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Authoritarian Leadership - also known as Autocratic Leadership Style

Overview of Authoritarian Style of Leadership

In 1939, Kurt Lewin led a group of researchers that studied the responses of school children when lead by leaders characterized as authoritarian, democratic or laissez-faire leaders.


Also known as the autocratic leadership style, the authoritarian style is characterized by the fact that the leader himself will answer the "what", "when", and "how" questions, without any considerations from his subordinates. In contrast to the servant leadership style, the authoritative leader will only think of their employees as a means to an end. As a result, the leader will ensure that the information, source of power, is closely graded and its distribution is carefully controlled.


One could wonder if there is actually a miss-conception about the authoritarian or autocratic leadership style. In the sense, that some would make the claim that leading by yelling, threats and abuse of power is rather an unprofessional style that doesn't belong within a leader's repertoire of styles. Other, would qualify these individuals as using an extreme version of the authoritative leadership style! Regardless of who is right or wrong, one thing is certain those yelling, making threats and abusing their power are not only ineffective, but are exposing themselves as well as the organization to legal issues.

In a lesser extreme, authoritarian leader are still capable of being very successful leader when the situation calls for such a style. I've discuss it in the autocratic leadership style article as well as provided some word of caution. However, authoritarian leaders that are motivated by a lack of self-confidence, insecurity or a feeling of inferiority won't be successful authoritarian leaders, as their subordinates will quickly discover the leader's motive.

Apart from the negative connotation to the term, there is a possibility of having a "smart" authoritarian leader, one that will command with certainty and provide unquestionable directions; however, he will do so because the situation call for it and not to feed is sense of superiority. For example, when a first respondent arrives at the scene of an accident, the leader of the group will use an authoritarian or autocratic leadership style to save your life! Thus, to measure the appropriateness of the usage, one should look at the motivation of the leader for using the style.


The authoritarian or autocratic leadership style as been the object of many studies, hence, we do understand when to use it and when not too! However, there appears to be a disconnect between human emotional states that would encourage an involuntary, for the most part, use of an authoritarian style, in other words when we feel stressed and organizational reality. The famous business line of "Do more with less" implicitly favours today's leaders to direct more and listen less. In addition, looking at the job posting online will reinforce this view, as employers are demanding more and more technical knowledge for their leadership positions. Consequently, contributing to an organizational culture where the leaders are experts within the area of expertise of the organization, favouring a prolonged an inappropriate use of the authoritarian or autocratic leadership style.

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