Authoritarian leadership: Definition and explanation

Authoritarian leadership: Definition and explanation


What is authoritarian leadership?

Authoritarian leadership refers to any situation where a leader keeps hold of as much power and authority as possible. Also known as coercive or dictatorial leadership, authoritarian leaders, tend to keep all the decision-making authority to themselves and make the decisions about policies, procedures, tasks, structures, rewards and punishment themselves. The intention behind most authoritarian leaders is to retain control and they usually require unquestioning obedience and compliance.

Anyone failing to comply or becoming disobedience are likely to be threatened or actually subjected to some form of punishment. 

Additionally, authoritarian leaders have been found to be significantly more likely to engage in a range of both overt and covert (hidden) manipulative behaviours, tactics and even intimidation to try to ensure compliance with their wishes. 

The consequences of authoritarian leadership

One of the consequences of authoritarian leadership has been shown to be increased stress levels with employees, particularly when they are working under a regime that is intolerant of mistakes, expects blind obedience and compliance and drives performance through expectations that employees should be working harder and faster.

Additionally, authoritarian leadership has been show to lead to abuses of power. A number of studies have shown that authoritarian leaders tend to be emotionally detached and are often unable to empathise with others. In effect, they are task rather than people oriented leaders. 

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Kiazad, K., Restubog, S. L. D., Zagenczyk, T. J., Kiewitz, C., & Tang, R. L. (2010). In pursuit of power: The role of authoritarian leadership in the relationship between supervisors’ Machiavellianism and subordinates’ perceptions of abusive supervisory behavior. Journal of Research in Personality44(4), 512-519.

Schuh, S. C., Zhang, X. A., & Tian, P. (2013). For the good or the bad? Interactive effects of transformational leadership with moral and authoritarian leadership behaviors. Journal of Business Ethics116(3), 629-640.

Schaubroeck, J. M., Shen, Y., & Chong, S. (2017). A dual-stage moderated mediation model linking authoritarian leadership to follower outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology102(2), 203.

Zhang, Y., & Xie, Y. H. (2017). Authoritarian leadership and extra-role behaviors: a role-perception perspective. Management and Organization Review13(1), 147-166.

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