This archetypal leader inluences people by applying power and authority. This authority may be rooted in the leader's position in a hierarchy, or it may be vested in that person by the other people in the organization. In other words, it can result from action by the leader or from action by the people in the organization.
The authoritarian leader in our model is not a dictator. Dictators use force, often violent force, to accomplish their objectives. Authoritarian leaders, by contrast, inluence others through the power of persuasion. The purposeful behaviour of the authoritarian leader is coupled with a powerful conidence that he is the most competent person to make the important
decisions relative to organizational values, strategy, and action. Less commonly, the people in the organization decide to give signiicant authority to a leader because the situation requires rapid decision making. An example of this would be a crisis in a company that can best be addressed by a particular competent leader with the capability to make all the decisions. Most people would associate this style with ego-driven motivation. But this style can also be motivated by service, that is, by a purpose beyond self.
For example, an army general who needs to rapidly capture ground from the enemy will not necessarily be concerned about the immediate wants and needs of others. Instead, he will act purposefully on the premise that the action will serve society and create positive change. He will be concerned about the state of readiness of his assets and people, and he will have prepared them for an attack. He will not accept anything other than full acceptance of his orders. This is a pure form of authoritarian leadership.
This leadership style is highly eficient. Decisions and conclusions are reached quickly. There is little discussion and very few experiments are done to ind alternative approaches. So this is a low-cost, rapid, and eficient way to achieve results. By contrast, the coaching style and the organizer style (see below) seek the best results for all stakeholders. (Note that seeking does not always lead to inding.)
The leader–follower dynamic is extremely important in order to understand the value of the authoritarian style. The similarities and differences in character, personality, and values between the leader and followers always have a strong impact on relationships within the group or organization. But in an organization or group led by an authoritarian leader, these similarities and differences are critical.
The followers in an organization led by an authoritarian leader are primarily concerned about whether that leader will deliver success or failure, turmoil or harmony. Also, those who follow an authoritarian leader need to be the right people at the right time and place if the organization is to succeed. And these people need to have a very high amount of trust in their leader: they need to believe that their leader is the right person to lead them and that the goal the leader has deined is the right one – one that transcends any input they might have. There are always good people who are willing and able to work for an authoritarian, but there are also many good people who are not willing to do so and who will never be able to subjugate themselves to an authoritarian's ends.
I have known at least two authoritarian leaders well; they were both engineers who founded their own companies. One was a former engineering professor who founded a company in an important arena of
environmentalism; the other founded a specialty machine manufacturing irm. Both leaders were successful, and their companies prospered under their purposeful leadership. Each of the engineers was the most competent business person in the company as well as the most competent technology person. Each had a mission that produced results that improved the lives of people – certainly of their stakeholders.
To illustrate a temporary shift to an authoritarian style, I was in a leadership role at one of our company's manufacturing units when we experienced a large increase in workplace injuries. Up to that point, the leadership style in that unit had been highly democratic: focused on coaching and continuous improvement. I communicated to the organization that because of the spike in injuries, I would become much more operational and authoritarian. The organization responded well as a more controlled environment was introduced. Changes were made unilaterally, and when improvements began, I moved back to a more developmental style. The organization welcomed that return, but it also understood why an authoritarian approach had been necessary for a time.
Organizations in extreme crisis, or those that have had extreme change thrust upon them, often beneit from a strong-willed and competent authority igure. Such an organization can beneit from a leader whose strength of character and undeniable skills are attuned to the reality of the crisis and who steps forward to take charge. Similarly, there will be followers who recognize that the situation demands that they step forward and place their trust in this leader. So there are situations where an organization and its stakeholders can beneit from authoritarian leadership.
The term “power based” is often used to describe this style of leadership in the sense that all power in the organization is in the hands of the leader. Unfortunately, the word “power” has become demonized in today's leadership practice that places a high value on collaboration. The reality is that all leaders seek the power to inluence others to change and that there are many examples of positive results being generated from the use of power. “Power,” then, can be a positive thing. Yet the fact remains that authoritarian leaders give orders without attempting to inspire others or inluence them with logical argument.
The behaviours of an authoritarian leader include the following traits. First and foremost, she “does it all” by declaring what, when, where, why, and how things will be done, with little input from the group. She is the singular force in the group. Her every action is designed to maximize her authority and personal inluence within the group. That group's goals and objectives are based on the leader's deined needs in the given situation. A unique trait of authoritarian leaders is that they tend to look outside the group or organization for alliances and partnerships. There are several reasons why. First, this sort of leader does not want to share inluence or decision-making authority with those in the group, within which he has based his leadership on the authority of “one.” Also, he will use outside experts as an opportunity to gain capability or to share any failure. Authoritarian leaders are not stupid: they want to make good, purposeful decisions, so they often seek outside counsel who, not coincidentally, can also serve as scapegoats as necessary. An authoritarian leader's worst fear is of being solely blameworthy for failure, for this would destroy his reputation as well as his ego. So he takes steps to ensure that there will be others to share responsibility or blame for any failure.
So authoritarian leaders behave in certain ways, and some get positive results while others do not. As with all leadership styles, the results depend on the situation and on the culture of the organization.
Many people considered Steve Jobs of Apple to be an authoritarian. Many successful founder-led organizations in the IT ield are authoritarian in nature. Dick Cheney in the George W. Bush White House was an authoritarian leader. You will be able to think of many others.
A inal important point: each of the leadership styles discussed in this book can be used by leaders motivated by ego, by leaders reacting to outside inluences, or by leaders who behave purposefully. Authoritarian leaders are often motivated by ego. But authoritarian leaders can also be motivated by a purpose beyond themselves. Such leaders are competent to take action and deine direction without reference to others – to do it themselves, and to do it purposefully, motivated by values beyond their own – and they are recognized as such.