There can be no doubt that all leaders have certain traits in common. That being said, almost all leaders have a personal leadership style that sets them apart from other leaders. The really great leaders, however, often develop a number of different leadership styles that they can draw from depending on the type of situation they are called to lead in. Two different leadership types are democratic leadership and autocratic leadership. Here is an overview of each style and when they do and do not work well.
In a democratic society, autocratic leadership is often thought of as a “bad” leadership style but this is not necessarily true. Autocratic leadership is the ultimate form of top-down leadership, with one single individual being the ultimate decision-maker for the entire group. In fact, in a time of crisis, autocratic leadership is actually superior to democratic leadership. Even the United States government recognizes the wisdom of this, since in a time of crisis or war the legislative branch of government can assign full and total control to the President or Executive Branch of government. Autocratic leaders can actually be quite successful even in the long term, provided they do two things.
- Assemble a trusted group of advisors that they actually listen to that can help them see their own blind spots and meet the needs of a broader range of subordinates.
- Accept ultimate responsibility for failure by developing a “buck stops with me” mentality. By this, they recognize their own role in any failure, such as hiring the wrong people in the first place, not providing enough training or entrusting too much to a single employee.
A democratic leadership style is one that seeks to include the most voices, perspectives and opinions in any decision-making process. While democratic leadership is often thought of as the best and most optimal style of leadership, the truth is, democratic leadership does have certain drawbacks. First and foremost is the time it takes to reach a decision. The second drawback to a democratic leadership style is that no decision is likely to please everyone, so whatever portion of a group feels like their needs are not being recognized and addressed can become bitter and angry and create chaos. Another drawback to democratic leadership is that when a genuine consensus cannot be reached regarding an important decision, the decision is often simply left unmade, leaving the group in limbo.