University of Phoenix: The Advantages and Disadvantages of Autocratic Leadership

Of the three commonly observed leadership styles: laissez-faire or delegative, democratic or participative, and autocratic or authoritarian, the latter seems to govern the strictest workplace environment, one where leaders dictate instructions and subordinates obey to the letter. With hardly any input from lower-level employees, autocratic leaders define policies and direct work, often retaining sole responsibility for executive decision making.

This leadership style can be valuable in organizations that require fast decision making, cutting through bureaucracy to accomplish critical work at crucial moments. However, there are drawbacks to this leadership style such as the risk of a lack of trust or a potentially destructive overdependence on a single leader.

Understanding the characteristics, advantages and disadvantages of autocratic leadership is important for organizations and business managers to determine where and how to best apply this approach.

Here, we’ve compiled an overview of autocratic leadership, its pros and cons, and how a business management degree from University of Phoenix can help develop knowledge of the different leadership styles and essential skills to successfully run an organization.

Characteristics of Autocratic Leadership

Before exploring the advantages and disadvantages of autocratic leadership, it’s worth defining what makes an autocratic leader. Essentially, autocratic leadership means a centralized control of decision making within an organization. This authoritative approach invites minimal input or initiative from other members of an organization lower down the hierarchy.

However, decision making that weighs heavily in the favor of one party can lead to power imbalances. When one leading figure has most of the control over an organization, they become the sole reason for its success or failure. In the most extreme cases, autocratic leaders oversee every one of their subordinates’ actions and tasks, involving a substantial level of control and attention.

Autocratic leadership may be identifiable by the following criteria:

  • The leader has a large amount of power to make executive decisions.
  • The roles of leader and subordinate are distinct and separate.
  • There are stringent quality standards or performance goals with harsh consequences for underperforming.
  • There is an atmosphere of surveillance or close monitoring of employee activities to ensure accountability.
  • Employees act on directions from superiors with minimal culture of initiative-taking.

University of Phoenix has discussed some real-world examples of autocratic leaders on its blog. These roles include an emergency room nurse, a schoolteacher and a call center supervisor.

Advantages of Autocratic Leadership

While autocratic leadership seems severe, it may be the preferred leadership style in some organizations. These are the approach’s three main advantages:

1.    Efficiency and Productivity

One key benefit of an autocratic leader calling the shots is that operations can happen quickly without deliberation among multiple parties. A faster rate of operations can mean a boost in productivity, saving an organization time and money.

2.    Clarity for Employees

By assigning the decision making to one authoritative role, an organization can remove much of the ambiguity and miscommunication that can make working environments stressful. With directives coming from a single source, employees have clear information on their roles, tasks and deadlines. This can be particularly valuable for teams of less experienced individuals who require direct, straightforward instruction.

3.    Effective Crisis Management

When situations call for swift decision making, for instance during a crisis with a short deadline and high stakes, autocratic leadership can be beneficial. While the bureaucracy and protocol of other leadership styles could slow down effective crisis management, an autocratic leader is in a strong position to direct a fast response.

Disadvantages of Autocratic Leadership

While autocratic leadership can have great benefits for the right organization, its characteristics can become drawbacks for other workplaces. These are three of the main disadvantages of this type of leadership:

1.    Lack of Trust

The characteristic high level of supervision and surveillance in an autocratic leader can suggest a lack of trust in the competency of an organization’s employees. In addition, removing employees from the decision-making process can make it difficult for them to understand or trust the leaders issuing instructions.

2.    Diminished Morale

With such an authoritative, singular voice of leadership, employees can feel their opinions lack value. This can lead to diminished morale and, in turn, lower productivity, as employees may not wish to invest a lot of energy into work that does not recognize or reflect their personal contribution.

3.    Overdependence on Leadership

By focusing all responsibility on one leader, the centralized power that allows an autocratic leader to respond quickly in a crisis can also leave that person vulnerable if they are absent or unable to make competent decisions at any point. No matter the reason, if an autocratic leader is unable to effectively take charge, subordinates may not have the authority, skills or experience to make decisions themselves.

Becoming a Skilled Business Manager

While some organizations require centralized leadership to operate effectively, each organization demands its own leadership style or sometimes a healthy combination of approaches. Understanding the different leadership styles and their strengths and weaknesses is one important trait of a good business manager.

Individuals looking to lead an organization and develop their productivity, efficiency and communication in a business setting might consider a Bachelor of Science in Management (BSM) degree from University of Phoenix. Students can customize their business management degree program by choosing electives in accounting, marketing, and more. A BSM can prepare students for a range of management positions including business manager, general manager and operations manager.

About University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix has a commitment to advancing the educational aims of adult and nontraditional learners and to helping students explore the degree programs and career options that best suit them. The University’s degree programs align with many sought-after career paths including in cybersecurity, education, nursing and business, and they provide flexible start dates, online classes and various scholarship opportunities to make it possible for anyone to earn the degree they need. Additionally, University of Phoenix’s Career Services for Life® pledge to active students and graduates provides the resources needed to be prepared when entering the workforce for no additional charge. These services include career coaching, resume building and interview preparation and education and networking opportunities. For further information, visit

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