Leadership Styles | Confidence | Successful Leader | Principles

Leadership Styles – Autocratic vs Democratic vs Bureaucratic

Research and investigation into different management leadership styles has been fragmented and inconsistent. The key to good leadership development is a good knowledgebase.  That’s why we bring you an in-depth look at 3 key leadership styles that will highlight the benefits and shortfalls commonly associated with each. These styles are autocratic, democratic and bureaucratic. But enough talking – lets get stuck in!

What is Autocratic Leadership?

Autocratic leadership is a classical leadership style with the following characteristics:

1. Manager seeks to make as many decisions as possible

2. Manager seeks to have the most authority and control in decision making

3. Manager seeks to retain responsibility rather than utilise complete delegation

4. Consultation with other colleagues in minimal and decision making becomes a solitary process

5. Managers are less concerned with investing their own leadership development, and prefer to simply work on the task at hand.

The autocratic leadership style is seen as an old fashioned technique. It has existed as long as managers have commanded subordinates, and is still employed by many leaders across the globe. The reason autocratic leadership survives, even if it is outdated, is because it is intuitive, carries instant benefits, and comes natural to many leaders. Many leaders who start pursuing leadership development are often trying to improve upon their organisations autocratic leadership style.

What Are The Benefits Of The Autocratic Leadership Style?

Despite having many critics, the autocratic leadership styles offer many advantages to managers who use them. These include:

Reduced stress due to increased control. Where the manager ultimately has significant legal and personal responsibility for a project, it will comfort them and reduce their stress levels to know that they have control over their fate.

A more productive group ‘while the leader is watching’. The oversight that an autocratic manager exerts over a team improves their working speed and makes them less likely to slack. This is ideal for poorly motivated employees who have little concern or interest in the quality or speed of work performed.

Improved logistics of operations. Having one leader with heavy involvement in many areas makes it more likely that problems are spotted in advance and deadlines met. This makes autocratic leadership ideal for one-off projects with tight deadlines, or complicated work environments where efficient cooperation is key to success.

Faster decision making. When only one person makes decisions with minimal consultation, decisions are made quicker, which will allow the management team to respond to changes in the business environment more quickly.

What Are The Disadvantages Of The Autocratic Leadership Style?

Short-termistic approach to management. While leading autocratically will enable faster decisions to be made in the short term, by robbing subordinates of the opportunity to gain experience and start on their own leadership development,  and learn from their mistakes, the manager is actually de-skilling their workforce which will lead to poorer decisions and productivity in the long run.

Manager perceived as having poor leadership skills. While the autocratic style has merits when used in certain environments (as highlighted below), autocratic leadership style is easy yet unpopular. Managers with poor leadership skills with often revert to this style by default.

Increased workload for the manager. By taking on as much responsibility and involvement as possible, an autocratic leader naturally works at their full capacity, which can lead to long term stress and health problems and could damage working relationships with colleagues. This hyper-focus on work comes at the expense of good leadership development.

People dislike being ordered around. They also dislike being shown very little trust and faith. As a result, the autocratic leadership style can result in a demotivated workforce. This results in the paradox that autocratic leadership styles are a good solution for demotivated workers, but in many cases, it is the leadership style alone that demotivates them in the first place. Generation Y employees particularly dislike this style.

Teams become dependent upon their leader. After becoming conditioned to receive orders and act upon them perfectly, workers lose initiative and the confidence to make decisions on their own. This results in teams of workers who become useless at running operations if they loose contact with their leader. This is the result of a lack of time dedicated to leadership development on the employees part.

When is the Autocratic Leadership Style Effective?

Following on from the merits and drawbacks listed above, the autocratic leadership style is useful in the following work situations:

1. Short term projects with a highly technical, complex or risky element.

2. Work environments where spans of control are wide and hence the manager has little time to devote to each employee.

3. Industries where employees need to perform low-skilled, monotonous and repetitive tasks and generally have low levels of motivation.

4. Projects where the work performed needs to be completed to exact specifications and/or with a tight deadline.

5. Companies that suffer from a high employee turnover, i.e. where time and resources devoted to leadership development would be largely wasted. Although one could argue that a lack of leadership development in the first place caused the high turnover.

What is Democratic Leadership?

Democratic Leadership is the leadership style that promotes the sharing of responsibility, the exercise of delegation and continual consultation. The style has the following characteristics: 1. Manager seeks consultation on all major issues and decisions. 2. Manager effectively delegate tasks to subordinates and give them full control and responsibility for those tasks. 3. Manager welcomes feedback on the results of intiatives and the work environment. 4. Manager encourages others to become leaders and be involved in leadership development.

What Are The Benefits Of The Democratic Leadership Style?

Positive work environment. A culture where junior employees are given fair amount of responsibility and are allowed to challenge themselves is one where employees are more enthused to work and enjoy what they do. Successful initiatives. The process of consultation and feedback naturally results in better decision making and more effective operations. Companies run under democratic leadership tend to run into fewer grave mistake and catastrophes. To put it simply – people tell a democratic leader when something is going badly wrong, while employees are encouraged to simply hide it from an autocrat. Creative thinking. The free flow of ideas and positive work environment is the perfect catalyst for creative thinking.  The benefits of this aren’t just relevant for creative industries, because creative thinking is required to solve problems in every single organisation, whatever it’s nature. Reduction of friction and office politics. By allowing subordinates to use their ideas and even more importantly – gain credit for them, you are neatly reducing the amount of tension employees generate with their manager. When autocratic leaders refuse to listen to their workers, or blatantly ignore their ideas, they are effectively asking for people to talk behind their back and attempt to undermine or supercede them. Reduced employee turnover. When employees feel empowered through leadership development, a company will experience lower rates of employee turnover which has numerous benefits. A company that invests in leadership development for its employees, is investing in their future, and this is appreciated by a large majority of the workforce.

What Are The Disadvantages Of The Democratic Leadership Style?

Lengthy and ‘boring’ decision making. Seeking consultation over every decision can lead to a process so slow that it can cause opportunities to be missed, or hazards avoided too late. Danger of pseudo participation. Many managers simply pretend to follow a democratic leadership style simply to score a point in the eyes of their subordinates. Employees are quick to realise when their ideas aren’t actually valued, and that the manager is merely following procedure in asking for suggestions, but never actually implementing them. In other words, they’re simply exerting autocratic leadership in disguise.

When Is The Democratic Leadership Style Effective?

Now you’ve heard about the benefits and drawbacks of this leadership style, let’s look at where its actually implemented in the business world. 1. Democratic leadership is applied to an extent in the manufacturing industry, to allow employees to give their ideas on how processes can become leaner and more efficient. While ‘Fordism’ is still applied in some factories across the country, truth is that production managers are now really starting to harness the motivational bonuses associated with not treating employees like robots anymore. 2. Democratic leadershp is effective in proffessional organisations where the emphasis is clearly on training, professional & leadership development and quality of work performed. Democratic procedures are simply just one cog in the effective leadership mechanisms firms like The Big Four have created over the years. 3. Non profit organisations also tremendously benefit from drawing upon the creative energies of all their staff to bring about cost cutting techniques or fund raising ideas. 4. As previously mentioned, creative industries such as advertising and television enjoy alot of benefits from the free flow of ideas that democratic leadership brings.

What Is Bureaucratic Leadership?

The bureaucratic leadership style is concerned with ensuring workers follow rules and procedures accurately and consistently. Bureaucratic leadership normally has the following characteristics: 1. Leaders expect a employees to display a formal, business-like attitude in the workplace and between each other. 2. Managers gain instant authority with their position, because rules demand that employees pay them certain priveledges, such as being able to sign off on all major decisions. As a result, leaders suffer from ‘position power’. Leadership development becomes pointless, because only titles and roles provide any real control or power. 3. Employees are rewarded for their ability to adhere to the rules and follow procedure perfectly. 4. Bureaucratic systems usually gradually develop over a long period of time, and hence are more commonly found in large & old businesses.

What Are The Benefits Of The Bureaucratic Leadership Style?

Increased safety. In dangerous workplaces where procedures save lives, a bureaucratic management style can help enforce health and safety rules. Quality work. Some tasks, such as completing proffessional work or medical examinations, need to be done in a meticulous fashion to be done correctly. Laziness can result in poor work, and hence one solution is to enforce the rules via the bureacratic leadership style. Ultimate control. An environment whereby employees are intrinsically motivated to follow rules in order to be promoted and succeed results in the tightest control management can ever assume over a company. This control can be used to cut costs or improve productivity.

What Are The Disadvantages Of The Bureaucratic Leadership Style?

Dehumanises the business. Bureacratic companies tend to remove as much potential for ‘human error’ out of the picture as possible. Unfortunately this also has the effect of removing all the enjoyment and reward that comes from deciding how to do a task and accomplishing it. Lack of self-fulfillment. The bureaucratic way of working hampers employees efforts to become successful and independent, because the system becomes too contraining. Parkinson’s Law. Cyril Northcote Parkinson made the scientific observation that the number of staff in bureaucracies increased by an average of 5%-7% per year “irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done.”". He explains this growth by two forces: (1) “An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals” and (2) “Officials make work for each other.” Parkinson’s findings suggest that bureaucratic leadership encourages inefficiency and waste of internal resources in the long run. ‘Position power’ obessession. After working in an environment that reinforces the idea that authority is created by rules which in turn support senior positions. Employees become attached to the idea that simply being in a job position creates authority. This can lead to intense office politics, arrogant leaders and little incentive to perform well once an employee has landed a top job. Lack of creativity. It goes without saying that a rule-based culture hinders creativity and encourages workers to simply perform puppet-like work rather than think independently. This may result in a lack of growth in the business due to employees simply not thinking out of the box or looking for new areas to develop. Poor communication. A common feature of a bureaucratic system is a complicated network of communication lines. Managers who don’t want to be ‘bothered’ by junior staff simply create procedures that allow them to avoid communicating with those below them. ‘Go through the formal process’, ‘Talk to my secretary’ and ‘My schedule is full’ are common rule-based excuses for blocked contact. Barriers to communication can hinder the success of any company. For example, the board may be charging ahead with a doomed product simply because their shop floor workers cannot pass on the message that customers are giving very negative feedback.

When Is The Bureaucratic Leadership Style Effective?

Bureaucratic leadership is found in extremely large corporations such as General Electric, Daimler and General Motors. However these cultures have evolved due to the age and size of these companies, and are generally blamed for the slow growth and recent failures at these companies. 1. Governmental bodies often have bureaucratic systems, and while these are often despised by the public, they ensure accountability to the tax payer and fair treatment for all. Excessive form-filling also serves the purpose of passing effort from the government authority (with a tight budget) onto the individual, helping to save costs. 2. Dangerous workplaces such as mines, oil rigs, construction sites and film sets all benefit from the tight control over health and safety that rules offer.

What Different Leadership Types Are There?

These 3 key management leadership styles are by no means a comprehensive list. Different leadership styles include laissez faire leadership, where the leader sets tasks and leaves workers up to their own devices to complete it.

To help you discover which leadership style you possess, try our new:

Leadership Style Questionnaire.

Leadership Development

Leadership development is a complicated area, and thus countless styles have been theorised and researched. Good leadership development often involves using resources such as Leadership Expert to be ‘sift’ through these different leadership development tips and ideas. Once you’ve been able to pull together a solid leadership development plan for yourself, you can start to really engage your employees – and maybe even set them off on their own leadership development quest!

Leadership Expert also has articles on another leadership style: charismatic leadership. You may also want to read our articles on leadership theories and common leadership traits.


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