Autocratic vs Bureaucratic Leadership

 Autocratic Leadership

We have autocratic leadership. Which can be considered a more extreme form of transactional leadership. With autocratic leadership, the leaders have much more power over the people in an organization. And generally what an autocratic leader says has to be taken as gospel by the staff, who will have little opportunity to make any suggestions, even if those suggestions will be in the best interest of the team. Autocratic or autocracy is a term that means rule by one. Which is precisely what this leadership style signifies. In contrast to that, we have the word oligarchy, which means to rule by few. Plutocracy, which means to rule by the rich. And finally, democracy is governed by all. We’ll be exploring the democratic leadership style later. Autocracy or autocratic leadership may sound quite horrible and bad, but there’s a definite benefit to autocratic leadership in that it is very efficient, and decisions can be made very quickly.

In a time of crisis where the course of a company needs to be changed promptly, an autocratic leadership is just what you need to get the point across quickly. The downside is that people tend to resent being treated that way. So if you resort to this style of leadership frequently, then you might find staff get fed up and want to leave the organization. Therefore you might only want to use this style sparingly, in a time of crisis. A perfect example of autocratic leadership is in the military. Where top commanders are responsible for making complex decisions with the expectations that the troops under the commander will execute the orders without hesitation. Of course the military is different to a company, because troops train to follow orders continually without fail. Whereas expecting staff in a company to blindly follow orders all the time isn’t necessarily sustainable. Especially with more creative knowledge workers, like software developers or designers. A modern organization isn’t the military though. So I recommend being cautious about using autocratic leadership too often, and only use it if there is a crisis, or you need to refocus a team quickly and efficiently. But expect some dissent from the team members.

So let’s summarize some of the advantages and disadvantages of autocratic leadership. Main benefit is the decisions will be made very quickly. Which is useful in times of crisis or emergency where clear decisions need to be made. This is why this style is used by the military as there is a clear line of control, and you do what the leader says with no or very little recourse. This style might also be very good for inexperienced members of staff who initially need to be told what to do. Autocratic leadership is also good when you have unmotivated or underperforming staff. While we have these advantages, there are also some key disadvantages to an autocratic leadership style. For the leader, this style can increase the work burden. If you’re giving out specific orders to your team, then there can be a tendency to micro-manage individuals which creates a significant burden on the leader, as there is a lot to keep track of. And this can lead to a lot of stress if it is not handled well. This level of micro-managing and direct authoritative leadership can also be very demoralizing for highly skilled or motivated workers. I’ve seen many instances where staff leave an organization as they feel they have no freedom due to an autocratic leader with a tendency to micro-manage. Another disadvantage is autocratic leadership creates a dependency on the leader. As it is more effective if the leader is present all the time to give orders. With a leadership style like transformational leadership, which we will be covering later when the leader is not present, the team is still motivated to continue. But if you have an autocratic leader who is not present, then there is no guarantee that the team will continue working at the desired pace.

 Bureaucratic Leadership

The next style of leadership I want to discuss is bureaucratic leadership. The best way to describe this style of leadership are leaders who work by the book, and rigorously follow rules and procedures precisely. If you work in a very regulated or safety critical environment, then this style of leadership is very much needed. If your teams are working with machinery or perhaps chemicals or anything dangerous, then having rigid rules and procedures in place that need to be followed is precisely what is required. You’ll also find bureaucratic leadership used where large sums of money are involved. Such as in banking, wealth management, or trading environments.

The benefits are evident in these circumstances because they are there to ensure compliance or safety. There are downsides though that this style of leadership can be ineffective in teams that will earn their members creative or innovative. As the added bureaucracy can be very stifling. In these scenarios, you might see bureaucratic leadership blended with another style. For example, if you are running an agile software development team working on a banking product, you may default to servant leadership. However because of the rigid financial compliance regulations, you may have to blend in a level of bureaucratic leadership to ensure your team members are following compliance rules correctly. Such as limited developer access to production systems, or reducing access to personal data on customers. This is exactly a situation where I’ve been in working for large global banks.

As a leader, I wanted to make sure my team members had the freedom to innovate and produce new systems. I also had to ensure specific compliance rules and procedures were followed to make sure we remained compliant. Which means I had to continually keep on top of making the teams followed these rules. In times where team members were not following the rules, I’d have to for those people, switch to a transactional style of leadership when extreme cases in autocratic style, to make sure those team members adjusted immediately than most of their cases. So let’s summarize some of the advantages and disadvantages of bureaucratic leadership. First, as an advantage, bureaucratic leaders help to clarify a roles within the team as it is very prescriptive about following rules. So you can ensure those rules are carried out by particular people. Bureaucratic leadership also helps remove any issues of favoritism within the team, as everyone should be following a specific set of rules or procedures to produce the best possible results and follow best practices. Bureaucratic leadership is very results focused. It’s not necessarily about the people producing the results, but the results themselves.

This is why this style of leadership is particularly suited to safety critical or compliance heavy organizations. For disadvantages, bureaucratic leadership can limit a leader’s form of progression within a company. As it can be seen as especially due to the complex rules and regulations that they have to follow. This could also be true for team members if they are under this style of leadership. It is okay if team members or the leader are very invested in what they are doing. But other opportunities might be harder to come by traditionally, compared to teams that work under a leadership style that enables them to be more creative and innovative. Due to the level of bureaucracy that is needed to follow compliance or safety rules, the level of freedom for creativity is also massively diminished, which could be a problem for people who want more challenges in their working career. If you have people on the team who are not as invested in the rules or processes being followed, you could have higher than normal attrition on the team. The final disadvantage I want to mention is that for leaders who operate as a bureaucratic leader, adapting to change can be very difficult if the rules you operate under change over time. It can be very easy to get so used to following a set of rules that adapting can be difficult for the leader and the team. Fear of change is always a big problem in organizations.