An autocratic leader can cause issues to staff morale and ultimately affect the outputs of employees within an organisation. A manager who is seen as ruthless and driven may demand (and get) results and this has been evidenced by a whole range of leaders historically, but in the modern workplace this type of leadership can have a negative effect.
Those who make unilateral decisions without consultation are able to get things done in a much more timely manner, but their style will often discourage team members from making their own suggestions or taking part in the decision making process, which can demotivate and stifle innovation and creativity.
Should you encounter such a beast then here are some hints and tips for coping:
Understand what motivates an autocratic leader
An autocratic leader has a desire to dominate those around them and will display behaviours of having an authoritarian personality. You will often see an autocratic leader create a strong vision of their own reality and use this to overcome resistance in order to achieve results – they will see things in a way that is very clear to them and this makes the decision-making process easier. These leaders are straightforward and direct. Generally they will not concern themselves with the feelings of others. They will not tolerate underperformance or excuses as they will strive for perfection. It is this approach that will often lead to relationship issues with colleagues as they will demonstrate strong willpower and want to achieve their goals, no matter what.
An autocratic leader craves the limelight and wants to be the centre of the conversation, considers himself or herself as the one and only decision-maker and will ignore suggestions from others, no matter how helpful or not. The perception that they do not trust others to make decisions is usually true and based upon their own opinion that their own decision making is superior.
From experience, they feel that without this control, others would be less productive and could be labelled as being lazy or just there to get the salary without having the interests of the company in mind.
Know the weaknesses of an autocratic leader
Inevitably, with every autocratic leader there will be a significant number of people who would like to see them fail. The majority of these people will be the employees and subordinates, especially those that do not profit from this leadership style, or receive any kinds of advantages from the leader. Those who have been forced to leave the organisation due to the autocratic leader would be even keener to see them fail.
It is actually difficult for the leader to succeed when surrounded by people who resent this success. Often colleagues of autocratic leaders are afraid of the consequences of speaking up, but once the leader is in trouble then everyone who has a personal issue against them will speak up.
Never take it personally
As previously mentioned, an autocratic leader is not interested in feelings or emotions. This may make them appear cold and insensitive in their decision-making processes. It is common to see the response of becoming passive-aggressive as a coping strategy. This means that people adopt a work-to-rule mentality and only do what they are told, but may apply delaying tactics or excuses for causing their manager to not meet targets. If you don’t take this style personally and try not to be passive-aggressive, you can keep productivity at a constant level. This is mostly a subconscious reaction to fend off the orders of a dominant leader. Furthermore it is important to know that the (negative) behaviour of an autocratic leader is not your fault, or the fault of any of your co-workers.
How to deal with autocratic bosses:
Don´t try to change them
It is virtually impossible to change their point of view or how they think in general, so don’t waste your time. Openly questioning them on their leadership style will not change how they are. There is a saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks and the more an autocratic leader matures the harder it will become to change their attitude and beliefs, especially if they have had success by managing this way in the past.
Focus on your work
An autocratic leader will know exactly what they expect from you and the results you need to achieve. Focus your time on getting your jobs done and to the level required. An autocratic boss often does not want to be bothered with the details of your tasks, so you are free to change the direction if the job requires it, as long as you deliver the outcome your boss desires.
It is very easy to lose your temper with an autocratic leader and to try to pick a fight. In this scenario it is important to remain calm, to concentrate on the tasks that you have been set and to remain professional and respectful at all times. If this continues to be an issue then limit your interactions with these types of autocratic leaders as much as it is possible for you.
Do not be defensive
There may be a perception that autocratic leaders tend to prey on the weak. This may not be the case, it’s just that their ability to cope with that kind of management is more obvious to see. If you are completing the tasks you have been set to a level that you believe to be acceptable then it is possible to be more assertive and professional towards an autocratic leader without coming across as being disrespectful towards them. By doing this, you are less likely to appear to be weak or unsure when challenged.
By continually meeting targets and performing given tasks to an acceptable level, you will eventually gain more and more of the trust of your autocratic boss. This will allow you to get more autonomy and the freedom to execute your tasks in the way you prefer to do it.
In summary, autocratic leaders can be problematic and their style does not suit all individuals or organisations. Some people will see the environment as detrimental to their own development. Their approach does allow for decisions to be made quickly and decisively and in certain situations this is vital. Should you find yourself managed by someone who you feel to be autocratic then you need to strive to complete the tasks you are set in a professional and timely manner. By doing so you may achieve more autonomy yourself.
Ultimately if you still find yourself in a situation where you are struggling to work with a manager who is showing these qualities then you may benefit from a department or role change so you are able to connect with a manager who can provide a more supportive and democratic approach – not all good managers are autocratic!