Autocratic: What it is, How to Use it and What to Avoid

There are Big Debates About What is the Best Leadership Style to Use

Also, many people have views of which styles to completely avoid. Should we be autocratic? Perhaps democratic? What about visionary, laisses-faire, or transformational? There are many options available that need to be properly understood before we tackle them. 

very leadership style has its own set of pros and cons that make it useable in every workplace. A key point to consider, early on, is the situation. Leadership styles need to be applied based on the situation at hand. Also, we need to be able to mix and match the styles as required. No one style can be applied to every situation. 

Therefore, we need to know what the styles include in terms of qualities and traits, appropriate usage, and possible barriers. We will cover all of this and more when looking at the autocratic style. We will explain the overall meaning and the main characteristics. Also, we will explain the advantages and disadvantages of the autocratic style as well as how to overcome barriers to its use.  

What is Autocratic? 

We see the autocratic style of leadership as being one that has a single leader who makes all of the decisions.  

Let’s look at autocratic in terms of behaviours. These include: 

  • They can seem arrogant in their approach. 
  • Other people’s feelings are usually not considered.
  • They are straight-forward in their approach. 
  • Underperformance is not tolerated. 
  • Goals and targets are key focus areas for them, rather than team members or relationships. 

In terms of communication, autocratic is seen in practices such as: 

  • We see one-way communication, meaning no input from others. 
  • They command rather than have debate or discussion when making decisions. 
  • Using direct, straightforward communication.   
  • They use big gestures and exaggerated, stressed wording. 

The 6 Cs of Autocratic Leadership Characteristics  

We will be looking at the 6 Cs when we consider characteristics of autocratic leadership. These 6 main traits will explain some of the key components that are needed when we apply this style.  


You are in charge. Everything is decided by you when you apply an autocratic approach. Autocratic leaders take their own advice, rather than advice from others. They know the goals that need to be achieved and how to get there. Therefore, they will be in charge of making decisions every step of the way.   

In terms of control, autocratic leaders need to ensure that control measures are in place. They are very organised and know what they want to be done and how. These control measures will ensure consistency in approach from their team members. Also, it will help in terms of  


There is no discussion or debate with this style. You issue the commands regarding what needs to be done. There is little to no input from others. These commands are given in either an assertive or aggressive way. These types of leaders can be considered rude or arrogant if they use an aggressive rather than assertive approach.   


For this approach to work, you need to be clear and concise in your commands. This is where autocratic leaders can be effective in terms of communication. Because of their need for control, their instructions will have clarity and exact steps to follow. Also, they do not encourage 2-way communication.

Therefore, they will make every effort to ensure their commands are understood the first time through clarity of their ideas. However, this will only work when the people receiving the commands have the right level of knowledge and skills to take action.   

Hand holding a clear ball with a reflection of the sea in it


Autocratic leaders tend to know what they are talking about. Through experience, they have gained the knowledge and skills to make decisions and get things done. They may have worked up through the ranks, gaining the necessary know-how along the way. This leads to them often being the most experienced person in the group to make the decisions in the first place.  


Autocratic leaders have a lot of self-confidence. Because of their commanding behaviour, they can seem confident and self-assured to their team. This can be very reassuring to team members, especially in difficult situations.   


When we combine some of the above competencies, we can see how autocratic leaders create credibility using this style. They build trust and reliability when results are achieved using this approach. They can convince others of the success of their style when things work out as expected. This includes overcoming barriers and keeping on track.   

The Benefits and Barriers of the Autocratic Approach 

We have already stated that every leadership style has its own benefits and barriers. Here we will look at some of those specific to autocratic leadership.    

Benefits of Autocratic Leadership 

Decision Making is Faster 

We have one person in control of making the decisions. Therefore, we have less time being spent on group discussions and negotiating. As a result, we see decisions being made faster as there is less debate going on. This helps to speed things up when it’s crunch time and a verdict needs to be reached.   

Productivity is Improved 

Autocratic leaders have a clear goal to achieve. They will do anything to achieve it. Also, they are able to move information through the ranks quickly. With that in mind, they ensure their instructions are understood and actioned accordingly. This reduces the amount of time spent on asking questions or debating on how things should be done.

Therefore, more time is available to invest in the actual task at hand. Everyone knows their place and role. They get on with their part. And, they have more consistent output and fewer mistakes that could lead to more delays.    

Productivity quote on a felt board

Time Frames are Respected 

People reporting to an autocratic leader are more likely to meet original time frames that have been set. This is because of the clear instructions they have received. Very often, deadlines are extended due to misunderstandings and mistakes that can occur due to miscommunication. This is less likely with an autocratic approach.   

Quality Standards are Maintained 

Autocratic leaders create very clear standards and expectations. This leads to better consistency in terms of quality. Think of a production line. There are very clear guidelines from seniors as to what is acceptable and what is not. This comes from having one person in control. It does not allow for individual decisions on what they feel is the right output. Therefore, quality standards are maintained.   

Barriers to This Style 

Collaboration is Lacking 

The autocratic approach means that one person is at the helm. They do not take the opinions or ideas of others on board. Therefore, one important team characteristic is missing. This is collaboration. There is no opportunity to have your say and share your ideas. These may even be ideas about doing something better but they are not considered. This can be very restrictive for many team members and can stifle creativity.  

Empowerment is Missing 

We all like to use our own knowledge and experience to make decisions and get things done. This is a great way for individuals to grow and develop. It also allows for the growth of authority and confidence. Unfortunately, this does not occur with autocratic leaders.

As they are in charge of every element, their team members do not have this chance at empowerment. Decisions are made for them and they are simply instructed on what to do and how to do it. This can cause frustration, especially when members of the team have high levels of knowledge and skills to complete the task.  This is because they will want a level of freedom to decide what they want to do and how.   

Motivation is Affected  

So, when we are missing collaboration, empowerment and other team characteristics, the motivation of individuals in the group can be affected. Nobody wants to be continually talked down to by their seniors. The autocratic approach is very domineering and can negatively impact team members when it is overused.

Remember, we need to be able to have a motivated team to achieve results. Otherwise, we will see standards dropping and more mistakes happening.   

Motivational young businesswoman leader with her team

Micromanagement Occurs  

Autocratic leaders need to be in control. As a result, they will want to know what is happening at every step of the process. This can lead to other team leaders within the group being micromanaged. This constant need for control is very restrictive in terms of allowing others to go at their own speed or do things in their own style.

They will want constant updates and will question any variation on the agreed strategy. Also, they will jump in and take over if they feel the task is not being executed as they instructed.  

When to be Apply This Style 

There are some who believe that the autocratic approach is outdated in today’s workplace. I would disagree. There are still some very valid reasons to apply an autocratic approach when leading others. Here are some examples.  

In Emergency Cases 

Any business or company can face an emergency situation. This emergency could be a health and safety issue, such as a fire or accident in the workplace. It might also be a power outage. Another emergency could be a change in customer requirements for a product or service at the last minute. In emergency cases, quick decisions need to be made. An emergency is all relevant to your actual situation and should be taken in context accordingly.  

Let’s take the fire emergency as an example. You are busy working away at your station or desk and suddenly the fire alarm sounds. You have been through the required fire training the company does once a year but this doesn’t seem to be a test or drill. There seems to be confusion among your colleagues about what to do next. At this time of physical risk, you want to know that someone is in control and being decisive.

You want someone making quick and appropriate decisions on your behalf. In this case, an autocratic approach will save time and possibly lives.  

Time Sensitive Tasks 

We all have deadlines to achieve. Also, we all have time frames to respect. We are, however, all guilty at some time or another of procrastination. This is true for some more than others of course. But it can happen. We become distracted during our tasks. Or we have other tasks assigned at the same time. Whatever the reason, we need someone to keep us on track for meeting these deadlines. Companies can run the risk of losing important clients or contracts if they miss deadlines.  

Red alarm clock and morning cup of coffee on office table

Therefore, we can apply an autocratic approach when we are coming close to the deadline. This will drive the team towards the finish line. We will probably have used different styles earlier in the task. But now we are down to the wire. Therefore, the commanding influence of the autocratic leader can assist in getting people to understand the urgency of completing the job on time.  

With Inexperienced Teams 

You are leading a team of new recruits who have little or no experience of the task. You cannot rely on them to make decisions and get the task done on their own. In this case, an autocratic approach can work, for a while. Autocracy is about control and instruction. This will help new recruits with understanding the expected standard, the steps of the task, and the direction to take.  

With new recruits, we need to be strict in terms of guiding them in the right way from the start. If we start with vague directions or unclear instructions, it will take much longer to get the new recruits to the basic levels needed for them to perform. However, once they start to pick up different aspects of the task, you will adjust your style accordingly. This can be at different times with different people. This is because we all learn at different speeds.      

When Agreement Cannot Be Reached 

You have 2 or more team members who simply cannot reach an agreement. This is causing delays for the team. It is also causing tension and a breakdown in collaboration. Despite the relevant parties trying to reach an understanding, they are at a stalemate and this is impacting the team in a negative way.  

The leader has previously tried a collaborative approach. They have also tried adopting a democratic style. None of this has worked. Now it is time for the autocratic style to be used. However, we will only use it when other styles have failed.   

In such situations, leaders need to be ready to step in and make the decisions to resolve the conflict or settle the situation. This might be in terms of setting an ultimatum. It could also be in simply stating to those involved what will be done and how. This might happen within the team. It might even be to resolve a customer complaint.  

When to Avoid the Autocratic Style 

There are, of course, situations where the autocratic style should be avoided. Let’s have a look at some.  

For Creative Input 

When you are developing an idea or concept and need the creative input of your team, avoid being autocratic. This style is very one-way in terms of communication and contribution. Therefore, your team will not be ready to share and participate. You need to encourage idea sharing and constructive debate about suggestions. This is will necessary for the creative juices to flow.      

During Team Training and Development 

You are not a lecturer reading a set script. You are a leader of a team that has different members with different development needs. As a result, we need to avoid being autocratic in our approach in terms of team and individual development.

Instead, we will include the team members in discussions about development needs, as well as the direction they want to take. Training sessions need to be very open and participative. They need to create an environment where learning can happen. This will not be the case with an autocratic leadership style.  

When Relationship Building is Required 

Remember, autocratic leaders think first of the task or goal, not the person. It is important for leaders to be able to develop relationships within their teams. Therefore, we need to avoid the autocratic approach in cases where people come first.

This can include during interviews, performance appraisals, and other situations where two-way communication is important. It may also be when a team member has personal needs that need addressing, such as an illness in the family. In these cases, we need to be able to show empathy, which is not a characteristic of an autocratic leader.  

In a conversation. Building relationship.

In Summary

So, we have tried to show you what is means to be autocratic. We have also made every effort to show the balance between the advantages and disadvantages of this style.  

We argue that this style is still relevant in today’s workplace. But it is only to be applied in certain situations, like every other style. So, in order to get it right, analyse the situation before choosing the style that suits you best.

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