Autocratic Leadership

A leader’s style has to do with the manner in which he carries out his responsibilities, and how he is perceived by those he is leading. The basic styles of leadership are autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire, but a number of other styles are described in the leadership literature. The styles to some degree represent a swinging pendulum. The autocratic is one extreme and the laissez-faire is the opposite extreme; the democratic is in the middle. A range exists with each basic style, so that a person could be extremely autocratic, or autocratic but almost democratic. This section outlines the basic leadership styles but your leadership style may not fit all of the description of any particular style.

Definition of Autocratic Leadership

The autocratic style is leader centered. The autocratic leader is a dictator. He considers decision-making a one man operation, and thinks of himself as the man. He considers himself superior to his followers, and mainly seeks obedience from them. He determines policy and procedure. He decides the who, the what, the how, the when, and the who with. He usually makes decisions with little hesitation; in fact, he may consider hesitation in decision-making a sign of weakness. He has a tendency to make decisions in all areas, because he sees himself as the decision maker. He may even be viewed as an expert decision maker in every area by his followers. He will use threat, manipulation, or force to
accomplish his will.

The autocratic leader assumes that people dislike work and will avoid it. People will not do anything unless coerced, controlled, directed, or threatened with punishment. He further assumes that people prefer being directed, wish to avoid responsibility, have little ambition, and place the highest value on security.

Christian leadership should not be autocratic to this extreme.  It lacks love and compassion and obviously comes across as arrogant.  Nevertheless there is a place for some manner of autocratic leadership within the church.

Autocratic leadership is not all bad. Many examples of autocratic leadership can be found in the scripture. Moses, Joshua, Nehemiah, Peter, Paul, and others could be used to illustrate an autocratic style of leadership. The autocratic style is especially an appropriate style when the leader is speaking with the power of the Old Testament prophet, “thus saith the Lord.” God does speak to individuals, especially leaders, and reveals His will to them, and they need to speak with a clear sound and say this is the way to do it. The autocratic leader, however, who misuses this and attempts to force his will on people with the words of a false prophet, creates problems in churches.

When to use

Autocratic leadership is very appropriate in times of crises or emergencies. Decision-making is faster when only one person is involved in the process. Autocratic leadership is appropriate when a person is training others who don’t know enough about the task to make decisions. Autocratic leadership is appropriate when there is rebellion and the situation is filled with disturbances, then one person needs to take over.

Problems with this style

Problems do exist when this is the only style of leadership. One major disadvantage of autocratic leadership is that it fails to develop leadership in followers. The leader makes all the decisions. In fact, the autocratic leader will stifle creativity and discourage innovation. He must tell the group what to do, when to do it, where to do it, and who to do it with. People learn that the autocratic leader is THE leader and they stop trying to do anything. Work may actually stop when he is not physically present, because no one else can make a decision. Generally an autocratic leader will not develop an organization that can continue after he leaves. Things may fall apart when he resigns, because he has developed neither individuals nor the organization. A Christian leader especially needs to be concerned with developing other people, and this style will present special problems to a Christian.

Another problem of the autocratic leader is that he is viewed as being insensitive to the feelings of others. The autocratic leader has power and  “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This is where the term dictator comes in. He is not viewed in a positive manner. Most people do not want to work for the autocratic leader because he is seen as so careless of human feelings.

The autocratic leader also works without a checks and balance system. The leader prefers not to answer to anyone. He doesn’t want anyone to question his authority. When he is right, he is very right; but when he is wrong he is very wrong. Some type of shared leadership or team leadership can avoid some serious pitfalls.

Autocratic leader that is paternalistic

A very special sub-classification of the autocratic style is the paternalistic style of leadership. This type of leader has a father attitude toward the group and is deeply concerned for the welfare of each individual in the group. The leader looks on the followers as his children and he is very concerned for his followers. He is a father, however, and is to make the decisions for his children. A young seminary graduate may go as an associate pastor to an older man who may treat him as a son. The educated and ambitious followers will resent this style of leadership where they are treated as children. If the paternalistic leader will allow his “children” to grow up and become leaders he can be a very effective leader. He can protect from some dangers, teach how to do it, and gently loosen the apron strings. A mentor is often this type of leader.

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