Authoritarian leadership: Getting results by yelling and screaming

Leadership StylesEver wonder what would happen if you tried to lead like a pro football coach, yelling and screaming and stomping around?

There’s a name for this.  It’s called the authoritarian leadership style, and while it has it’s shortcomings, it also has a long history of success.

Think banana republic.

Authoritarian leaders, also known as autocratic, provide clear expectations for what needs to be done, when it should be done, and how it should be done. Got it!

There is also a clear division between the leader and the followers. Authoritarian leaders make decisions independently with little or no input from the rest of the group.

Kills creativity

Decision-making is far less creative under authoritarian leadership, says Kendra Cherry of the Everything Psychology Book, who also notes it is more difficult to go from an authoritarian style to a democratic style than vice versa.

Authoritarian leadership is best applied to situations where there is little time for group decision-making or where the leader is the most knowledgeable member of the group.

The most important lesson is to avoid the obvious extreme when it comes to authoritarian leadership, say the gurus at

“Leading by yelling, threats and abuse of power is rather an unprofessional style that doesn’t belong within a leader’s repertoire,” they say. “What is certain is that yelling, making threats and abusing power is not only ineffective, but leaders who do this are exposing themselves as well as the organization to legal issues.”

Authoritarian leaders are still capable of being very successful leaders when the situation calls for such a style.

But those who are motivated by a lack of self-confidence, insecurity or a feeling of inferiority won’t be successful authoritarian leaders, as their subordinates will quickly discover the leader’s motives and use them to their own advantage.

Come with me

The version of authoritative leadership espoused at isn’t as autocratic or hard core. In fact, the popular chronicler of business trends says this authoritarian style can be effective day in and day out.

In this scenario, an authoritative leader mobilizes the team toward a common vision and focuses on end goals, leaving the means up to each individual. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “Come with me.”

The authoritative style works best when the team needs a new vision because circumstances have changed, or when explicit guidance is not required.

Authoritative leaders who delegate properly can inspire an entrepreneurial spirit and vibrant enthusiasm for the mission. But it is probably not the best fit when the leader is working with a team of experts who know more than him or her.

Alasdair Smith of Demand Media says an authoritarian leader can quickly demoralize the workforce if he is seen to be too draconian and inflexible. The key is to achieve a balance between delivering results and maintaining good staff relations.

For example, in situations where you are making unambiguous and stretching demands on your staff, it is a good practice to also recognize individual or team strengths. Remember, as a leader you are setting the direction but your staff is delivering results in your name.

Are they all monsters?

The Encyclopedia of Education Leadership and Administration pronounces authoritarian leaders monsters, and advises you’re better off just steering clear of them.

It says: “Authoritarian leaders employ coercive tactics to enforce rules, use Machiavellian cunning to manipulate people and decision making, and reward loyalty over merit.

“Control is the primary management strategy employed by authoritarian leaders. This form of leadership emphasizes objectivity in the workplace, tends to be impervious to human problems, is insensitive to race and gender, and displays little emotion or affection toward employees.

The encyclopedia points out that Douglas McGregor’s Theory X  “becomes the authoritarian’s motif, believing that people must be forced to work, closely supervised, and rewarded or punished based on individual productivity. They believe in a top-down, line-and-staff organizational system with clear levels of authority and reporting processes.

Fred Fiedler found that authoritarian leaders can be viewed as successful in certain task situations — allowing for the extremes of consideration and ruthlessness, depending on the situation.”

Good luck with it!

This is the third in a series of articles on effective leadership styles. To see the other articles, please go to 6 Leadership Styles That Get Results.

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