Can an authoritarian/autocratic/directive leadership style be appropriate in American companies currently? If yes/no, why?
It is first important to clarify what the term leadership means. According to Kinicki & Fugate (2012), “leadership is defined as ‘a social influence process in which the leader seeks the voluntary participation of subordinates in an effort to reach organizational goals’” (p. 364). This means leadership involves exercising authority at individual, group, and organizational levels.
Bass (2008) identifies positive leadership traits to include task competence, interpersonal competence, intuition, traits of character, biophysical traits, and personal traits. With this basic understanding of leadership, it can be said that the appropriateness of an autocratic leadership style depends on the type of company and situation at hand—the idea of situational leadership (Kinicki & Fugate, 2012, p. 370). Even though the United States is a democratic country, an autocratic leadership style fits some but not all companies, depending on what the company wants to accomplish and what the company’s circumstances are.
A manager with an autocratic style of leadership typically does all the decision-making without getting input from his/her subordinates (Rao, 2010, para. 3). Therefore, the manager is the authoritarian while all the subordinates are to simply follow instructions without giving their own thoughts or concerns about the task given to them. A benefit of this style is it can help provide structure and discipline to an otherwise inexperienced team, and also help a team stay on top of strict deadlines. Since the manager makes all the decisions, there is no time “wasted” on decision-making if there’s a time constraint. This type of leadership is also helpful when the manager has the highest amount of knowledge and could therefore specifically guide the subordinates on how to complete a task (Cherry), or when a type of industry simply does not require much communication or creativity relative to other industries.
However, an autocratic style of leadership would be ill-fitting for many other types of companies, especially if the autocratic style is taken to extremes. As the textbook Organizational Behavior mentions, a bad leader would possess traits like being incompetent, rigid, or callous (Kinicki & Fugate, 2012, p. 366). Since a manager taking up an autocratic style of leadership is enforcing rigid rules, it could be potentially easy to become rigid as a person as well, which could lead to loss of respect from subordinates and ruin morale of the team. Cherry states that abuse of the style can make a person seem “controlling, bossy, and dictatorial,” and that this autocratic style of leadership prevents subordinates from producing creative solutions to problems.
Giving employees such a lack of influence in the company could cause them to feel resentful since their opinions are never heard (“Leadership Styles,” 2008, para. 3-4), which means valuable relationships cannot be developed, thus straining human and social capital. An example of where an autocratic style of leadership would not be appropriate is if all the subordinates are just as knowledgeable or skilled as the manager. It would make more sense to use a democratic style of leadership so that everyone can participate and have a sense of importance in the decision-making, and because of their contribution, would feel more committed and enthusiastic about the company’s goals.
Situational leadership theories suggest that “the effectiveness of a particular style of leader behavior depends on the situation.” This applies to how the appropriateness of the autocratic style of leadership depends on the company at hand. It is important to fully analyze the employee characteristics (locus of control, experience, task ability, etc.) and environmental factors (task structure and work-group dynamics) to decide whether or not an autocratic style of leadership would produce the most desirable results for the company (Kinicki & Fugate, 2012, p. 370-372).
Bass, B.M., & Bass, R. (2008). The Bass handbook of leadership. New York: Free Press. Cherry, K. Lewin’s leadership styles. About.com: Psychology. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/leadership Cherry, K. What is autocratic leadership?. About.com: Psychology. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/leadership Kinicki, A., & Fugate M. (2012). Organizational behavior: Key concepts, skills, and best practices.
Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Leadership styles: Autocratic leadership. (2008). Leadership-toolbox.com, pp. 3-4. Retrieved from http://www.leadership-toolbox.com/autocratic-leadership.html Rao, M.S. (2010). Is autocratic leadership relevant today?. Chief Learning Officer: Solutions for Enterprise Activity. Retrieved from http://clomedia.com/articles
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