Authoritarian Leadership Guide: Definition, Qualities, Pros & Cons, Examples
“Nobody is going to delegate a lot of power to a secretary that they can’t control.” – Michael Bloomberg
Authoritarian, or autocratic, leadership tends to be viewed rather negatively, even though it is among the most common leadership styles in the business world. The term creates a negative image in most minds; an idea of dictators and tyrants. The images are directly translated into the world of leadership, even though authoritarian leadership can have much to offer.
In this guide, we will examine the main concepts behind authoritarian leadership and study the core characteristics of the style and the leaders who use it. We’ll also delve into the advantages and disadvantages of the framework, before looking at examples of authoritarian leaders with their weaknesses and strengths.
UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENT CONTEXTS OF AUTHORITARIAN LEADERSHIP
To understand authoritarian leadership and how it works, you should study the history of it. While authoritarianism has been around for a long time, the idea of didn’t form into an official leadership style until the publication of a few major studies. The work of Resis Likert and Douglas McGregor has heavily influenced the birth and popularity of the leadership style.
Rensis Likert’s study of leadership
In the 1960s, an American social psychologist Rensis Likert developed a model describing different management and leadership styles. He and his colleagues set out to identify how leader’s communicate with subordinates and what behaviors help improve the productivity of industrial organizations.
The Liker four-fold model of leadership styles was based on observational and question-based research, with the experiment taking three decades to conclude. The findings are neatly summarized in the below image:
The above management styles are also often referred to as:
- System 1 – Exploitative authoritative
- System 2 – Benevolent authoritative
- System 3 – Consultative
- System 4 – Participative
As you can see, the focus of the four styles is on how it deals with power and decision-making. At the other end, you have the more participatory styles, where subordinates are able to be part of the process, either through decision-making or consultation. But the other end describes the authoritarian model, where the responsibility lies in the hands of the leader.
According to Likert’s findings, the authoritative leadership can either manifest as an exploitative or benevolent. In the former style, the leader takes control because lack of trust in the subordinates. In order to achieve goals, the leader assumes responsibility of guiding the subordinates towards the objectives. Furthermore, the leader motivates the subordinates to act solely through a punishment structure. Likert’s studies showed that people under the framework are able to operate functionally because they are afraid of the reprisal.
But the authoritative or authoritarian style can be more benevolent as well. Again, the leader is in charge of the decision-making, with the power structure built around a conventional hierarchical model. But there is a bit more trust in the subordinates, with the motivation stemming from rewards rather than punishment. Instead of getting subordinates to complete tasks through the fear of being fired, for example, the leader is using positive rewards. This is generally something like a financial gain, such as a bonus for meeting sales targets.
Although Likert’s findings preferred the participative leadership model as the most productive style, with the highest subordinate satisfaction levels, the authoritarian model can also work. Satisfaction under the benevolent authoritative style remained moderate and production was measured to be good. Furthermore, studies conducted by Hay and McBer have later discovered the authoritative leader to have the most positive impact on productivity and job satisfaction.
Douglas McGregor and Theory X
The above already pointed out a key theory behind the authoritarian leadership style: the emphasis on motivation. In the 1960s, social psychologist Douglas McGregor published his theories on human motivation and how leadership can use it to drive results. McGregor came up with the contrasting theories: Theory Y and Theory X. From these two motivational explanations, the Theory X is relevant to authoritarian leadership.
According to the Theory X, subordinates are naturally unmotivated. Work is not a pleasant thing for the subordinates and it isn’t something they are actively interested in pursuing. In a sense, work is a “necessarily evil” for Theory X subordinates. Due to the lack of motivation, the subordinates are:
- Likely to avoid responsibility -> requiring careful direction from the leaders
- Likely to need supervision -> the leader needs to control, force and even threaten the subordinates to get results
- Likely to have no ambition or incentive to achieve at work ->the subordinates need a strong reward or punishment structure to push themselves forward
McGregor found that the authoritarian model, where decision-making is centralized in the hands of the leader and worker supervision is enhanced, works the best in producing results. Since the subordinates are not naturally interested in achieving results, control and authority must be established to ensure an organizational efficiency. For the Theory X type of subordinate, the leader’s ability to influence and motivate is key.
If people are not interested in work and they are relatively unambitious, then the authoritarian leadership style isn’t considered a negative. For people with these qualities, the increased direction and the lack of power are actually beneficial and make their work experience more pleasant. Therefore, the authoritarian style can make them feel more relaxed and motivated.
In addition, the subordinates are strongly motivated by rewards or the fear of punishment. The subordinate is looking for job security above anything else, the ambition is not to climb up the career ladder or achieve wild dreams. Therefore, being told what to do in a directive manner provides the security they seek. The leadership style ensures they are able to do the job and that they have the support and supervision available to limit their risk of making a mistake. The burden of responsibility is not there to paralyze the subordinates.
Similar to Likert’s theory, McGregor also found there to be two spectrums of the authoritarian model. Theory X can manifest as a ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ approach, according to McGregor. Under the hard approach, the supervision is stricter, with the focus being on punishments rather than rewards. On the other hand, the soft approach showcases more flexibility in terms of rules and regulations. The workers are motivated through positive reward rather than intimidation. McGregor argues that for the leadership style to work the most efficiently, the leader must follow a balanced approach, with neither too hard nor soft implementation of the style.
Overall, the Theory X can lead to consistent results and enhanced productivity. If the workforce can be adequately identified to have the above qualities and assumptions, then utilizing the authoritarian model could lead to higher quality work and better workforce satisfaction.
If you are interested in finding out more about the theory, as well as understand what Theory Y assumes about subordinate motivation, check out the below YouTube video. It perfectly encapsulates how the theories are at the opposite ends of the leadership spectrum.
THE CORE ELEMENTS OF AUTHORITARIAN LEADERSHIP
The above outlines the history of the theory and the basic concepts behind the leadership framework. But what are the building blocks of the authoritarian leadership model?
Here’s a look at the key characteristics, as well as an explanation of the different elements that make the model work.
Core characteristics of authoritarian leadership
The authoritarian leadership style rests on three core elements. These not only define the role of the leader, but also how the framework should be implemented. The three characteristics are:
- Decisions are made by the leader and without the participation or input of the subordinates. Under the framework, the power of decision-making rests solely in the hands of the leader. Depending on the leader’s style, they can involve the subordinates in a consultative role, although this is not specifically characteristic of the style. An authoritarian model rests on the assumption that subordinates are removed from the decision making, with the leader being able to make decisions on their own.
- The leader presides over the policies and processes. The style involves a lot of micromanagement, as the leader is not just making the decisions, but also setting out the different processes. The framework generally doesn’t provide the subordinates much room to figure out their way to reach the goals. Instead, the leader outlines the different procedures and policies all subordinates must adhere to. This provides a clear framework for subordinates to operate in and the leader’s role becomes supervisory.
- The subordinates are directly supervised and monitored by the leader. As eluded in the above point, the leader’s role is to ensure subordinates follow the guidelines effectively. Unlike in certain other leadership styles, the leader doesn’t walk away and return once the process is complete, but stays actively involved with the tasks. The monitoring ensures the leader is able to use the reward and punishment structures efficiently, as well to ensure the team is not slipping further away from the vision.
Essentially the authoritarian leadership framework relies on two things: power and efficiency. The power is in the hands of the leader, with established and clear hierarchy. The structure is pre-determined and therefore, guarantees everyone in the organization is aware of his or her place. Furthermore, the purpose of the framework is to improve and to guarantee efficiency.
By setting up the procedures, removing the uncertainty of decisions, and enforcing strict supervision, the aim is to drive up productivity and organizational efficiency. Achieving this is a major objective of the leadership model.
Authoritarian leadership framework in action
What does all of the above look in action? Since the leadership style has such a clear structure, it also operates in a specific manner. In fact, for the authoritarian style to work, the framework must be perfectly established and followed. If the structure misses a key element, the style can lead to more disadvantages, creating more problems than what it solves.
If you examine the leadership style in operation, you can narrow down four key elements that are essential for its success. These key elements also work as steps to establishing the structure, as you need to figure out the first in order to move on to the next one – a chain reaction of characteristics.
First element involves the establishment of the vision and objective. Under the authoritarian leadership framework, the leader sets a common vision and goals for the team. Unlike in democratic leadership, where the team might join in to decide on the goals, the leader is in charge of setting out the objectives for the team. A bit similar to charismatic leadership, authoritarian leaders must be able to clearly communicate the vision to subordinates. The emphasis is on clarity, as the goals must be outlined clearly to ensure the subordinates understand them.
After the vision and objectives are identified, the leader outlines the procedures of achieving these goals and ensures the team knows what they are doing. The authoritarian leader is in charge of creating the structure for getting things done. The model doesn’t provide subordinates the option of figuring out their own route or doing things in a style they see fit. The leadership framework will involve micromanagement and the subordinates are expected to follow these instructions carefully. Again, the procedures must be explained clearly and different steps should be explained properly to limit confusion. As the aim is to reach objectives efficiently, the leader must be able to see the problems even before they arise and create procedures that limit the risk of issues.
The third element is about the leader supervising and monitoring the accomplishments of the goals, while ensuring everyone is doing their bit. Under the authoritarian model, the leader’s role isn’t laidback. Unlike the charismatic model, the style isn’t about the macro elements of leadership and about creating the vision. The emphasis of the style is on efficiency and structure. Therefore, it’s the leader’s role to ensure subordinates are putting in the effort and following the procedures set by the leader.
Finally, the leader either rewards or punishes subordinates during the process. As both Likert and McGregor theorized, the subordinates that best work under this style are mainly motivated by a reward, often a financial one. But they are also driven by the fear of punishment. Therefore, for the leadership framework to work effectively, a clear reward and punishment system must be set out. The subordinate needs to have something to work towards; for example, they might receive a bonus for completing the work on time. On the other hand, good behavior isn’t solely rewarded, but bad behavior is also scrutinized. In the event of inappropriate actions or inefficiency, the leader must have ways to punish the subordinate. The idea is that the threat of punishment will help limit actual failures and motivates subordinates to work hard.
A great collection of movie scences that showcase different leadership styles including directive leadership and transactional leadership.
THE QUALITIES OF AN AUTHORITARIAN LEADER
Let’s next turn our attention to the authoritarian leader. Since the framework relies heavily on the leader, the person in charge must possess certain characteristics that make the style easier to implement. Furthermore, as the style can have a bad reputation in today’s business world, it’s important to also examine what it looks like to be an authoritarian leader.
The characteristics of an authoritarian leader
Authoritarian leaders should focus on improving the following five characteristics. These qualities can help them perform better at the tasks and support the organization and the employees.
The authoritarian leader will be at the centre of operations, holding the strings to ensure everything within the organization goes smoothly. Therefore, the leader must be confident under pressure and trust his or her ability to make the right decisions. While the amount of power you have as the leader might seem tempting, having a lot of power isn’t the easiest of responsibilities.
As a leader, you will need to be able to make decisions without necessarily consulting with others. The decisions you make could be the right decisions or the wrong ones. The key to success is your ability to stand confident in the face of them and trust your own abilities. Second-guessing is not something an authoritarian leader can afford to do.
Confidence is a tricky characteristic to have, as it requires a careful balance of understanding risks and trusting your inner voice. It’s essential you don’t become over-confident as the leader, since this can hurt the validity of the decisions you make. But you need to be able to showcase your strength and belief in your knowledge.
Success.com published a great list of tips on becoming more confident. In it, business leaders give advice on things such as dressing up for success, understanding your value outside of the work environment, and strengthening your mind through meditation.
The authoritarian leadership style is action oriented. The focus is not on personal empowerment or growth, such as in charismatic leadership, but on achieving the objectives of the organization. Therefore, you need to be a leader who is able to focus on the tasks at hand first.
The aim of the authoritarian leader is to identify the goals for the organization and to define the path to reaching them. You need to be able to focus on the processes and actions, ensuring the subordinates have clear instructions to perform their specific duties. Action orientated leaders are able to stay focused and help others keep their eyes on the ball. Since the framework calls for efficiency, you can’t spend a lot of time considering your alternatives. You just need to figure an action plan and execute it with your team.
If you’d like to improve your ability to focus more on getting things done, rather than taking time to think things through, there are a few clever steps to take. First, you need to learn to not get ahead of yourself. Thinking about the future and what will happen after we achieve something can be an important part of outlining the journey, but you shouldn’t focus too much on the future.
Take things as they come and one step at a time. Secondly, learn to prioritize. The below chart outlines how you can become better at focusing on the essential things first using the Eisenhower method:
Finally, you should examine your schedule in a realistic light. Don’t try to be too ambitious with what you are going to achieve. You need to be realistic with what can be achieved within a certain time and you should prepare for possible complications as well.
Competitive flair is definitely a leadership trait an authoritarian leader wants to train and possess. You need to be willing to push forward and beat the competition, as this is the only way to ensure the organization’s progress doesn’t stall. In essence, your drive to be better will boost the company’s ability to respond to problems and to enhance it’s innovative side.
As we’ll see later in the article, the authoritarian leadership style often lacks from creativity. But if you are driven by your ambition and thirst for victory, you can guarantee the team doesn’t just ‘settle’ to do the bare minimum.
As an authoritarian leader, your competitiveness can be a major boost to the team morale as well. You want to instill a sense of ambition to your team as well, to ensure they feel invested in the process and the organization.
Being in charge of the team requires plenty from the leader. If you want to be a success, you need to be skilled and willing to keep learning. Since the decisions rely on your expertise, you need to be able to make judgments based on solid understanding of how the industry and the organization operate. As the accountability ultimately lies in your corner, you need to be able to make sound decisions and not just rely on your gut instinct.
Your focus naturally must be on understanding your company inside out. It’s important to continually keep an eye on things and analyze which aspects of it require more attention. Furthermore, you need to stay on top of the industry you operate in. Therefore, you want to visit trade shows, read books about the sector, and discuss developments with other people within the industry.
But in addition, you also want to improve your leadership skills. An authoritarian leader should be aware of how people behave in different circumstances and how to get the most out of people without sacrificing their leadership style.
Finally, an authoritarian leader should also be empowering. It might not seem the first characteristic people identify with the style, but it can actually be helpful in maintaining employee satisfaction and ensuring tasks are efficiently accomplished. If you are able to empower subordinates to better performance, the company will be the first to benefit.
Empowering other people is not a difficult task, even when you can’t change or challenge the hierarchy of power. You don’t need to provide the subordinate with the ability to make decisions; you simply need to ensure they have information. Explaining the importance of your chosen procedures can help them feel more involved and allow them to understand why things are done in a certain way.
How to be an authoritarian leader?
The above characteristics are essential for an authoritarian leader, but just having them doesn’t necessarily mean you are an effective leader. To guarantee you are operating efficiently and leading the troops in an authoritarian model, you need to take the following four steps.
The first step involves gaining enough knowledge of the industry, the company and the task at hand. As mentioned above, you need to have a proper and comprehensive understanding of the situation at all times. The leadership framework rests on the shoulders of the leader. If your subordinates are more knowledgeable, then the organization will run into trouble, as there are no structures available for shared decision making.
Knowledge and strong skill set are the building blocks of the authoritarian leadership model, but you also need to build relationships where the rules and roles are clear. As a leader, it is your role to establish the structures and communicate these clearly to your subordinates. For the style to work, each member of the team has to be aware of the responsibilities they have and the objectives they are supposed to achieve.
You need to clearly set out the hierarchy structures and make sure people follow the guidelines they are given. The leader-subordinate relationship should also be clearly established and you do want to focus on establishing your authority first. One way to do so is by paying attention to how you speak.
The third step requires you to be consistent with your approach to rewards and punishments. Just as with setting up the roles and responsibilities, subordinates must be aware of the reward and punishment structure. The framework requires a solid reward structure, as we saw above, and the only way to make it work is by showing consistency. In the authoritarian model, results matter and if someone is not performing, then the consequences must always be the same no matter the circumstances.
Finally, you need to outline clear guidelines for task completion and behavior. If you expect consistency from your subordinates, you must ensure they are always on top of their responsibilities and the processes they are supposed to follow. The leader’s role is to create and support the structure in which the subordinate is free to perform the tasks.
Therefore, you need to outline what the subordinate must do, how he or she should do it, and what are the consequences of inaction or the rewards of completion. In addition, you shouldn’t just focus on the tasks, but also the behavior at the workplace. An authoritarian model can create a respectful and happy workplace if it’s clear what type of behavior is not accepted.
For example, you need to lay out clearly what are the rules of turning up late or being mean to your co-workers. Focusing on these can help keep staff motivated and provide them with the right space to be productive.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF AUTHORITARIAN LEADERSHIP
Authoritarian leadership model comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Similar to other leadership styles, when the framework is implemented as intended, it can provide clear benefits to a number of different organizations.
But some of its challenges might be difficult to overcome. Therefore, in order to make the most of the framework, it’s important to explore the different sides to the style.
Advantages of authoritarian leadership
Authoritarian leadership style’s major advantage is the clarity in the structure. Since the model is rather rigid, it guarantees everyone is aware of the power structure, the decision making process, and the accountability basis. The simplicity of the model can therefore influence the way the organization operated greatly and guarantee a more efficient performance.
In general, this can help boost productivity. The processes are clear, so subordinates are able to focus on the tasks set to them without having to think how and when things are done. For the subordinates this clarity can mean better performance. Uncertainty is generally removed from the situation, as the leader should be able to outline the rules and procedures. Therefore, the subordinate is always aware of what is expected of him and the effort can be put directly in the task and not realizing how to achieve the objective. In certain situations, such as with new employees, this sort of rigid framework of operation can be hugely beneficial.
The framework can also lead to fewer mistakes. Since employees have to follow a pre-determined pattern to achieving objectives, the risk of failure can diminish. Processes, which are deemed efficient and effective, will be used and the option for trying something different has been removed. This can help ensure employees don’t risk making mistakes that could damage the company or even injure the employee. Therefore, high-risk industries, like construction, tend to favor the authoritarian style.
Overall, the clarity in structure and procedure makes decision-making clearer, which in turn increases organizational effectiveness. When the company faces a decision, the leader can react to it as quickly as possible, since he or she is the only one with the power. There is no need to consult subordinates, leading to a longer period of uncertainty. Instead, the issue can be tackled as the leader sees fit. For this reason, organizations such as the military and healthcare sector can greatly benefit from authoritarian leadership.
Company profits can benefit from the style, as deadlines are met on time and risk-taking is limited within the organization. The structure is well rehearsed, creating a system where things are done almost automatically.
Disadvantages of authoritarian leadership
But as mentioned earlier, the authoritarian leadership style has to overcome challenges to work efficiently. There are certain key disadvantages of creating such as clear hierarchy within an organization and directing the decision-making power into the hands of the leader.
The most obvious result is a lack of commitment that subordinates might feel. Since the subordinates are not included in the processes, they can start feeling voiceless members of the organization. In the long term, this can create a drop in motivation to work hard and diminish the commitment levels. The subordinates might feel detached from the organization because the decisions are made for them and they can’t influence most aspects of their work.
Overall, the lack of involvement in the process and the fact the subordinates have to obey the orders of the leader can result in resentment. While subordinates can’t expect to always get their way, under the authoritarian leadership model they don’t even get to have an impact on the possible outcome. The decisions are made for them, often without consultation.
Since the style lacks involvement and communication, due to the leader holding the total decision-making power, the creativity of the organization can diminish. Creativity often requires the exchange of ideas and back-and-forth discussions with other people. But in the authoritarian leadership framework, the leader simply asks the subordinates to implement the vision set by him or her. The only voice is from the leader, which naturally means other ideas can be left unsaid.
This leads to the problem of being reliant on the expertise and knowledge of the leader. The leader has to be the most knowledgeable person in the organization and be able to reinvent himself, as well as the vision for the organization. As soon as the leader starts falling behind on what is happening within the industry, the organization can suffer. Since there are no other voices, the organization can start experiencing the so-called tunnel vision. The ideas of the leader are followed and anything outside of those won’t even be considered. Therefore, the requirements and the pressures on the leader can be extremely harsh.
Another major reason authoritarian leadership can suffer from innovation follows from its lack of feedback. Under the leadership style, leaders are not encouraged to engage or offer feedback to the same extent as in some of the other styles. This can mean employee development stall. Since the employee’s role is to simply perform the pre-determined tasks, there is no need for further improvement in many instances. The employee isn’t challenged or pushed to achieve more knowledge or look beyond his or her immediate role.
Overall, the lack of employee satisfaction and development can lead to higher churn rate. As soon as the subordinate feels they’ve given everything they have to the organization and start feeling like there is no way forward, they are likely to start looking elsewhere for a new challenge. In essence, as the subordinates around the leader become more experienced, the harder it is for authoritarian style to work in maintaining loyalty and effectiveness.
Even if you are an autocratic leader you should know how to build a feedback culture in your business.
EXAMPLES OF FAMOUS AUTHORITARIAN LEADERS
To better understand the different aspects of the authoritarian leadership, you need to examine leaders who’ve shown these qualities and characteristics. When it comes to the authoritarian framework, the world of politics is naturally the first place to look.
But not all authoritarian leaders have been dictators or politicians; as the above has shown, the leadership style can sometimes be a force for positive change in areas such as business.
Below are five examples of authoritarian leaders, venturing a bit deeper into how they used the style to reach objectives.
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy’s time as the President of the United States was tragically cut short, but during his time in office, he managed to accomplish quite a bit. Kennedy’s leadership style is often described as charismatic or even transformational, but he also showcased plenty of authoritarian characteristics.
The clearest example of his authoritarian trait was his sense of vision. He wasn’t afraid of directing all resources and focus towards the target he felt were the correct ones. Kennedy’s vision was to send a man to the moon and bring him back safely. Due to his authoritarian leadership style, he was able to direct the nation’s attention and focus on achieving this objective. The key to success was Kennedy’s ability to not only outline the vision, but to also lay out the path to getting there.
Due to his charm, Kennedy was able to attract people around him and ensure they were inspired by his knowledge and vision. He had the ability to take people as they are, as well as stay truthful to his own personality. For good and for bad, Kennedy was a leader who wasn’t afraid to speak out. Although Kennedy held on to power and was eager to stay in control of decision-making, he used power in a subtle manner. He didn’t point out status differences or create conflict out of nothing.
John F. Kennedy’s leadership style is evident in his famous quote:
“Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”
Another president who has shown authoritarian leadership qualities is the current head of Russia, Vladimir Putin. Putin’s authoritarian style stems from his background, as he is a former KGB agent. As mentioned above, military organizations often benefit from this type of clear hierarchy model and it’s apparent, Putin has adopted a similar style in his political career.
The Russian leader also shares Kennedy’s trait of having a strong vision towards which he pushes the country. For Putin, the vision is to restore Russian hegemony on the global stage and to create a country that people can look up to. He has been able to concentrate much of the country’s decision-making into his own hands. Although the nation has democratic elections, many believe the decisions the parliament makes come directly from Putin’s desk.
Since Putin is leading one of the major military powers in the world, his authoritarian tendencies have clashed with the rest of the world. The stubborn nature of working towards the single objective shows the failings of the authoritarian style in a world where everyone might not agree with the vision. When authoritarian leadership encounters resistance, the results can be heightened conflict situations.
But the authoritarian leaders don’t just exist in the world of politics. The traits and characteristics can be found in many other industry leaders, from the entertainment sector to the world of sports. One example is Lorne Michaels, an American creative producer. Michaels has launched the careers of comedians such as Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy.
He’s known for being a demanding producer. But his demanding nature comes from his vision and his passion for turning talented individuals into top performers. If you consider the list of comedians, whose careers Michaels has helped kick off, you can see his vision is perfectly in tune with the American audience. He is able to understand what they want, how to get there, and then help the right people to execute the plan.
Creative industries, such as comedy, are not necessarily something you would associate with an authoritarian leadership. Innovation is not often the strongest part of the framework, because it focuses so narrowly on executing a specific vision. But Michaels is an example that strong authority and focus doesn’t necessarily stifle creativity. His meticulous approach to creativity is evident in his quote,
“To me there’s no creativity without boundaries. If you’re gonna write a sonnet, it’s 14 lines, so it’s solving the problem within the container.”
In an interesting Harvard Business Review interview, Michaels laid out his leadership secrets, which showcase his authoritarian qualities. When asked about motivating his team, Michaels said:
“You lead by example. If people sense how committed you are, what the standard is, what you believe in, what you expect, they respond to that. And if they care as deeply as you do, it doesn’t take a motivational speech.”
Finally, the IT industry has also had its fair share of authoritarian leaders. The former chief executive of Oracle Larry Ellison is among them. Ellison has a reputation of being a bit of a swashbuckler and a risk-taker. He’s also a leader who has always had a clear vision of where he wants to be and he generally has wanted to be in control.
Similar to all of the above examples, Ellison has always been a ‘what you see is what you get’-personality. Marc Benioff, an ex-Oracle executive, told Forbes,
“He doesn’t hide anything. He says, ‘This is my nature, love me or hate me,’ and that’s it.”
This creates a work atmosphere that can achieve benefits, such as Oracle’s success in controlling the Internet infrastructure business, but it can also be problematic when crisis arise. For example, in the summer of 2000, two big executives quit because Ellison didn’t want to let go of his leadership position.
But authoritarian leaders can step out from rigid models as well. Oracle used to focus only on organic growth, because Ellison didn’t believe in the usability of acquisitions. But he later adjusted his vision on the topic, as he predicted the increase of consolidations within the technology industry. Oracle ventured into a series of high-profiled acquisitions and managed to solidify its position as the market leader as a result.
When people are thinking about what their nightmare boss would look like, the image of an authoritarian leader can pop up. The idea of a controlling leader, who is constantly looking over your shoulder and intimidating you with punishments, is a dreadful one. But authoritarian leader shouldn’t be automatically linked with this kind of behavior. Although the style tends to inflict strict controls and close supervision, the framework doesn’t advocate it out of malicious thoughts. In fact, the assumptions the authoritarian leadership style tends to make from the subordinates can hold true in many instances.
Furthermore, the style can help companies focus on efficiency and productivity. The swift decision-making and traditional hierarchy structure guarantees people are aware of the expectations they have and focus on the tasks. In essence, subordinates and the leader are able to perform the roles they are most suited to perform.
Nonetheless, the style can lead to dissatisfaction and lack of innovation. It rests heavily on the capabilities of the leader and therefore, the organization can suffer if the leader is not able to reinvent and develop the vision and processes according to competition. Just as certain types of people might flourish under the style, the controlling nature can make some subordinates feel stifled and restricted. In order to make the style work, the leader must be aware of whether the organization’s objectives and indeed the subordinates within the team are ready for the demanding leadership framework.
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