly researching and looking for ways to meet the next target and/or solve the eminent challenge.

Proponents of Autocratic Leadership Concept

Abraham Lincoln

He was the 16th American President who also adopted the autocratic leadership style during his political term in office. However, he only used this method when the need arose. Such a need presented itself during the American Civil War between 1861 – 1865 where he made independent decisions and actions to resolve the situation. In 1863 he issued the Emancipation Proclamation that abolished drudge and its trade in America.

Genghis Khan 

He was the Emperor of the Mongolia State in Asia and he lived from 1162 to 1227. He was extremely loyal to his people but ironically he was vicious and ruthless to enemies. He removed the aristocracy titles that existed in Asia at that time in the territories conquered by his soldiers. He instilled strict rules in his territory and most of these rules favored the protection of women. He was against cowardice behavior and men who refused to go to war were expected to provide free Labour to his government.

Napoleon Bonaparte

He was a French military and political leader from 1799 – 1804. He led successful military campaigns during the French Revolution. His autocratic side came in, especially when working on military strategies. He did this without consulting anyone yet they were successful in expanding his territories.

King Henry III 

He was the King of England from 1216 – 1272 and he used the autocratic concept in his reign. He was authoritative and controlled his kingdom through enormous force. He ruled directly instead of using senior ministers in the monarchy. He had a negative attitude towards the Jews in his Kingdom and violated many of their rights such as making them were a band of shame to identify them in public and even taking money from them indiscriminately.

Queen Elizabeth I 

She was the Queen of England from 1558 – 1603 and she was one of the greatest monarchs in the country’s history. Her autocratic tendencies were demonstrated when she introduced a state church to neutralize the division between the Catholics and Protestants at the time. She did not tolerate any competition towards her power and authority. For instance, she ordered the killing of her great foe Mary the Queen of Scotland.

Adolf Hitler

He was a German political leader from 1933 to 1945 and affiliated with the Nazi political party. His method of leadership during his reign was autocratic and he was an extreme dictator. Authority ultimately rested with him and he was strict with his hierarchical chain of command. He was always hungry for power and this led to his political strategies that all utilized the autocratic concept which transformed Germany into a totalitarian state. During his leadership, he initiated World War II by invading Poland. He was also responsible for the world’s large-scale genocide by killing Jews in the concentration camps as prisoners of war.

Bill Gates

He is the co-founder of Microsoft Corporation an International Software Company established in 1975. He used the autocratic concept during the inception of the company since he wanted the company to grow according to the pace he had planned. 

Vladimir Putin 

He became the President of Russia in 2012 and a former Russian Intelligence Officer. He is considered to be autocratic due to the strict laws presently existing in the country. 

Elon Musk 

He is the founder and CEO of SpaceX, a company that designs, manufactures, and launches advanced rockets and space crafts established in 2002. He has founded and is managing several other companies. He also uses the autocratic leadership style in running his businesses. He is extremely innovative, works alone, and does not ask or take suggestions easily from people around him. 

Martha Stewart

She is an American business owner, writer, and television personality. She manages her business operations and has a high work ethic. She is keen on details and demanding of her staff. She became a billionaire in 1999 when her company Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia went public and she has enjoyed her success since then. 

Application Areas of Autocratic Leadership 


The military is often referred to as disciplined forces demonstrating the high standards and value they have on rules and regulations. To achieve such a high level of discipline, high control, and elaborate structures are required.

Correctional Facilities

Their practices and belief systems are more or less similar to the military. They are characterized by order, control, strict laws, and protection. Autocratic leadership is needed here to maintain these standards and work ethic.


These industries deal with a lot of routine activities that help them produce the right quality of products for customers. The products have to be standardized to reduce customer complaints. They also have to be produced in large volumes or units to meet the demand and supply in the market. This requires synchronization of operations and low error margins. Hence the need for the autocratic leadership style.


The risks associated with this industry are enormous and owners of these businesses have to be extra careful to avoid litigation cases and negative publicity. They have to operate in compliance with safety and health regulations to protect both the workers and clients. Miscalculations in any area could mean the loss of human life. Therefore, they have to practice high ethical and quality standards on a routine basis. The teams have to be monitored strictly and high performance is required.


Any profession directly dealing with the preservation of human life will always be under scrutiny for compliance. They are held to high standards by their regulatory bodies and members of the public. There is no room for error since this could mean permanent disability, incapacity, or death of their patients. Therefore, they have to be extra vigilant while working and observe the highest level of standards in all areas. Keen monitoring is essential here once again.

Advantages of Autocratic Leadership 

  1. There is high productivity from the leader and teams. This is because they have an effective and efficient work ethic. 
  2. The leader and teams are highly organized due to their structured operations and chain of command.
  3. There is effective monitoring of activities since there are clear reporting lines and processes.
  4. The leader and teams have a high level of discipline and regulations are religiously adhered to, to ensure a smooth flow of operations.
  5. These teams register high goal attainment levels because their performance is closely monitored and corrective actions are implemented quickly.
  6. The authority is highly centralized and power is concentrated at the top. They have complete control of actions and decisions. 
  7. There is effective utilization of resources since materials, equipment, machines, and people are closely monitored. The people are focused on the results and operations. 
  8. These leaders and teams are reliable as they have mastered their environment, operations, and activities. High discipline and performance sustain this. 
  9. There is high accountability with both the leader and teams. This is due to the high expectations placed on them to deliver results and reduce inconsistencies. 

Disadvantages of Autocratic Leadership

  1. The team members may resist change since often they are not consulted and the focus is on company needs and not their well-being. 
  2. There is little or no teamwork in this environment because the rules and regulations often restrict social interaction and emphasize operational processes.
  3. There is high turnover due to team dissatisfaction and apathy. Working in such a highly controlled environment can be psychologically and physically challenging.
  4. The teams have distrust for their leader since all aspects of the operations are centralized and their needs are not considered. Information is also not freely shared by the leader who often operates in secrecy.
  5. There is a tendency to violate human rights and harassment of team members. This is because the leaders are autonomous and their actions are unabated. Plus the high demand for results fosters these tendencies.
  6. The environment is highly restrictive and social interactions are limited most of the time. Everything is as per schedule and inconsistencies are not tolerated. 
  7. The operations and teams are highly mechanical. The people are reduced to robots that are programmed to perform a function without asking questions or getting tired. More focus is placed on the proper functioning of the systems and the flow of activities.
  8. There is low morale among the teams. They are demotivated by the method of leadership used. They don’t participate or interact freely and they are often reprimanded for errors.
  9. There is a high dependency on leaders since they control all operational aspects. No decisions or actions can be made without them as there is little or no sharing.
  10. The leader does not delegate their strategic responsibilities to their teams. They manage everything by themselves.
  11. There are high burnout rates with both the leader and teams. The leader oversees every operational detail without delegating which is a strenuous routine. On the other hand, the teams get fatigued due to the high standards of performance required.

Managing Autocratic Led Teams


There should be mutual respect between the leader and teams. There should be due regard for the feelings, wishes, and rights of the team members. Even though results are important, the environment in which they are generated should be free from intimidation. Rules and regulations should not be enforced with excessive force; instead, the leader should provide their vision in a manner that enlightens the team members to influence their support. When people have a proper understanding of their roles and contribution to a cause, they become more receptive to the methodology for achieving the results. The leader should recognize that human beings are not perfect and they are prone to errors. Hence, discipline measures should be reasonable and regulations developed should accommodate common human tendencies. All employees deserve appropriate and fair treatment; this should be practiced by the autocratic leader if they are going to be successful in leading teams. While results are important in any undertaking, the undertakers need to know that they are valuable and important in the process in order to reduce resistance.


The leader should acknowledge and celebrate in some way the achievements realized by the teams. They should not be quick to reprimand them when they fail but do not put as much effort into identifying their contribution when success is realized. The leaders should practice giving rewards, compliments, and opportunities for professional development. This improves the morale and self-esteem of the team members which ultimately makes them enjoy their jobs and reduce high turnovers. It also improves performance and productivity which translates to profits and revenues. 


The leader should be predictable for this type of leadership style to be successful. This will create a sense of stability and security for the team they are leading. This leadership method is often threatening; hence you do not want to make the team even more apprehensive by surprising them every day and changing routines frequently that they can’t get a grasp on things. The team members develop negative emotional tendencies since the work environment is frustrating, such a worker will be highly unproductive and confrontational. The element of surprise will negatively influence the operations as no one understands the expectations and they are prone to more errors than usual. Predictive behavior builds trust among team members by reducing tension and apathy levels. Routines make people nurture skills more effectively. This not only improves the mastery level of the teams but also their performance and productivity which again improves the profits, revenue, and reputation levels.


The leader should not only share their vision but also the methodology of turning the vision into reality. This is the only guarantee that the team will meet their expectation influencing overall success levels. The leader should make an effort to arrange training sessions when projects come up and when new processes and/or systems are introduced. This will improve the understanding and adoption levels of the teams making them more efficient and effective in their roles. Through this process, the teams improve their level of knowledge and add to their pool of already acquired skills. This makes them competent in their areas of specialization and is an asset to the organization. A leader wants to be surrounded by professionals that need little or no supervision to enhance goal attainment, productivity, and staff recognition. This can only be achieved by investing in the training programs for your teams.


The leader needs to frequently and routinely interact with the teams in order to identify current status and future organizational needs. The team members are the ones on the ground, they know problematic and opportunity areas, this is the reason the leader needs to value and promote professional debates with them. Constant communication makes the teams have a better understanding of the leader’s vision; which increases their support for the leader and motivates them to work hard towards achieving these goals. It also increases the team’s engagement level and helps in building trust in order to get support and commitment from the team. Communication keeps the team informed of the progress levels and reduces conflict among them so that they can better focus on their roles and performance.


Autocratic leadership is also known as authoritarian leadership involves total control of activities and people. The proponents believe that without strict monitoring results are rarely achieved in the required timeline or manner. Thus, workers must be closely monitored or supervised to ensure they don’t lose track of themselves or the operations. This leadership style can be easily abused by a person in charge since they remain autonomous in decision-making and actions. However, when properly executed success levels are incredible.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What are the two main types of autocratic governments?

The two types of autocratic governments are dictatorship and monarchy

  1. What are the three most common types of autocracy?

The three types of autocracy are despotism, oligarchy, and fascism

Autocratic Leadership- The Complete Guide

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