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Autocratic leaders

In recent times we have been hearing the word autocratic leadership bandied about in the press in relation to political, educational and other management woes.

Take for instance, a young supervisor whose mandate among other things was to ensure that overtime was kept to a minimum in her department. This seems like a good enough request prima facie, however when employees have grown accustomed to getting that extra bit every month they do not take kindly to its removal. Furthermore, management habitually seems oblivious to this important piece of information. They, for the most part, are focusing their time and energies on reducing cost and increasing revenue, so resistance to change is repeatedly overlooked.

Therefore, the employee/supervisor whose mandate is to achieve the required goal is then left up to their own devices. To make matters worse all of the suggestions about managing that are proposed in text books are often ignored in the real business environment. Suggestions like strategic planning, equal employment opportunity and training and development are disregarded when management wants something accomplished. As a result, people without the relevant training are expected to perform under circumstances in which they are ill-equipped. More often than not, this person resorts to a leadership style which is customary within the Caribbean culture.The article this week is about the autocratic style of leadership.

Firstly, I will define autocratic leadership as proposed by Robbins and Coulter (2012) as “a leader who dictated work methods, made unilateral decisions and limited employee participation.” One should not be surprised to know that this style of leader is often described as authoritarian.

Another author (Murugan 2007) provided more detail about this style of leader and suggested that this style of leader ensures that he/she becomes the centre of power in the organisation. This enables them to maintain complete control of their employees/subordinates to the point where he/she micro manages the smallest tasks.

You will be surprised to know that the autocratic leadership style has some advantages. For instance, during a crisis and other stressful situations there is no time for long deliberations. In such situations employees need a leader who will point them in the right direction and advise what to do.

But as we all know there is a time and place for everything and although this type of leader is not necessarily insensitive they are not easy to work with (DuBrin, 2006).

So you may ask how do we recognise this type of leader. These people have certain attributes that include having little or no concern for subordinates, they often refuse to give up even the smallest control of power, utilising downward forms of communication along with criticism and they may resort to intimidation as a means of control (Murugan, 2007).

The autocratic leader has a profound impact on employees who react by reducing initiative and organisational citizenship behaviour or by avoiding responsibility. They may even become frustrated and may experience low morale and job dissatisfaction. Furthermore, employees who work under such leadership often display insecure behaviour along with lack of knowledge and may even demonstrate fear of their leader’s influence (Murugan, 2007).

Although they are several individuals who are quick to accuse others of being autocratic leaders this leadership style is very prevalent within organisations in Barbados today. Several complaints have been laid by individual employees as well as their unions about bosses who are unapproachable and it’s “their way or the highway”. So this style has been around for some years now.

However, because it is widespread, does not make it satisfactory and every effort must be made to bring about positive change to this form of behaviour.

Finally, given that we are a society that is struggling to rid itself of colonial shackles we may find changing this style of leadership difficult at first. One may ask the question, why do we find this style of leadership so difficult to abandon?

Well research has shown that the Caribbean society was born out of viciousness and forced enslavement and authority from the planter class. Since they were the first role models for managers in the region one can only imagine how embedded the autocratic style of leadership has become.

For instance, many managers today have been overheard saying that they do not believe in complimenting staff/employees. One can only conclude that this style of management has become so embedded within our subconscious that we are not aware of our actions (Hodge, 2010). Hence, making it difficult for them to be civil enough to offer acclamation when merited.

Finally, as time progresses and the consequences to productivity and employee well-being are ventilated, I am convinced that this style of leadership will fade away. One must add here that one autocratic manager is one too many, given the availability of education within the region. Hopefully with training and development a strong message would be sent to managers who use this style of leadership that it will not be tolerated.

*Daren Greaves is a Management and Organisational Psychology and Consultant at Phone (246) 436-4215.

“People who understand human behaviour in the workplace”

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