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What is Authoritative Leadership?

There are many different types of leadership styles, but of them all, authoritative leadership is the one considered to be the most controversial. It is also often the most effective. This is because a manager or team leader that adopts an authoritative leadership style is in complete control: they set tasks, set goals, and expect to see the results of those tasks and goals. An authoritative leader will oversee every step of a process with little or no input from their team members. If you like to work independently then working under an authoritative leader could be very difficult. Conversely, authoritative leaders can help coach and shape junior team members to success, developing their own skills and task management techniques. Wondering if you have what it takes to be an authoritative leader? Or if this is the right leadership style for you? Here’s everything you need to know:

What is Authoritative Leadership?

Authoritative leadership refers to any situation where a leader seeks to retain as much power and authority as possible. Authoritative leaders rarely share decision-making processes with anyone else and will not seek the opinions or advice of their team members. Other terms that are used interchangeably with authoritative leadership include coercive leadership or dictatorial leadership. As well as being controlling, authoritative leaders are often demanding. Retaining control of all situations is the primary objective of the authoritative leader. In order to retain this control, the employees working under an authoritative leader are expected to be submissive, compliant, and unfailingly follow the orders and instructions of their team leader.

Failure to comply with the demands of a dictatorial leader, or not following their instructions correctly, could result in being threatened with, or subjected to, some form of punishment. This could be the loss of a commission or bonus or even being removed from your position. Authoritative leaders will focus on ensuring that their will is enforced above anything else. For these reasons, many employees find it very difficult to work under an authoritative leader as their line manager. As you can imagine, working with an authoritative leader can be very stressful, meaning that those employees report low levels of job satisfaction.

There are four different types of authoritative leadership. These are:

  • Intimidation Authoritative Leadership. Individuals who adopt this kind of leadership technique will manage their employees and team members using sternness and intimidation. They hold their team members to incredibly high standards and deal with them harshly when they do not comply with these high standards
  • Reflection Authoritative Leadership. Reflection Authoritative Leaders are driven by drawing from their own experiences and place strong emphasis on following their own intuition. Leaders who utilise reflection authoritative leadership don’t rely on intimidation; instead, they guide their team members by drawing on their own experience. However, they often struggle to learn from the experiences of others. They will use their own experience to determine the best strategy for their employees and will follow this regardless of their employee’s input
  • Adaption Authoritative Leadership. These are leaders who are fundamentally authoritative, but who adapt their approach to suit the situations that they find themselves in. Sometimes they will feel the need to intimidate their employees to achieve results, whilst other times they may guide and educate their employees to get the best from them
  • Reaction Authoritative Leadership. Leaders that use a reaction authoritative leadership approach are driven by a desire to prove their own worth, and their worthiness for the position they hold. These leaders encourage their employees to work as hard and efficiently as possible and deal with them sternly if they do not. You can expect leaders adopting this technique to be intense, which can often make them difficult to work with

Characteristics of Authoritative Leadership

Authoritative leaders have many immediately recognisable characteristics that allow them to fulfil their roles successfully. Some of the main characteristics of authoritative leadership are:

  • This leadership style is driven by the authoritative leader’s vision for the organisation. They will decide what is best for their company and for their team, and their team members must adhere to their vision
  • Authoritative leaders are often self-confident, and able to inspire their employees to follow their vision
  • Tasks and responsibilities are described in detail by the authoritative leader. Their team members must complete these tasks according to their specific instructions and will not be permitted to deviate from this prescribed path
  • Authoritative leaders are both task and detail-oriented. Their commitment to completing a task is absolute, and they expect their team members to demonstrate this same commitment
  • This leadership style does not offer any flexibility to the team members working underneath them. When controlled by authoritative leaders, businesses are very structured and don’t offer any room for change, spontaneity, or innovation
  • Authoritative leaders rely on their own judgements and ideas above all else. They see that their judgments are best and will not listen to advice or differing opinions from other members of their team. Their decisions are absolute
  • Authoritative leaders do not value creativity or out-of-the-box thinking. They prefer their employees to follow their prescriptive routines. This means that organisations with authoritative leaders offer lower levels of creativity and innovation
  • Employees working under authoritative leaders often feel unmotivated and uninvolved in decision-making processes. They often work under fear of threats and reprimands from their leader
  • Leaders keep a close eye on group members. They impose harsh penalties for non-compliance and use their power to threaten employees that do not meet their expectations. This can include loss of salary, benefits, or even the loss of their position. Employees viewed as disruptive or disobedient often face tighter restrictions than those that comply with the demands of their authoritative leader
Authoritative leader and his team

Positives of Authoritative Leadership

Whilst authoritative leadership is considered to be a controversial leadership style, it does have some benefits. These include:

  • Reducing Employee Mistakes. Rules and routines are highly prized, and made very clear, under authoritative leaders. As a result, mistakes are less likely to occur in teams that are led by this kind of leader. Because authoritative leaders micromanage their employees, they teach them how to complete tasks very specifically. As a result, authoritative leaders use their experience to ensure that their teams are efficient, safe, and productive
  • Improved Decision Making. Authoritative leaders are independent decision-makers: they do not involve their teams in high-level planning. If an authoritative leader is effective, that means that the decision-making for their team is improved. Decisions can also be made in a very short timeframe because they don’t require collaborative thought. Because of this authoritative leadership can be particularly useful in face-paced, high-pressure situations where time is of the essence
  • Boosted Employee Productivity Levels. The numbers speak for themselves, and the fact is that employees led by authoritative leaders are much more productive than those who are not. Employees led by authoritative leaders don’t have to worry about high-level thinking or dealing with potential problems. Their authoritative leader will do that. Instead, they can spend their time focusing on their own workload

Negatives of Authoritative Leadership

Authoritative leaders can often appear to be controlling and overbearing, which means that employees that aren’t used to working under this kind of leadership model often find it very difficult to adapt to. Some of the main negatives of this leadership model are that:

  • Authoritative leaders can be overbearing. Their approach can seem prescriptive, and they do not allow any of their employees the freedom to focus on independent thought or to work in the way that suits them best
  • Employees working under authoritative leaders often have low morale. This is particularly true when young authoritative leaders are responsible for overseeing older or more experienced colleagues, who may be resentful of the control that the younger individual exerts over them. Authoritative leadership is also negatively related to employees’ attitudes, emotions and perceptions regarding organisational commitment, job satisfaction, and tacit knowledge-sharing intentions
  • Authoritative leaders can make mistakes. No one is infallible, and when the decision-making for a whole team falls to just one person, it is easier for mistakes to slip through the cracks. While other leadership styles may depend upon consensus to identify and prioritise goals, where everyone involved shares in the success and failure, the pressure to make the right decision in this model falls solely to the authoritative leader themselves
  • Authoritative leadership discourages collaboration. Different team members bring different skills and abilities to their roles, but under the authoritative leadership model, this kind of collaboration is discouraged. Authoritative leaders don’t always have the skills they need to make informed decisions, but the model does not allow them to seek the advice and support of their team
  • Authoritative Leadership Can Cause Tension in Teams. This is particularly true if members of the team are not used to, or suited to, this dominant leadership style. Individuals who are inherently creative thinkers and problem solvers may feel that their skills and abilities are neither wanted nor respected within a team led by an authoritative leader

It is important to note that the relationship between authoritative leaders and their employees is a difficult one to fully understand. Whilst it is widely believed that authoritative leadership is detrimental to employee wellbeing, new research suggests that the psychological processes of authoritarian leadership’s influence on employee outcomes are complex. Much of this will depend on the individual employee’s personality type and expectations. It is also important to note that authoritarian leaders typically enhance followers’ sense of identity as group members, contributing to the well-being of the team by completing familiar tasks. This means that what is often viewed as a negative can in fact be a positive.

Situations When Authoritative Leadership Works

Whilst it is clear that there are some drawbacks to authoritative leadership, and this leadership style certainly wouldn’t work for every leader or for every business model, there are some situations where authoritative leadership can be really useful. Some of those situations include:

  • Situations where fast and efficient decision-making is needed. This includes emergency situations, with authoritative leadership working best in
  • Authoritative leaders can also provide teams with a boost in productivity before deadlines are due, to ensure that targets are met or that business goals are achieved
  • Situations where there is little room for error. The famous phrase‘ too many cooks spoil the broth’ often applies to collaborative business models, but authoritative leaders can make fast decisions without diluting these decisions to suit the needs of other people. In situations where an error could have catastrophic consequences, authoritative leadership is the best solution

When to Avoid Authoritative Leadership

Whilst there are some situations where authoritative leadership can be very beneficial, it certainly isn’t a leadership style that works in every circumstance. Authoritative leaders can often help businesses in the short term, driving them through times of crisis or in emergency situations. But in the long-term, this leadership style is often considered to be detrimental and therefore should be avoided.

Authoritative leaders often lack self-awareness, and this means that they are unable to drive businesses to long-term success. What’s more, authoritative leaders often struggle with being held accountable for their actions. Finally, authoritarian leadership has been shown to lead to abuses of power, which is another excellent reason why this isn’t a leadership style that businesses should consciously adopt in the long term.

Examples of Authoritative Leadership

It is not always easy to find examples of authoritative leadership, because often people will avoid self-identifying as an authoritative leader due to the stigma that is attached to the title. Despite this, there are some famous examples that can be easily identified as authoritative leaders. These include:

  • Bill Gates. Bill Gates had a strong vision for Microsoft: he saw the direction in which the software industry was moving, and he was keen to move Microsoft in that same direction. Using an authoritative leadership style, he held the reins at Microsoft. He used his position as an authority within his industry, and within his company, to align the resources of Microsoft with his specific vision, and when that vision proved successful, he reaped the rewards
  • Martin Luther King. Whilst this example may be taken from outside of the business world, Martin Luther King is a great example of a leader who had a vision, and mobilised a large team of individuals to follow that vision. He spoke with authority, he knew what the future could look like, and he didn’t deviate from this path, and then he encouraged others to follow him. He demonstrated many of the characteristics associated with an authoritative leader, but in a positive way that inspired his followers
  • More obvious, and negative, examples of authoritative leadership include dictators such as Adolf Hiter, Benito Mussolini, and Kim Jong-un. They used their authority to control those working under them, and not accept any deviation from their vision
  • Martha Stewart. Martha Stewart was once considered to be one of the most famous and powerful women in the world. She achieved this enviable position by being a scrupulous and meticulous boss. Stewart kept a tight leash on her employees and insisted on ensuring that her vision was always followed and fulfilled. She knew how she wanted her empire to look and worked hard to achieve this goal
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