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What is autocratic leadership?

If you’ve been following our series on leadership styles, you’re already familiar with transformational leadership and transactional leadership. Today, we’re adding another style to the list and will be exploring the ins and outs of autocratic leadership, which is also commonly referred to as authoritarian leadership. 

What is autocratic leadership?

The definition

Autocratic leadership is defined by a top-down approach when it comes to all decision-making, procedures, and policies within an organization. An autocratic leader focuses less on collecting input from team members and tends to make executive decisions that others are expected to follow. 

Here are a few other attributes of autocratic leadership:

  • Approach tends to be extremely structured and inflexible
  • Doesn’t typically encourage sharing of ideas or feedback
  • Strict adherence to rules and regulations
  • Very close management of followers or employees 
  • Focus on one-way relationships

The origin story

While this type of leadership may be out of place in the modern workplace, there are autocratic leaders who have played important roles throughout history. For instance, Julius Caesar and Henry Ford are two well-known examples of autocratic leaders. Even though many of their actions are controversial today, these individuals are still responsible for some historically significant outcomes, such as the rise of the Roman Empire and the flourishing of the automobile industry in America. 

What are the pros and cons of autocratic leadership?

Autocratic leadership is a style that draws mixed opinions – some believe it’s a very effective way to mobilize a team and get things done, while others believe it’s an unproductive and demotivating way to lead a group of people.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s important to understand both sides in order to see the big picture and determine whether the pros outweigh the cons, or vice versa. We outline the upsides and downsides of autocratic leadership below: 


  • Can be very efficient, especially when it comes to decision making since there’s only one player involved 
  • Keeps teams cohesive and consistent since one person is taking charge
  • May make everyone’s individual roles clearer since they’ll be delegated specific duties and won’t be encouraged to step outside of that role


  • Can stifle creativity, collaboration, and innovation
  • No diversity in thought, which can lead to narrow mindedness
  • May lead to unhappy, disengaged, and unproductive individuals and teams who don’t feel like they have a voice within the organization
  • Doesn’t allow any room for mentorship or professional growth
  • Can lead to abuse of power 

As you can see, there are points to support both sides. And while there are no wrong or right answers, we believe that within the modern context of leadership, this style may not be the most productive approach when it comes to leading people and teams. In this next section, we illustrate why that is.

What type of person is an autocratic leader?

Let’s take a look at what an autocratic leader looks like in action:

Your company recently hired a new Head of Marketing named James to oversee your team. While James is a nice person who is very qualified for the job, he prefers to take an autocratic approach to leadership – which is causing issues at your company.

Instead of asking the team about the existing marketing strategy, James scrapped everything that had been worked on to date and came up with an entirely new plan – which he didn’t run by anyone else. When people had questions and feedback about the strategy, he shut them down and didn’t take any of their suggestions into consideration.

James also assigned specific marketing campaigns to people on the team. But he didn’t take into consideration everyone’s individual strengths and weaknesses, and many of your colleagues – including yourself – felt frustrated by these random assignments. James has also been micro-managing everyone’s work, checking in on the status of projects multiple times a day and making it clear that he doesn’t trust the team to meet deadlines. 

While the marketing goals are technically being met, the marketing team is seeing its highest rate of turnover in history and the remaining employees are extremely unhappy. Unless the organization does something to shift James’ leadership style, your marketing department is sure to continue suffering.

As you can see from this example, there are many downsides that can come with implementing an autocratic leadership style. Even though this type of leadership has historically served a purpose, our workplaces and organizations today have evolved to accommodate a more collaborative, open-minded, and flexible type of leadership. 

Even though autocratic leadership isn’t a style we recommend following, we still believe it’s helpful to understand the various types of leadership that exist so that you can identify where yours falls. If you ever find yourself needing additional support when it comes to developing your leadership skills, remember that there are many training programs and resources you can turn to – whether that’s in the form of coaching or 360-degree assessments.

Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your own leadership style can help you better identify which approach is best for your current role. Check out our ebook, 10 Leadership Styles You Should Know, to learn more about different approaches to leadership and when and how to apply them.