Leadership optimize

Can an autocratic leadership style work?

The prevailing wisdom among those who speak of leadership techniques is that one should coach employees rather than manage them. The autocratic approach to leadership seems outdated. But is there a still a place for the one-way leadership model?

The prevailing wisdom among those who speak of leadership techniques is that one should coach employees rather than manage them. The autocratic approach to leadership seems outdated. But is there a still a place for the one-way leadership model?

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One would be hard-pressed these days to find a white paper or blog post that exalts an old-fashioned autocratic leadership style. This is a leadership style in which the manager retains as much power and decision-making authority as possible. Under that leadership, employees are not consulted, nor are they allowed to give any input. Employees are motivated through a structured set of rewards and punishments.

What you'll find in the place of advice about that leadership style are multitudes of philosophic musings about coaching techniques, empowering employees, working with employees to establish goals, and developing employee growth plans.

I will agree that the latter style is preferable in most every case. However, I will also contend that an autocratic leadership style can be successful in the right circumstances.

What I've come to discover in my years of management is that there are some people who are not comfortable with strategizing or being consulted about work goals. Those people just want to be given a set of goals and a clear-cut expectation of what will happen if the goals are, or are not, met. Some people prefer to take care of the details and leave the big picture stuff to others. And there's nothing wrong with that. Unless, of course, you push a details person into the receiving end of the democratic leadership model. You start asking that person to weigh in on complex problems and high-level decisions, or to take on strategic initiatives, and you could be asking for trouble. People who are good with details can sometimes paralyze a strategic initiative while they're crossing all the T's and dotting all the I's.

On the other hand, many people flourish under a democratic leadership style (and I'm not talking politics, so put away your poison pens). Those people, however, could be focused so broadly that the undetected or undealt with details could derail the final outcome of a project.

Each situation is different and all the people on your staff differ from each other. You just have to be prepared to manager differently.

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About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

144 comments
Mihnea D. Mironescu
Mihnea D. Mironescu

I think it's very interesting such a topic should arise during the current economic conditions! As part of a former communist country, I witnessed how the management style has gone through autocratic to semi-consultative to democratic over the last 20 years. It was a mentality change our leaders (or managers if you prefer this appellation) had to go through, and they did so especially after working together with managers from different countries or after attending western management schools. But the change was very slow, painfully slow for the ones who were young enough to begin their work life under the new economic order. Now when the times are tough again I am sadly witnessing a new rise of the autocratic style, usually from the very same people who actually never changed on the inside, but who borrowed a mask and worn it willy-nilly. It's quite a favorable environment for such kind of people, when employment options are scarce and people are afraid of what comes tomorrow that they are lowering their heads and obeying. It seems that the ones who resort back to this leadership style are the entrepreneurs in the initial stages of their business, or the ones who behaved like this years ago and who were forced to change with the times. It's so sad this is happening again. I am not sure if it's happening only in the ex-communist countries or if this is a hot topic for western societies as well.

preeganshu
preeganshu

Seriously, when was this style(?) ever popular? As a leader I think our foremost responsibility is to ensure that as a team we are successful in our projects. There may be some team members who need a little more direction than others - we need to provide that. There may be others, who just need the spec and a clear vision on what the client expects and they will deliver. Others will just take the hint from calls and notes and just hit the bulls eye. The most important responsibility of the manager is to RECOGNIZE and appreciate these wide variety of talent in the team and tap the full potential of the team members to reach success. If we were the only ones who ever gave the directions in the project, how can we ever hope to create a back up for overselves so that we can move on when we get other opportunities? Or on the otehr hand, if we gave a free rein, all that is needed in a project is the security guard and the CEO of the company.

mb123
mb123

Lets take away the word autocratic and leave the word Leadership. If one is a good leader (of which there are so few) where I work, then your staff will follow you to the ends of the earth. By feeling empowered they will be more willing to take pride in their work, and seek to move the company as a whole, forward. They know that they are valued, and exactly how they contribute to the strategic outcomes. Sure there are times when you come across 'a loser', as a Leader you need to deal with these people on a case by case basis. Being bullied or threatened does not motivate people, you will get just the bear minimum in order for them to stay under the radar, and no more. Unfortunately these is a perception that anyone can lead. This is untrue. Leaders are born, not made. One cannot learn to be a manager or leader; although almost anyone can be an autocratic leader as this requires no skills, rather than the ability to swing a good bat. You either have it or don't.

mb123
mb123

Lets take away the word autocratic and leave the word Leadership. If one is a good leader (of which there are so few) where I work, then your staff will follow you to the ends of the earth. By feeling empowered they will be more willing to take pride in their work, and seek to move the company as a whole forward. They know that they are valued, and exactly how they contribute to the strategic outcomes. Sure there are times when you come across 'a loser', as a Leader you need to deal with these people on a case by case basis. Being bullied or threatened does not motivate people, you will get just the bear minimum in order for them to stay under the radar, and no more.

sleepin'dawg
sleepin'dawg

all that's required. It's the carrot and stick approach; some require more stick than carrot and vice versa. As long as all concerned recognize the chain of command and the consequences of violating that chain through unfulfilled duties and/or expectations then there are few problems. One must or should consider the risk:reward ratio if and when they challenge the lines of authority or chain of command. If one is in the right, then the rewards may prove worth it however, if in the wrong one should consider the old adage, "It's the protruding nail, with its head up, that gets hammered down." [b][i]Dawg[/b][/i] ]:)

jchamplin
jchamplin

As the CEO of a small company, I find that I'm generally doing a good job when I can get people to argue with me and contribute to the solution (the "democratic" process you mention). This works well for most things but when there is a time of crisis, I find that most people want you to give them a reasonable top level plan and their respective assignments to help the team pull through. They do not want to spend time debating but just getting the job done and they'd prefer to be given what to do rather than expected to figure it out and make the right decision when the stakes are high.

zealot144
zealot144

The question is based on an ephemeral premise, that being that the leader is competent. In cases where the leader actually knows the task and the processes for accomplishment, a strong leader may be the most successful approach. However, in many cases, the leader or manager rose to a position by means independent of competence. Indeed, a high percentage of managers achieved their status by politics, familial relationships, or crude strategy. The "my way or the highway" approach is fatal in those cases. Whenever the manager is actually the most competent, then a soft "my way or the highway" approach works, as long as input and advice are permitted to contribute to growth of processes and techniques. Knowledge is king in any work environment, and those who bring new and better ideas should always be welcome. But, when the manager got the position by means other than worth or suitability, then the management will fail if input from the team members is ignored. And, that is the scenario which will most likely avoid team involvement. Odd, isn't it? Competent leaders will encourage team ..involvement, while incompetent ones will discourage it.

vickaprili
vickaprili

A somewhere in the middle style of management. Tough when necessary works best and coach when required. The old school mentality of autocratic management is just an ego trip out of control and everybody knows it. It is also overcompensating by poorly skilled and ineffective managers.

Imprecator
Imprecator

If "Autocratic" is used as "centralized" for the urposes of these discussion, yes there is room for that in the circumstances mentioned in other posts (Emergencies), AND some people DO prefer to be directed rather than "INSPIRED". From my personal experience, the more a manager or high level exec talk about leadership, coaching and blah blah blah (btw if you listen the word "spiritual", run, don't walk to the nearest exit) the more petty, dictatorial and shortsighted they are

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

While other types of leadership styles have been trumpeted, in reality you can have only one boss.

sc_wolfe
sc_wolfe

MANAGEMENT OR LEADERSHIP? In a seminal study done by Warren Bennis on LEADERS, the only thing successful LEADERS had in common was that they ignored the weaknesses of the people who worked for them and concentrated on effectively utilizing their strengths. This was regardless of any conisderation of style. The larger answer for management is IT DEPENDS and it depends on primarily whether a person is being authentic....an authentic obnoxious, pushy, overbearing manager will be more effective and better thought of than anyone who is trying to be someone they are not...same goes for the most sensitive and "connected" manager who tries to be perceived as someone else to be effective.

tungstendiadem
tungstendiadem

A structured system of rewards and punishments works best when adequate metrics are in place to reward and punish objectively. A democratic leadership style deprives measurable excellence of rewards and forces upon it political opposition. The organization should stick to its articles of incorporation and mission statement. If it aims to perform measurably better it should do so, if it aims to molly coddle slackers and punish dilligence then it should do so and let competition in the market place decide which organization prevails, historically and into the future. Next time around touchy feely will lower barriers to entry again and prevent clumsy and costly de-monopolization. period.

ahw
ahw

I can speak only from the standpoint of my own experience in the language business. Leadership, like the ability to marshal facts, is an elusive goal, and an intuitive art. I find when I am asked to act as a language lead (a polite way of referring to a "linguistic agony uncle") I have to consciously change gear and move down to a lead-from-behind position. In any case, I find it more fun, and get more from people, if I can provide leadership by suggesting leads, respecting the fact that each of the freelance linguists is master in his / her own shop. Obviously, one must adjust, intuitively as before, to situations where clear leadership is called for. The key is courtesy: the courtesy not to be overbearing and equally, the courtesy not to leave people dangling on a quandary when they are depending for their living on getting results, and need the input. A French government publication, "?crire pour ?tre compris", put it in a nutshell when its author wrote that it was important to have "de la consid?ration pour son lecteur". Considerateness is as vital as clarity and punctuality, and should be factored in the whole way through: people matter, and so do their concerns. With kind regards, and have a good weekend, Adam Warren.

vicki.james
vicki.james

Pitfall -- maybe oragnizational preference (and even your own) is more of a democratic style, but the specific team your working with works more effectly under an autocratic style, "just tell me what to do and I'll do it". How do you satisfy the organization needs and still represent yourself as a good leader/manager? This is more hypothetical, but the post got me thinking.

Paul W. Homer
Paul W. Homer

Strong leadership at the top is sometimes necessary, but always desirable. Nothing is worse than a situation ground down into a committee. For higher-level careers it is nice to be given the space to do the job correctly, but the focus of the job is still really an issue coming from above.

lodestone
lodestone

As mentioned in a previous Tech Republic post under the project management banner, leadership and management are two very different things. That being said, management style is, oddly enough, mostly a function of the manager's personality style as it plays out in the dynamics of the organization.

wanneslier
wanneslier

Well - it might seem it does, but in the end (=longer term) it does not. However, the question is who cares about the long term? HP/EDS is a good example. Mark Hurd knows best, but is ruining the company so that he can show good figures for the short time he will be CEO. "Apr?s moi le d?luge" is typically what an autocratic maganament style in the end leads to.

efrain_m_velazquez
efrain_m_velazquez

I completely agree with Toni's assessment. As organizations have gotten flatter and teams leaner, companies have switched to a collaborative/consultative approach to create solutions. Unfortunately, not every programmer has what it takes to be a systems engineer/architect. Many folks in IT are terrified at the prospect of meeting end users and eliciting feedback for requirements. These folks want requirements handed to them so the can focus on coding. While I agree that there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to only code, Corporate America will thin out the herd of such folks because the pressure is to do more with less (less people in this case).

george.kincer
george.kincer

After 20 years in the military I can say that I have had both the autocratic and democratic styles used on me and I have used both of them on various people. Neither is better then the other except in the context of what the job (mission) is and the type of people assigned to do it. For a quick ?gotta make it happen? with people who are unfamiliar with the job and or each other then step on toes (feelings) and push it through. Better results might have been achieved if done democratically but it would take longer. If the mission is a complex long term project with competent personnel then democratic management can be used and the results can be spectacular. However; frequently managers get confused as to what is needed by thinking that only one style can be used at a time. Some people need to be directed and that can be done with panache and respect. Some need to be given space to think and try. And in every case they need know what is expected, what the mission is and how the qualities of the ?success? are defined.

work
work

The best style is autocratic, but with fairness and respect. Work flows from the top down. Once an assignment is given it should be done. It's the manager's responsibility to make sure of that by checking progress and making sure things are on course. Management is a different job category than people who do the work. When I'm a manager I consult with staff, but my decisions are my decisions. When I'm a subordinate I want a manager who keeps things moving. A manager should delegate when necessary, but responsibility is retained. A good word for manager is "gatekeeper". Staff can manage their own tasks or sub tasks, but the manager should monitor communication, protect staff from invalid criticism, and insure staff are meeting standards.

pmolina
pmolina

One of the reasons I am uncomfortable with support from nations like India and the Philipines is that when I talk to our colleagues from there I am under the impression that they are under extreme pressure from management. I get the impression that they have good jobs and they know it and managers take advantage of the fact to bully them. Seriously, take the time to ask one of these techs if they watch cricket or something. Its like they can't do anything but follow the script. There are some notable exceptions, I don't get that feeling when talking to enterprise support for Backup Exec, for example.

aubreylove1962
aubreylove1962

Going on the basic definition of "autocratic leadership" I would like to report that a form of it is alive and well, striving daily and has been for a few centuries right here under our noses. It is a preferred and implemented managing process used by none other than your local military. While it is not practiced so much in the main stream of the military while you are at your permanent duty station it is very abundantly implemented in both deployed environments such as Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in boot camp and most AIT schools. (AIT schools are the classes that teach the skills needed for your specific jobs) While I am not certain if the civilian job market is ready for this process, it is an effective method for the military.

melekali
melekali

...on the people one has. I have an experienced Master's in Computer Science guy working for me. There's not a whole lot I have to say except to give general direction and specific projects I need done. Once I specify, he takes care of the project/job with minimal supervision. When I has younger, more inexperienced workers, a more directive, autocratic style worked best. If I didn't give them specific projects and work to do, they would hang out, play games and surf the web. So, it depends...

glenstorm_98
glenstorm_98

There are indeed some who, like me, are not big-picture people. Those who are, and I will admit they are the majority, in my experience tend to look down on those of us who are not, as if we are a little on the dumb side. I may not be Einstein, but I'm no fool. The reality is that my brain just isn't wired for seeing The Big Picture. That doesn't make me stupid, just 'specialized'. I really appreciate a manager who makes clear to me what he expects, and tracks progress with me--and doesn't expect me to do *his* job: dealing with the politics and 'squishy' aspects of the work; who fronts that stuff for me, so I can concentrate on what I'm paid to do: Get the job done. I'm not a politician; my brain just doesn't work that way, and frankly, I don't want it to. That's just distraction, as far as I'm concerned, and it's what a manager is paid to deal with. I understand and accept that there is a place for the leadership/mentoring style. You can't manage effectively if your people don't respect you, and part of that respect comes from watching him deal with the bozos above him. Just don't ask me to handle what should be management tasks, like applying amorphous priorities, and understanding the thought processes that go into setting them. That's what business minds are for.

jggiii2
jggiii2

The article doesn't pose that a leader should be 'all autocratic all the time', but rather that they be 'directive' at the appropriate times. Leaders set goals and standards, then make sure they are met. Because good employees and cohesive teams are valuable assets, you DO want to use more 'democratic' techniques when you can - doing so tends to preserve those assets in most cultures. However, if a team or an individual appears to be in danger of failing to meet a goal or a standard, the leader has to get more directly involved and become more directive. This can be appropriate if a failure has happened multiple times (Developer or team 'breaks the build' regularly) or if a single imminent failure is going to be important (project roll out delay with significant cost impact to the company.) At some points, 'negative reinforcement' (is that the current euphemism?) is even necessary. The leader can try to repair any damage done later, AFTER the goals have been met. The real talent is knowing WHEN to modify your leadership style, HOW, and to WHAT DEGREE. Screaming at the lookout AFTER the ship has hit the iceberg is useless, giving him or her a quiet, but sharp 'Stand to, Mister' when he or she is dozing off might help avoid that iceberg completely in the future.

Meesha
Meesha

Some years ago a new director was hired who had "credentials" (read, MBA) and was described to us, the staff, that he was a team builder and collaborator. Well . . . it turns out that he was indeed a collaborator but his collaboration style was to the extreme where decisions were not made until exasperation by the team was expressed. Then he would autocratically say, "Just do it.", we said, "Why?" and he would reply, "Because I said so.". Not much of a management or leadership style to be proud of would you say? There is a good dose of EQ (emotional quotient) that is required by a leader/manager. You need to know when to lead and when to manage. You need to "read" your people, to "feel" what the flavor of the day is. You need to employ all levels of leadership/management in the best time and place for all manner of known and unknown issues. In these difficult economic times, being autocratic may save the day. But to employ this method 100% of the time is done only by a manager/leader insecure with their own situation. This also applies to the overly inclusive collaborator.

Gh0stMaker
Gh0stMaker

I can understand your point Mihnea. When managers, not leaders backs are against the wall they will go back to what they are comfortable with; which may be the "do it my way because I said so" style.

hillwilliam
hillwilliam

Personally, I have worked in both environments--where most every decision was top down, conflict among IS teams was fostered, most every manager made decisions based on how good they would look or how bad they could make another manager look, and rarely was any input from any peons considered even when the evidence was overwhelmingly contrary to the decision being made; and where it was my job to know what I should be doing, and my manager was an enabler and we partnered on the objectives we needed to accomplish to align with information filtering through the management chain. It was my responsibility to determine the best approach to accomplish those goals. In the autocratic environment: - The staff eventually ceased to offer their opinions - New ideas were rare; "teamwork", "innovation", and "creativity" were only words in the dictionary - "Every man for himself" was the operational mode - The "keep your head down in the fox hole" mentality was pervasive - Managers knew better ways of doing things existed, but remained silent for fear of starting an internal war and possibly losing their job. - The goal of each employee was to survive the day and keep their job - Decisions were pragmatic and almost never considered strategy - Projects were driven by date without regard to quality or strategic positioning and with few exceptions was the target date moved. - Employee moral was pathetic. - Employees found no purpose in their job (other than to pay the bills), had no incentive for quality or excellence. - Career paths were limited at best. - Failure was not an option and risk avoided like the plague. - If a project had 100 tasks and one went slightly wrong, but the project was successful and on time, the focus was not on the 99 that went without a hitch, but staffers were bludgeoned for the one that went slightly astray, even though the team had gone far beyond the call of duty to ensure success. - Projects were 20% plan and 80% execution because so little planning was done with the long-term success rate being dismal. - Any activity above obtaining a pen from the supply closet took forever to go up and down the management chain for approval. In contrast in the democratic environment: - Recommendations, decisions and opinions carried considerable weight and often set direction - Teamwork, innovation and creativity was fostered and expected. Thinking outside the box was in the back of staffers mind. - Overall everyone was focused on doing what was in the best interest of the business. - Speaking out and presentation of ideas to improve IS were the operational modes. - Managers would take new ideas up the management chain when the foundational elements were solid. - Respectively conveying to your boss that they were wrong and having a intellectual discussion on the matter was appreciated. Often the manager could be convinced that the other direction was the better decision. The management realized that they didn't possess god-like knowledge of every IS related area, but relied on the people they employed to be the experts. The philosophy was, "If you and I are always in agreement, one of us is unnecessary." - Projects were driven by date, quality and cost, but because all scenarios cannot be anticipated, sliding a date for a legitimate reason was not the end of the world. - Employee moral was for the most part very high and most employees came to work seeking to make a difference. - Staffers could see how they were contributing to the overall success of the organization, had a drive for quality and excellence. - Career paths were varied and desirable. - Reasonable risk was encouraged and failure was expected; not as the norm but that failure would occur. Thomas Edison, I believe, when asked about his many attempts before developing a working light bulb said, "I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work." - Mistakes were expected. The employees were human after all. - Project success was celebrated and "lessons learned" was viewed as a means to improve. - Most projects were 80% plan and 20% execute and the success rate reflected that approach. - Employees could make decisions collaborating with their piers or on their own depending on the impact of the decision. The contrast depicted above was the norm in those work environments. Sometimes the other style did come into play, but rarely. I'm not sure where you would rather be employed, but for me, it is a no brainer. A significant number of companies view their employees as a commodity rather than individuals with talents and abilities that given an opportunity could influence the business for the better. Many of them operated under the "We've been doing it that way for 20 years, why change now?" mentality when the very thing that could push them past the competition is in some talented person's head, but unfortunately, that idea will never see the light of day. Autocratic work environments tend to make some very brave assumptions: all the expertise is held by management, among staffers no intelligent life forms exist, any project that fails is a result of poor implementation, and a conflicting idea is obviously wrong. In most autocratic environments, the organization rarely realizes the potential of talented employees, viewing employees as a body that fills a position rather than an asset. Management style is more of an art than science as many dynamics are in play. However, personally, I prefer a democratic environment with autocratic methods sprinkled where necessary, but with the goal of growing the individual toward functioning within a democratic environment. One hundred percent success is not realistic, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. No doubt some employees in an organization need definitive direction, but for those folks that show potential, empower them and encourage them to work independently. A team of 80% self-starters that wanted to work for their manager and believed they were making a difference would seem from a management perspective preferable to the inverse.

Derek Freeman
Derek Freeman

I agree some people are born either introverted or extroverted (and an introvert may not make a strong leader--not to say they can't change), but otherwise, there's no reason someone can't learn leadership through experience. Most people don't come out of the gate as a leader, and they learn through experience what kind of leader they want to be... we've all experienced good and bad leaders in our lives--hopefully, each of us has taken the positives and negatives into consideration when building our own leadership style. Emulating those that inspire us, finding a mentor, seeking out leadership education, are all things that can make everyone better leaders. Even the best leaders make mistakes, hopefully we all learn from our mistakes to enhance our leadership effectiveness. I wonder, do bad leaders (I'm sure we all know at least one) know that they are bad leaders? Do bad leaders think about how they can be a better leader, or is there some reason that they think they are doing it the "only" or "right" way?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]Leaders are born, not made. One cannot learn to be a manager or leader...[/i] You are probably correct about the [u]great[/u] leaders from history, but armies and the military have been training leaders for millennia. What do you know that nobody else does?

Derek Freeman
Derek Freeman

Isn't the measure of good leadership success in meeting organizational objectives while ensuring growth and development of subordinates? That is also hypothetical, I'm not assuming I know the answer. My gut tells me that whatever the "organizational preference" may be, if one can get the job done (read: achieve organizational objectives) while facilitating the success of your team members, then one can be truly called a LEADER ;-) I think this is how you "represent" yourself as a good leader--by leading effectively.

dave.g.johnson
dave.g.johnson

Subtle authority is particularly suited to the temperaments of those who would be led. When leaders become overbearing and interfere with the lives of their people, the task of leading becomes unnatural. But when leaders hold back and establish goals indirectly - through trusting and carefully worded commands - people find satisfaction with their work and become more productive.

Derek Freeman
Derek Freeman

most of the leadership training I have received over 14 years in the military (10 of which in a leadership position), preaches situational leadership (well, the Navy at least, I can't speak for other services). Absolutely, the autocratic style is used, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, as you mention, because failure to follow directions can GET A PERSON KILLED! Most of my military brethren on this forum have stated basically that when the sh!t hits the fan, you do what you are told. Is that your experience in the military? Now, I don't have direct combat experience, but I did spend a year in a combat zone... there were times when autocratic leadership was definitely called for, and other times when it was unnecessary and caused significant hate and discontent (read: even when the sh!t was not hitting the fan). We had a leader that decided because we were in a combat zone it was necessary all the time, despite a high level of unit competence and motivation. This had a significant impact on morale and cohesiveness and ultimately was a poor reflection on said leader.

Gh0stMaker
Gh0stMaker

Apparently the MBA didn't teach how to use MS Word for grammar... JK It's Friday, thank you for the laugh!

Paul Sim
Paul Sim

First, glenstorm_98, I congratulate you on self-awareness. Knowing what you are and are not good at is not an awareness a lot of people have or want to have. But seeing the big picture is not the same as leadership. While that can be a factor, it's not a requirement. A good leader should be self-aware enough to know when they don't have good "vision" or don't get the "big picture" and they gather people around them who do. Ulysses S. Grant was an excellent military leader. He had no vision or skill for strategy, so he made sure he had people around him who were masters at that. Grant could get up on the horse and say, "men, let's go this way!" and everyone would cheer and follow; but first someone had to tell him which way to face. To summarize it best, which incidentally summarizes situational leadership as well: A good leader knows how to use the resources he has to get the best out of each individual to accomplish the goals of the group or organization.

Paul Sim
Paul Sim

telling the lookout to stand to and pay attention is not the same as standing there telling them how to watch for icebergs even when they know how. I think we are in basic agreement, yet still persists that definition of "autocratic" and the difference between that and "guiding" leadership.

ThePoster
ThePoster

Why do I make that assertion? Because only those who are confident in their ability to grow and adapt are willing to try to look at a situation and determine if maybe they need to modify something about themselves in order to achieve a mutually beneficial goal. Almost all the bad managers I have endured are all inward focused. Their sense of worth comes from others (ususally their boss) affirming that they have done a fine job. Their focus is literally on forwarding their own careers. Promoting others is the last thing on their mind, especially if others do not see the world exactly as they do. Ultimately, they usually aren't even that concerned about the company that they sacrifice their staff to. The goal is to feather their own nest, and to heck with anyone else. Since the opinions of others - especially staff - do not come into play with managers like this, any considerations about how they can become better at the job typically do not include dialogue with the "enemy" (which is how employees who don't hold similar opinions to theirs are treated). I have heard from such managers the common question "What do these people want from me?!" It never occurs to them to ask the people in question. Or if they do ask, they are mightily angered when less than complimentary feedback is the result. I have worked for several egoists who declared that their way was the only correct way. And in one extreme case, the manager stated that if others would only open their minds, they would see just how right he was (and, by extension, how wrong they were). For another, he saw the right way as delivering *exactly* whatever his boss dictated, regardless of the terms, the deadlines, the consequences. In his case, staff were mere chess pieces to be reactively played, sacrificed or cast aside as needed to fulfill the latest dictates. It never occurred to him that perhaps his people needed representation, support and advocacy from the company. And the idea that perhaps his staff could even assist him with the goal of being more responsive if their needs were considered as well was totally foreign for him. Both were terrors to work for, even though their motivations were fairly different from each other.

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

The idea that someone is "born a leader" is pretty much bull. Yes, there are those who, through a combination of genetics AND early life experiences and learning, seem to be "natural" leaders. That is they become good leaders without formal training in the subject. And who, if given formal training, can become OUTSTANDING leaders, with skills above that obtainable by most who do not start out with the same early advantages. Much the same as there are those athletes who are born with just the right genetic characteristics so as to have a natural ability (above average) to excel at certain types of physical activity. However, if said "natural born" athlete does not actually train, practice, and learn his/her sport well. He or she may well lose in a competition to someone without as much genetic advantage, but who has trained very hard and well, and spent the time to learn all the aspects of the sport. The point is, that genetics alone is not a final determining factor. Maybe not even the most important one. We are humans, not simple animals. And the human brain is capable of learning to be pretty darned good at learning to do something which does not "come naturally". Even a person not particularly inclined, by genetics and early learned behavior, to be a good leader can LEARN to be a good leader. If so motivated and presented with good training and education. Maybe not as good as a so-called "born leader" who has precisely the same training and motivation to learn. But good, nonetheless. FWIW, as to your comments as to whether or not bad leaders know that they're bad. In my experience, some do, some don't. Hard to change or improve the ones that don't. For instance, I am reminded of one particular individual who was a bad leader. Oh, he got things done by his people. By threats, intimidation, trickery, and so forth. Which was the problem. He did get things done. Even if the methods sucked. So even tho he was sent through a couple leadership courses, he pretty much mentally dismissed 90% of everything taught, barely paid attention to the remaining 10%. In his mind, and I know from having discussed this with him ... he didn't give a r*t's a** about all that stuff. Since his methods WORKED. Got stuff done. That was enough to make him happy. He didn't care if those he lead liked him or not. Didn't care if they applied for transfers at every opportunity. Etc. He simply didn't care about anything except achieving his own personal goals and advancement. I did admire him for that. At least he was honest. Not that this made me any happier with him. And in fact, before I left the job where I worked for him I set certain things up so that he later experienced a catastrophic fall, so to speak. Events happened that guaranteed he'd never see another promotion. And in fact he was reassigned to duties that kept him at of the way, and out of mischief for the next couple years. At which time he was eligible for retirement, and in fact HIS bosses insisted he do so. Or else.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I still recall in the early 90s, my boss asking me where I wanted to be in a couple of years. I was a rising star in the desktop support world, doing support and projects around desktop software. I told her point blank, I didn't want her job. She was a little startled, and I explained that I didn't want the administrative and political aspects of the job. She rewarded my candor by making me fill in for her while she took a 3 week vacation. I learned alot from her boss, and I eventually took on a management position of my own. James

Derek Freeman
Derek Freeman

you have to be WILLING to learn. I know some people in the military that get the training whether they like it or not--but with all the training in the world, you can choose NOT to use what you are taught. I've been in many professional development courses, and a lot of people just sit around and grumble "what a waste of my time!" and miss some good stuff. Leadership can certainly be learned, and some choose NOT to learn--its a shame and that's why there are so many bad leaders out there.

Derek Freeman
Derek Freeman

I don't think autocratic leadership, in this context, necessarily means what you describe. Your suggested style will certainly work in some situations, but what about an employee that is inexperienced and needs specific, detailed direction in order to succeed and learn the job? Will "holding back and establishing goals indirectly - through trusting and carefully worded commands" work for this employee?

drew.mcbee
drew.mcbee

Wise words in regards to finding satisfaction in one's work, Master J.

ThePoster
ThePoster

From reading through the various responses on this thread, I would say that most people who do not agree with the autocratic management style share the same basic issue - namely, that this style can be useful only if certain conditions exist. Otherwise, autocratic management can be a powerfully destructive weapon. Unfortunately, the majority of management that I have experienced use the autocratic management style nearly 100% of the time. It is only (partially) relaxed for those who behave in a way that implies agreement with whatever management directs. Any difference in opinion - let alone actual dissent - is viewed as a form of disloyalty, a bent towards being a loose cannon, and being a subversive malcontent. Do I think that autocratic methods are sometimes necessary? Yes. But as a knowledge worker, I feel that having to rely on that method a majority of the time indicates that something is wrong. Either staff have been misallocated, or management is insufficiently skilled in leadership.

glenstorm_98
glenstorm_98

Didn't mean to imply in any sense that one size fits all. Despite comments in this forum opposing it, I agree that a truly good manager knows how to get the most out of each staff member--recognizing that each brings something unique to the party, cognitively and in talent complement. Give it "situational leadership" or whatever other label you like, it's about making the most of what you do have, not wishing you were dealt a different hand. That applies to more of your circumstances than just your complement of staff. I would say it includes the whole picture, because each situation is a "package deal". Thanks for your perspective and encouragement. -David

jperick.mbei
jperick.mbei

The environment you describe is scary. I think that this kind of managers is a huge barrier to organizational innovation. They fit into what is known as mechanistic organization. In most cases, you'd see that such individuals are intrinsically incompetent. They use this autocratic approach to shield their incompetence. I honestly think that good to great managers first value their people because good to great organizations consider people as their primary capital. I would suggest anyone to read "Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't" (Jim Collins) and "The Customer Comes Second: Put Your People First and Watch 'em Kick Butt" by Hal Rosenbluth and Diane Mcferrin Peters. No human work is perfect. However, these two books provide excellent insight that can help both organizational leaders and the people they lead. Have a great weekend! J-P

ThePoster
ThePoster

Thank you, Jean-Pierre, for verbalizing my thoughts so eloquently. Case in point - I currently work for an individual who has (I guess) studied many of the mechanics of management, but who (by way of his behavior) has internalized virtually nothing of the essence of management. He tends to think that most of his staff simply don't "get" him, and that many of us have problems. It never occurs to him that perhaps he may be the source of some of his problems. He also doesn't seem to understand why many of his staff are reluctant - or refuse outright - to give anything more than just the bare minimum to get by. He is an obstacle to be endured. While he does deliver the numbers that make his boss happy, he doesn't seem to place any value on engendering the respect and benevolent regard of his minions. I hope that he never suffers a serious setback professionally. He has generated such ill will towards himself that many would actually relish seeing him fail. Which I find to be quite sad, actually.

jperick.mbei
jperick.mbei

Hi Derek! You ask very pertinent questions, indeed. Do bad leaders know that they are bad? I doubt they do. A person who is sick will not seek treatment. To seek treatment--at least on our own, one must first recognize and accept the current condition, i.e., illness. However, it is possible that some bad leaders know that they are bad. And those who cross this stage (i.e., recognition of once poor management), tend to improve. They attend training. They even talk to friends, or peers to seek advice. There is a difference between becoming a manager and being a manager. One analogy is becoming a parent and being--a good-parent. Many become parents accidentally. But to say that one is a good parent just because the person has a child would be too daring. While becoming a parent can happen accidentally--and we all know that it does happen--being a parent, on the other hand, is a long process. The foregoing observation applies to management. I have seen managers and wondered how they happened to become "managers." Have you worked under a manager who has no no basic supervisory, let alone coaching skills? if you took resumes of 10 managers, I doubt you'll find three would described how they helped at least one of their employees grow/mature into a new manager, or transition to management. Most of the time, we see accomplishments that focus on money, and non-human resources. Do managers ever realize that people are the foundation of any business and, therefore, the primary asset of any corporation or organization? So, why don't managers list their accomplishments in this critical area, i.e., the human capital? One explanation to this unfortunate state of managerial affairs might be that a good number of managers view employees are human doings, not human beings. The other possible explanation is that given the prevailing culture in Corporate America, managers are constantly busy trying to save their job. In this context, rather than spend the time improving effective management and leadership skills, this type of managers are busy developing "unamanagerial" skills (I call these "tricks") that help them keep the job. Another observation worth making is that, there is a great number of managers who are really good as humans, but who do master the fundamentals of management. Bottom line is that management is both an art and science. Some have studied he science, but don't love it, and never or seldom practice it. Other may never have studied it, yet are just as good as a painter who never studied painting, a singer who never studied music, yet has become--and is- a great painter/singer. Why can it be so? They love it! Jean-Pierre E. Mbei (MBA, MS) Information Assurance Analyst Virginia

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

But it's absolutely necessary for those who make the military a career. Career NCOs understand that applying the leadership and management techniques taught in professional development courses (the USAF NCO Leadership School and NCO Academy for example) is absolutely essential to job success and career advancement. It's usually only in the introductory courses first-termers must complete that you see the rolling of the eyes and hear the grumbling. For my part, I understand the concepts quite well but have trouble applying them. I'm aware that this makes me a poor supervisor or manager and am quite happy working as a senior tech. edit: clarify