Authoritarian Leadership – 7 Traits of Authoritative Leadership

Authoritarian leadership style, also named authoritative leadership or referred to as autocratic leadership, is a rigid and one-man deciding and guiding leadership or management style. The authoritative leaders or managers make decisions on their own, instruct their team, and expect the team members to follow orders with no questions asked. Elon Musk and Bill Gates are famous leaders who applied an authoritarian leadership style. 

The authoritarian leadership style is generally criticized mainly because it does not allow participation, or group decision-making, outdated, and there are more participative leadership styles such as laissez-faire leadership, transformational leadership, or servant leadership.

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Although an authoritative leadership style might sound coercive, in some cases, authoritative leadership is the best approach. We’ve explained what authoritarian leadership is, 7 traits of authoritative leadership, when to apply this style, its pros, and cons, and famous authoritative leaders in this article.

What is Authoritarian Leadership – Authoritative Leadership?

Authoritarian leadership, also known as authoritative leadership, is a leadership style where leaders or managers have full control and authority to make all decisions with limited input or participation from the team members or others. Authoritative leaders make decisions on their own using their intuition, experience, moral values, and insights. They take no input or limited input from the others. So, there is little or no participation in group decisions, the leader makes a decision, and members follow the orders and instructions.

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The inception of the authoritarian leadership dates back to the 1930s. Kurt Lewin developed a framework based on a leader’s behavior. Lewin argued that there are three types of leaders:

  • Authoritative leaders: These leaders make all¬†decisions without consulting their teams. Authoritarian leadership is considered when a quick decision is required, when the leaders do not need any input, or when the consensus of the team is not critical for a successful result.
  • Democratic leader: Democratic leaders encourage team participation before making a decision. The level of participation depends on the leader. Democratic leadership style can be preferred when a consensus is important to get team buy-in. Note that, if there are several differing ideas in the team, it might be difficult to manage and reach a conclusion.
  • Laissez-faire leaders: Laissez-faire is a French term that means “leave it be”. As the term refers, laissez-faire leaders do not step in; they create the environment for maximum participation, and let the people make many of the decisions. This leadership style works when there are competent resources in the team, people are motivated, and require minimum supervision. Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet are famous leaders applying this leadership style. You can read more in the Laissez Faire Leadership article.

When there is a more fancy and popular word, “Democracy”, autocratic leadership may sound dim or avoided.¬†However, there are many cases where autocratic leadership works as the best approach.

ūüí° Read 15 Types of Leadership article to learn about other leadership styles.

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7 Traits of Authoritarian Leadership Style

While there are several traits of the authoritarian leadership style, we have listed the top 7 traits in this article.

1- Authoritative Leadership Style Allows Minimum Group Participation

Authoritative leaders decide on their own, based on their insights and experience. They ask no questions, or minimum questions to their team members. They order the team and expect the team to follow them with little or minimum questions.

2- Authoritative Leaders Make All Decisions

Authoritarian leadership requires leaders or managers to make all decisions. To ensure this, the hierarchy and culture of the organization should give authority to the leader. While authoritative leaders make all decisions, they may ask some questions to their team on technical or expertise-needed topics.

3- Authoritaritarian Leadership Style Features Dictatorship

“Dictatorship” may sound repressive and detractive. However, in some cases, as we will see below, the authoritarian leadership style is the best approach to apply.

An authoritarian leadership style allows the leaders to dictate the ground rules, methods, tools, techniques, and processes to the team. This is a must to ensure quick decision-making and application.

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4- Authoritative Leadership Discourages Creativity and Innovation

In authoritarian environments, leaders expect the team members to perform their tasks with no or minimum questions asked. There is no room for innovative thinking or creativity. Even if the resources are capable of providing creative and innovative outputs, authoritative leadership may hinder their capacity.

5- Authoritarian Leadership Creates a Highly Hiearchieal and Rigid Environment

Authoritative leadership requires a strong personality, leadership, or managerial authority. This requires a structured organization and a top-down approach. Typically, organizations with hierarchical and conventional structures apply authoritarian leadership.

6- Authoritative Leadership Minimizes Team Building and Feeling

Authoritative leaders are solo decision-makers. They make their decisions on their own and expect their team to follow their orders and instructions. This may cause team members to feel as if they are not important, or not trusted. If authoritative leadership is unavoidable, make sure you set enough time for the team members to motivate them. You can consider applying charismatic leadership skills in this case.

7- Authoritarian Leadership Establishes Clear Rules and Communication

Authoritative leaders make quick decisions and expect their team to follow them immediately. They expect quick results. This requires a clear set of rules and communication. So, team members do not hesitate on the tools or processes to use when they are performing their tasks.

Top 3 Benefits and Flaws of Authoritarian Leadership

As with any leadership style, authoritarian leadership has its own benefits and flaws as well.

The top 3 benefits of authoritarian leadership are:

  • Allows for quick decision-making, especially in stress-filled situations. Leaders or managers make all decisions. Since there is no or minimum group participation, leaders can make quick decisions. This can provide a tremendous advantage in emergencies or tight schedules.
  • Offers a clear chain of command or oversight.¬†Authoritative leaders are the ultimate authority in their team. Therefore, when they make a decision, group members follow the autocratic leaders with minimum or no questions.
  • Works well where strong, directive leadership is needed.¬†When leaders are knowledgeable, experienced, and have broad foresight, autocratic leadership works well. Because, decisions rely on one person, the leader and it must be the optimum decision to achieve success.

The top 3 flaws of authoritative leadership are:

  • Discourages group participation.¬†Authoritative leaders make a decision and do not ask the opinion of their team members. This hampers the team building, team feeling and motivation of the team members.
  • Hurts morale and leads to resentment.¬†Since the team members are expected to follow the orders from the authoritative leader, they may feel like robots. This can hurt the morale of the individuals.
  • Ignores or impairs creative solutions and expertise from subordinates.¬†If the team has competent and experienced members, they might have better ideas to propose. However, authoritative leadership hinders group participation, so creative and innovative solutions from subordinates are unlikely to arise in autocratic cultures.

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When to Use and Avoid Authoritarian Leadership?

The benefits and flaws of authoritarian leadership guide us on when we can use authoritative leadership and when we should avoid it. We’ve given three examples of each when to use and avoid autocratic leadership style.

3 Cases to Apply Authoritarian Leadership

Emergencies, time-critical tasks, and having an inexperienced team are the best cases to apply authoritarian leadership.

  • Emergency cases:¬†quick decisions and fast reactions are needed in case of emergencies. This requires minimum time to decide on a solution. Authoritarian leadership will work in emergencies.
  • Time-critical tasks:¬†When there is time pressure, there might not be time to evaluate different perspectives and opinions from the team. Authoritative leaders make decisions, and team members follow orders. Therefore, authoritative leadership may be beneficial for time-sensitive projects or tasks.
  • Inexperienced teams:¬†If your team members are junior and need maximum guidance to perform, authoritarian leadership may be better. Also, it is less likely to receive creative ideas from junior professionals, so, group participation may not be needed if you have an inexperienced team.

3 Cases to Avoid Authoritative Leadership

If you have creativity-requiring tasks, team development and training, and relationship-building tasks, avoid using an authoritative leadership style.

  • Creativity-Requiring Projects/Tasks:¬†Creative ideas and innovations emerge from “free” environments. Creativity and innovation require group collaboration. To ensure this, group members must be encouraged to maximum participation. This allows new ideas to arise from the team. This is opposite to the nature of the authoritative leadership culture.
  • Team Development and Training:¬†If you are growing the competence of your team or enhancing their skills, you need to talk and get feedback from them. Therefore, you need maximum involvement of the team during team development and training.
  • Relationship-building Projects/Tasks:¬†If your work requires interaction with your team members, you need to build your relationship with each and every individual in the team. authoritarian leadership may not be appropriate in these cases.

Famous Authoritative Leaders

We have gone through several aspects of authoritarian leadership. Do we know any famous authoritative leaders? I am sure you know all of them but you may be surprised that they are autocratic. Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Adolf Hitler, and Napoleon Bonaparte are a few to name from famous authoritative leaders. You may be surprised to see Hitler, Musk, and Gates in the same sentence, however, authoritative leadership can lead to good and bad results, depending on how you use it.

We’ve picked three authoritative leaders for this article.

Elon Musk as an Authoritative Leader

Elon Musk is a business magnate and investor. The SpaceX and Tesla CEO is an autocratic leader in many of his ventures which lead them into fast growth and tremendous success. He often makes quick decisions that team members haven’t vetted. So, Elon Musk is definitely at the top of our famous authoritative leaders’ list. Read more about other Elon Musk leadership styles.

Elon Musk is one of the great leaders affected our lives in the last 25 years. Do you want to see the all 12 great leaders who affected our lives in the last 25 years?

Bill Gates as an Authoritative Leader

Bill Gates was using both authoritarian leadership and democratic leadership. He asked for the ideas of his team members and valued the group participation. However, in some cases, he was the quick decision maker and excellent delegator of the tasks even if the majority of the team was thinking differently than him. Read more about other traits of Bill Gates leadership style.

Napoleon Bonaparte as an Authoritative Leader

The French Revolution military leader was known for his infamous authoritative leadership style. He commanded a huge army and, later, an entire nation comprising millions of people without sharing his ideas or military tactics with anyone. However, his tactics worked, and he became one of the greatest military leaders in history.


At first glance, “authority”, “authoritative”, or “authoritarian” may sound outdated, especially when all the world is talking about “democracy”. However, authoritarian leadership may result in the best outputs in some cases such as emergencies, inexperienced teams, or time-sensitive tasks.

If your work requires creativity, team development, and relationship-building, you should avoid an authoritative leadership style. There are criticisms about authoritarian leadership as it may decrease team morale, and group participation and may make the individuals unimportant.

Despite many critics of authoritative leadership, it has been applied by today’s most wealthiest and successful businessmen such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates.

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