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Autocratic Leadership Versus Participative Theory Essay

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Updated: May 8th, 2019

Executive Summary

The study of leadership in organizational behaviour is gaining more weight in the modern society. Most people do not differentiate leadership and management. Management is the process that involves general operations of an organization. However, to effectively perform these processes, a manager is required. The manager exerts his leadership skills on the subordinates.

In order for an organization to succeed, the leader should make vital decisions that affect the general operations of the organisation. The position therefore requires a leader to possess a particular style to run the organisation. This paper will therefore discuss the effectiveness of two outstanding leadership styles that have been the core of discussion by different scholars.

It will also present a case study to demystify the concept of autocratic and participative leadership styles. It will also critically analyse the effectiveness of both participative and autocratic leadership styles in an organisation to determine the most appropriate style to be adopted for the success of an organisation.


Every organisation requires guidance to attain its set goals and objectives. The guidance comes in form of leadership. For an organisation to run effectively, it requires a leader to exert his influence on the employees in a bid to accomplish a familiar task. Leaders are naturally born and not made.

This therefore plays an important role in the attempt to demystify the different leadership styles to run an organisation. Leaders can make or break an organisation. The success of an organisation entirely depends on the leadership style applied by a leader. It should be noted that leaders adopt a specific leadership style to meet particular organisational needs and demands.

Though there are various styles that have been brought to the fore, participative/democratic and autocratic/directive leadership styles are the most common. These two leadership styles have triggered a debate among scholars on which of the two are more effective in running an organisation.

It is evident that heavy reliance has been made on participative leadership style rather than autocratic style to ensure organisation’s success (McKenna 2000).

Literature Review: Demystifying Democratic Versus Autocratic Leadership Styles

Identification of different leadership styles is attributed to the great works of Kurt Lewin. The research, which involved a cluster of other researchers categorised the concept of leadership styles into three (Lewin, Lippit and White 1939). The three major styles were autocratic, participative and delegative.

An autocratic leader runs the organisation in an authoritarian style and is known to solely make decisions of the organisation without involving the subordinates. On the contrast, a participative leader discharges a democratic leadership style by engaging the subordinates in decision-making process.

According to Newstrom and Davis (1993), a delegative leader has similar characteristics with a participative leader. The only differentiating factor is that a delegative leader leaves the subordinates entirely to operate on their own without any supervision.

The notions of effective leadership have elicited great debates in an attempt to distinguish participative leadership from autocratic style. White and Lippit (1960) differentiate participative leadership from an autocratic leader. They argue that autocracy is based on extremity by the leader when exerting his leadership skills to the subordinates.

Though they fail to establish the level of extremity, an autocratic leader therefore retains a high degree of power that excludes participation from other members of the organisation. On the contrary, both the delegative and participatory leaders assume a low degree of power that involves member’s participation in running the organisation.

However, while the participative leaders are actively involved in the process of stimulating his subordinates towards achieving a particular goal, a delegative leader plays a rather passive role. The argument by White and Lippit (1960) helps the reader to understand the concept behind participative and autocratic leadership.

A participative leader encourages team work in the group as regards to discussions and decision process that affects the organisation. He does not exert undue pressure on his subordinates to perform a particular task. An autocratic leader on the other hand governs by controlling his subordinates.

He dictates the policies and techniques to be adopted in the organisation. He does not involve himself in group participation and instead thrives in criticising the works of the subordinates. One of his prominent characteristic is making things run by giving orders as opposed to the participatory leader who run the organisation by passing the necessary information or knowledge to his subordinates.

Bass (1990) argues that autocratic leaders are persuasive and controlling and make decisions based on the current information at hand. Gastil (1994) agrees by stating that an autocratic leader or undemocratic leader is characterised by coercive, power and control. He argues that it does not matter the different definitions of an autocratic leader as such a leader can only be identified from the three characteristics.

Group participation is associated with democratic style of leadership. According to Luthar (1996), participation is a key function of participative leadership style while directive control defines autocratic leadership. He further argues that participative leadership is associated with alternative leadership styles such as transformation and servant leadership.

Northouse (1997) present a supportive argument by presenting a path-goal theory. This theory describes a participative leadership framework to which he argues that organisations yield better results by having an effective leader who supports, directs and motivate his subordinates.

The other cluster described in the theory is the path-goal adopted by autocratic leadership by which the leader applies punitive measures and directive control over his employees.

He criticises the autocratic leadership style by arguing that most organisation leaders who employ this style result to low turnover of employee service delivery. It instils fear in the employees hence leading to resistance and high absenteeism which can lead to work stoppage.

However, Schein (1992) seem to refute this argument by Northouse by arguing that autocratic leadership should not be disregarded. According to him, some organisations cannot perform effectively especially when handling new untrained subordinates who seem to have difficulties learning the company’s procedures and policies.

Further, there are situations that call for autocratic leadership especially if the employees seem not to respond to democratic leadership styles. It is apparent that most literature relies on participative leadership as the most effective style as opposed to autocratic leadership style. However, it is evident that certain situation calls for an autocratic leader.

The Concept Of Participative And Autocratic Leadership Styles In An Organizational Framework

John Locke, a political philosopher brought to fore the basic principles pertaining democracy in any organisational framework (Griffith 1998). According to him, democratic movements are highly dependable on political philosophy of an organisation that seeks to demystify democracy under undemocratic governance.

The democratic style has been conceptualised from autocratic structure where the people concerned sacrifice themselves to gain the democratic freedom. This argument posed by John lock brings the discussion between participative and autocratic leadership style to fore with the main argument based on their effectiveness.

To understand the concept of the different leadership styles applicable, it is important to discuss the characteristics of each in an organisation culture.

The characteristics of these two leadership styles are based on the interactions between the leaders and the subordinates. The participative and autocratic leaders share a common characteristic, which is vision, in order to effectively run the organisation. Under democracy organisational framework, the leaders create a welfare vision in their employees and inculcate that vision in the hearts of the subordinates to encourage participation.

The autocratic leaders too have a vision though their vision is self-cantered and do not include the subordinates in decision-making process. The vision of an autocratic leader is enhanced with control and power as opposed to the participative leadership’s concept of team work and courage.

The enthusiasm nature of a participative leader in an organisation influences members to symbolize him in order to accomplish the organization’s tasks. Both types of leadership styles are based on social influence process which is relevant in any organisation behaviour theory.

The process is described as to involve different patterns of behaviours applied in the leadership style. Both leaders are involved in decision making only that the capacity to make the decision is different. While the democratic leaders rely on other players contributions, the autocratic leader does not seek any contributions from other key players (Tosi and Pilati 2011).

Practical Implication: Autocratic Versus Democratic Leadership

Case Study: This paper presents an analysis of the Consolidated Life Company and the different management styles applied in the Marketing and Human Resource departments within the company. The study conducted indicated that the Marketing department in the company is run by a participative leader who involves his subordinates in all the decisions affecting the department.

On the other hand, the Human Resource department is placed under an autocratic leader who believes in exerting pressure in his subordinates to ensure performance. The marketing team works as a team to market the company’s products and the leader holds meetings every day to discuss the position of the department.

In the meetings, the leader is able to point out problems hindering performance hence finding a solution as a team to rectify it. He has developed a plan to assist the team evaluate their performances and has come up with incentives to encourage them to perform.

The human resource leader on the other hand believes that his subordinates can never operate in a democratic atmosphere. He makes sole decisions without involving them and he does not believe in team work.

The department is very critical in the organisation and the leader cannot afford any mistakes hence his leadership style. The results of the study indicated that though both departments gave positive feedback as regards to their performances, the participative leadership style proved to be more effective.

Participative and autocratic leadership styles are defined in their capability to which leaders integrate and interact with their followers in work-related issues (Godzyk 2008). The difference between these leadership styles elicits different performance results from their followers. The effectiveness of the leadership style is therefore debatable based on the organisational performance outcomes.

The cultural contingency approach towards the concept of leadership styles seeks to demystify the similarities between the styles and how they can be differentiated. Whilst the participative leadership style has been dubbed as the most effective, a balance must be maintained between the two leadership styles. Schein (1992) argues that a system that solely relies on participative style encourages laxity among the employees.

It also encourages a state of paralysis in the organisation. He argues that human beings think differently and this characteristics present problems when attempting to come up with a solution to a problem. The dissent and differing solutions can lead the decision-making process to stall. An autocratic leader has the ultimate final answer to any solution hence cutting through any possible conflicts in the organisation.

However, the subordinates working in the Human Resource department in Consolidated Life Company perceive the leadership style of their leader as being ineffective. The study indicated that the subordinates worked under tension than those in the Marketing department.

It also indicated that while participative leaders possess a sensitive and caring nature in their leadership styles, autocratic leaders remain aloof and lack empathy in their subordinates’ welfare. Interestingly, autocratic leadership seems to possess negative influence as compared to participative leadership in the 21st century.

With the introduction of mechanisms that ensure skilled man-power and expertise, it is clear that employees need not work under strict and punitive leadership styles. Decision-making and participation ensures success in the organisation performances. In some instances however, autocratic leadership is effective.

Examples of such instances are organisations or departments where the leader possesses specific knowledge that the subordinates do not. In essence, the ability to combine both characteristics may give an excellent outcome as good leaders are defined with the outcomes of their leadership style (Singh 2010).


Leadership continue to make an important component in an organisation. The challenge facing the organizations is the type of leadership style that should be applied to effectively run it. The discussion above gives an implication that most scholars prefer participative leadership style as opposed to autocratic leadership style. The subordinates running under participative leaders are more productive than their counterparts.

It is evident that most subordinates prefer a democratic leader who instils in them guidance and not fear. Autocratic leaders should incorporate some of the characteristics possessed by participative leaders like working in a group. The combination of these two leadership styles can be said to be more effective.

Reference List

Bass, M (1990) Bass and Stogdill’s handbook of leadership: Theory, research and managerial applications. New York, Free Press.

Gastil, J (1994) A definition and illustration of democratic leadership. Human Relations, 47(1), 954-970.

Godzyk, K (2008) Critical thinking disposition and transformational leadership Behaviours. New York, East Elsenhower Parkway.

Lewin, K., Lippit, R and White, K (1939) Patterns of Aggressive Behaviour in Experimentally Created Social Climates. Journal of Social Psychology, 10, 271-301.

Luthar, K (1996) Gender differences in evaluation of performance and leadership ability: Autocratic Vs. Democratic managers. Sex Roles Journal, 32(3), 337-360.

McKenna, E (2000) Business Psychology and Organisational Behaviour. New York, Taylor and Francis Inc.

Newstrom, J and Davis, K (1993) Organizational Behaviour: Human Behaviour at Work. New York, McGraw Hill Publishers.

Northouse, G (1997) Leadership: Theory and Practice. London, Sage.

Schein, H (1992) Organizational culture and leadership. New York: Jossey-Bass.

Singh, H (2010) Organisational Behaviour. New Delhi, Rahul Jain Enterprises.

Tosi, H and Pilati, M (2011) Managing Organizational Behaviour: Individuals, Teams, Organizations and Management. Massachusetts, Edward Elgar Publishing Inc.

White, K and Lippit, R (1960) Autocracy and Democracy: An experimental inquiry. New York, Harper and Brothers.

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