Reduce the Allure of Autocratic Leaders

Raise your hand if, during a tense time in your organization, someone felt shut down by the boss and said something like, “I thought we lived in a democracy?” and the manager sneered, “This is not a democracy — I’m in charge.”

Some misguided coworkers admired that and hailed it as “strong” leadership. Others chuckled and cited the golden rule, “He with the gold makes the rules.” For some, this outlandish response elicited little more than a shrug.

Well, leaders don’t shrug.

Gone unpunished, the organization sets itself up to gradually tolerate authoritarian policies and practices.

There is an unfortunate rise in authoritarianism across the globe, and various economic, political, and social conditions are certainly contributing factors. Unacceptable for most reading this, but what are you doing to stifle its emergence in your day-to-day world?

A desire to reduce the allure of authoritarian leaders and discourage autocratic leadership at work and in most organizations is crucial.

A primer: Autocratic leadership is a form of leadership in which the leader has absolute power and authority and makes decisions without consulting or involving employees. On the plus side, because the leader has total control, they can make decisions quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, employees are quick to become disempowered and disengaged, and the leader often makes poor decisions without sound input from others.

You see this in the boss or manager who purports absolute power and authority and makes decisions without employees’ input or consent. This creates a harmful and oppressive environment where employees are, at best, denied dignity and, at worst, their rights, making it impossible for them to contribute their ideas and perspectives safely.

Unfettered autocracy in any organization demoralizes and disconnects employees. Since the perspectives and needs of employees are not considered, poor decision-making occurs. This leads to ineffective operations, ultimately harming the organization’s bottom line. The damage to the organization and its employees could contribute to a gradual acceptance of authoritarianism in broader society by normalizing oppressive and unfair treatment of individuals.

This is why you must challenge autocracy in any environment. Organizations must implement policies and practices that promote participation in decision-making and provide support and resources for employees to confront authoritarianism as soon as it rears its ugly head. And employees can organize and mobilize to demand greater fairness and accountability and use their collective power to challenge autocratic leaders and policies.

We must do a better job at keeping any autocratic leadership at bay and reduce the tendencies to revel in the short-term gains it can appear to provide. Organizations must increase education and awareness about the adverse effects of autocracy in general and provide training and support for their leaders to develop alternative leadership styles.

A proactive business could implement policies and practices that:

  • Provide employees a greater role in decision-making

Implementing measures like these will help raise awareness and understanding of the adverse effects of autocracy and will provide employees and leaders with the knowledge and skills they need to challenge autocratic thinking in the workplace.

How can you stand against autocracy in your workplace?

  1. Use your voice and your vote to hold leaders accountable for their actions by participating in workplace elections, surveys, and other decision-making that can help ensure that the leadership reflects the will of the employees.

As an effective, stewardship-minded, transformational leader, you want a workplace that allows employees to feel empowered and engaged. One that enables all leaders to benefit from diverse perspectives and ideas, leading to better decision-making, improved performance, and a more positive and productive work environment.

Although the terms are nebulous, “lousy leadership” and “effective leadership” are two very different styles of leadership that can have profound effects on organizations of any size or type.

While lousy leadership is characterized by authoritarianism, selfishness, and a lack of accountability, effective leadership is based on democratic principles, selflessness, and accountability. The effects of these two leadership styles on different environments are significant. They can have far-reaching consequences for the individuals, organizations, and communities involved.

A lousy leader makes decisions without consulting or involving employees, prioritizes their interests over those of the company and its stakeholders, and is unwilling or unable to take responsibility for their mistakes. This creates an oppressive work environment, resulting in high turnover and low productivity. They prioritize short-term profits over long-term sustainability, engage in unethical practices such as exploitation or discrimination, and resist change and innovation. This can damage the corporation’s reputation and bottom line, harming individuals and communities affected by the corporation’s actions. The lousy leader uses their power and authority to serve their interests, engage in discriminatory practices such as exclusion or prejudice, and be incapable of taking responsibility for their mistakes.

An effective leader involves employees in decision-making, prioritizes the interests of the company and its stakeholders, and is willing and able to take responsibility for their mistakes. Doing so creates a positive and productive work environment, reduces turnover, and raises productivity. They prioritize long-term sustainability and ethical practices such as transparency and accountability and are open to change and innovation. This can result in a positive reputation and strong bottom line for the corporation and benefit the individuals, communities, and environment affected by the corporation’s actions. Effective leaders prioritize the values and principles of the organization and strive to be inclusive and respectful of all individuals and communities.

Promoting fairness, dignity, and participation in decision-making helps to create a more positive and productive work environment and encourages a culture of accountability. This can lead to better decision-making, improved performance, and a more inclusive and just society. We must be vigilant and lessen the impact of autocratic leadership. We must reduce the spread of authoritarianism if we are to enjoy the strengths and value of a democratic and egalitarian society.

Below are ten questions to reflect on. The more affirmatives you have, the more effective you are likely to be as a leader.

  1. Do you involve others in decision-making, listen to their perspectives and ideas, and be accountable for your actions?

Make it a priority to create a personal development plan to improve any areas you fell short. To paraphrase and modify the call of an iconic bear, only you can prevent the spread of autocracy.

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About Karl Bimshas Consulting

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Boston-bred and California-chilled Leadership Adviser | Writer | Podcast Host who helps busy professionals who want to manage better and lead well.

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Karl Bimshas

Boston-bred and California-chilled Leadership Adviser | Writer | Podcast Host who helps busy professionals who want to manage better and lead well.