The Future of the Authoritarian Leader

Analysing the balancing act of today's leaders


The study of leadership is fraught with different theories. In the early part of the twentieth century, scientific management led the way, with its founder, Frederick Taylor, surmising the people were at their most effective when treated like machines. Skip forward just over a century, and you’ll find leaders at Google encouraging its employees to embrace creativity and initiative. Clearly, we’ve come a long way.

That’s not to say that Google has an unusual leadership structure, far from it, it has an executive management group operating across its functions, which reports to the board of directors. The difference is, the my way or the highway approach that epitomized much of the previous century’s thinking is slowly finding itself seen as redundant, confined to backward companies that prohibit creativity.

Much of the disdain targeted at ‘authoritarian leaders’ is that they’re inflexible and unlikely to be inspirational and flexible. An over-reliance on hierarchy means that reactions are often prolonged unnecessarily, which boils down to one thing; a slow, un-reactive company.

If we take it that the authoritarian leader isn’t an effective tool anymore then what is? Unfortunately, the answer is difficult. In a Harvard Business Review study, it was identified that the most successful leaders put a lot of emphasis on integrity and approaching stakeholders in an honest fashion, leading to a relief in pressure. Being honest to every stakeholder requires an multifaceted approach where management allows its staff to innovate whilst also making sure that investors are happy with the profitability of the company. As mentioned before, this is where honesty plays a critical role.

Modern day leaders should be facilitators, they should ask questions and be willing to have their strategies challenged, as this is the only way they can be sure that their function is operating in an agile manner. In the professional arena, there is little room for companies that starve their employees of creativity. The saying ‘a company is only as good as its employees’ can only really be true if its people are well looked after and not treated how Frederick Taylor would have envisaged it.

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