Home Articles VIEWPOINT: DEBATING LEADERSHIP Autocratic vs democratic leadership

VIEWPOINT: DEBATING LEADERSHIP Autocratic vs democratic leadership


There are pros and cons to autocratic and democratic leadership, both in politics and in business. Is how a leader comes into power indicative of the type of leadership one can expect?

Autocratic leadership is when one person makes all the decisions for everybody. Pros of this form of leadership are that decisions can be made quickly, policies are implemented without delay, results are definitive ‘or else’, and every person knows where they stand and what is expected of them. This is fine in certain circumstances and when the person in charge is the most knowledgeable and most informed person in the group.

Unfortunately, that is seldom the case, and the cons are the potential for abuse of power, overlooking expertise outside their own, and low morale in followers or employees because they feel like their contributions aren’t recognised or appreciated.

Democratic leadership is where the leader brings others into the decision-making process, encouraging the sharing of ideas and opinions. The pros are that the ideas are more balanced, creative solutions are found, and people are more involved, committed and invested in the end result. The cons are that processes can be very slow, and people without the required knowledge might be given a say in things they know little about.

Autocratic leaders are more likely to get into power if proportional representation is used, as you are electing a party and have no influence over the leader of that party – that means leadership is accountable to the party and the party accountable to the electorate as a collective, so there is no individual accountability, and you can end up with a country in trouble. Say no more …

While the Westminster system has its flaws, at least you are choosing a person to represent you who is accountable to you and the government is made up of whichever party has the most representatives. This should produce more democratic leaders, as how the government is elected makes leadership accountable to the party and the party accountable, individually, to their constituents.

Corporates are little different, with the CEO accountable to the board of directors.  They, in turn, are ultimately accountable to the shareholders. More’s the pity that proportional representative governments lack similar clear-cut individual accountability.

Author: Kevin Phillips CA(SA) is Managing Director of idu Software