Periodically I encounter a leader who thinks that constantly being the expert, relentlessly being the knowledgeable authority, is an all-important leadership behaviour.
Some leaders use an autocratic approach as their first option, regardless of the situation. This really is an old-fashioned view…
Of course, in the Middle Ages, autocratic leadership was the norm. In those more hierarchical times people expected the king or emperor, for example, to dominate. People followed orders without questioning them, without anticipating that they would contribute their view to a discussion, without being involved in the decision-making.
Back then we expected to have someone else in control and to follow the leader’s commands. But times have changed…
These days, we’re generally more educated, more knowledgeable and therefore more forthright. We expect to have a dialogue in which we put our views on the table. We expect to have our opinions valued. We expect to be involved in decisions. And we expect to be treated respectfully, right?
But that’s not to say that an autocratic command-and-control approach in which you call the shots isn’t sometimes your best option…
When Is Being Autocratic A Good Thing?
When do you need to be 100% in control of what’s going on?
- When extreme urgency is needed—say if the building’s on fire, or
- If you hold all the knowledge cards—say if you’re the person who knows about an up-the-line decision that will impact your team’s work.
But if the situation isn’t this acute, please, please don’t go down that old-fashioned command-and-control path!
What Costs Can You Predict If You’re Too Autocratic?
So what’s so bad about limiting your team members’ input or making most of the decisions on your own?
This approach might seem like a more productive option, but seriously, there’s a mountain of costly consequences—costs that you can’t afford if you plan to capitalise on the skills and talents of your team members, and to make the most of your career as a leader!
For example, as a result of an autocratic command-and-control approach:
- Your team members’ discretionary effort will be minimal at best because their commitment to you and to the organisation won’t be high.
- They won’t develop and be up for more responsibility.
- They won’t feel valued or respected. Resentment sets in when people don’t feel like they own their KPIs.
- Their initiative and creativity will be seriously suppressed.
- Their sense of well-being and their self-esteem will be negatively impacted.
- Staff turnover in your team will be higher than it needs to be.
- You’ll notice you’re too stressed and that your sense of well-being is also negatively impacted—because you know that you haven’t been at-your-best with them.
I do understand that you want results, and that you want them fast. And behaving autocratically, when it’s not essential that you do so, truly is short-term thinking.
A sober, longer-term view is to stop trying to drive performance at such a cost. Stop creating team members who’re overly dependent on your views and your decisions.
What Can You Do To Be A More Participative Leader?
If you’re a leader who’s in danger of being inappropriately autocratic, I propose that you insert a fairly undemanding step into your communications with your team members….
…Ask them for their view before you give yours.
I’m not suggesting that you have a Clayton’s conversation. It is crucial that you genuinely care about their view.
If you’re inauthentically going-through-the-motions when you ask your team members what they think, that’s not going to cut it. You need to consider that their view will potentially shape yours.
If your thinking about the topic is quite fixed, I suggest that you say something like, “Although I have a clear view that we need to blah-blah-blah, I do want to hear your perspective on the situation. What sort of approach do you think will be most effective?”
In other words, I’m proposing that both authenticity and participation are equally vital ingredients in almost every leadership conversation.
Your Leadership Call to Action
- Are there things that you could you do to avoid the costs that a too-autocratic leader experiences?
- How do you think asking your team members for their view before you give yours will work for you?
I’m interested in your view.
Keep your comments, feedback and requests to explore what a Leader Coaching Program would look like for you rolling in.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Carolyn Stevens has worked with leaders for more than 25-years—hundreds of them.
She’s supported leader after leader (including those who previously struggled to confront the difficult, let alone persuasively deal with the it) flourish—and become confident, courageous and impressively influential.
Carolyn is authentic and results-oriented. She draws on an eclectic array of approaches, tools and techniques to suit the situation.