Leadership is a skill that certain people possess and which allows them to guide, supervise and coordinate the activities of others while performing a given task. Leadership is used to guide people to achieve common goals of an organization and to motivate and inspire them in attaining these objectives.

There are different leadership styles that are adopted by leaders to influence their followers to achieve the organizational goals. Some of these are: bureaucratic, autocratic, authoritative, democratic and laissez-faire. Different styles are applied by leaders in distinct situations and  every leader should know when to demonstrate a certain approach.

In this article, the autocratic and democratic styles of leadership will be discussed in detail.

Definitions and explanations

Autocratic leadership

This is the classical approach towards leadership in which a one-man show is carried out by the leader. The leader has almost all of the powers and authority to make decisions, and gives no regard to the suggestions and opinions of those working under them. The employees are not provided any justifications for the tasks they are assigned, and have to follow the instructions of their leaders without asking any questions.

There is complete centralization of authority under autocratic leadership, and all policies and processes are developed by the leader. Employees are supposed to strictly follow all the rules and regulations of the organization. The motivating factor in this form of leadership is an organized form of rewards and punishments awarded to the employees.

The autocratic style of leadership has been criticized by many because it does not take any input from the employees, leading to a lack of motivation among employees and high rates of absenteeism and employee turnover. However, it does have certain advantages. For example, it presents a clear picture of the organization’s mission and objectives. It is easy for employees to understand what is expected of them because specific standards and targets are set for all employees and they are supposed to fulfill them. In addition, decisions can be taken rapidly because a single person is in charge of making decisions, which can then be implemented without any delays.

Democratic leadership

The democratic style of leadership is also referred to as the participative style. In this approach, employees are encouraged to take part in organizational decision-making. Employees are given a lot of significance and are consulted on different organizational matters. In addition, they are kept informed about all the things taking place within an organization that concern them.

There is open communication in the democratic leadership style, which allows the employees to directly communicate with all members of the organization. In such organizations, employees are free to communicate their ideas and and put forward their suggestions. However, the ultimate decision is taken by the leaders.

The democratic leadership style enables employees to establish goals, assess their own performance, and exhibit growth on the job. In addition, it motivates them to perform better as they feel that they are a very important part of the organization. This style is most appropriate for employees that are highly educated and experienced.

Differences between autocratic and democratic leadership styles

The difference between autocratic and democratic leadership styles is given below:

1. Meaning

In autocratic leadership, leaders have full authority and control over decision-making, and employees are not consulted at all on important organizational matters. On the other hand, the democratic leadership style is participative in nature as it allows employees to be involved in the decision-making process. The opinions and suggestions of employees are taken into account, but the ultimate decision is taken by the leaders.

2. Decision-making

There is centralized decision-making in autocratic leadership as all decisions are taken by the leaders themselves. On the other hand, in democratic leadership, there is decentralized decision-making as employees are also made part of the decision-making process.

3. Orientation

Autocratic leadership is more orientated towards the completion of tasks, whereas in democratic leadership, the focus is more on development of relationships between the employers and employees by means of power-sharing.

4. Degree of control

In autocratic leadership, leaders exhibit a high degree of control, while there is a low degree of control in democratic leadership.

5. Freedom of expression

In autocratic leadership, there is a lack of freedom of expression and employees cannot put forward their views and opinions on issues. On the other hand, in democratic leadership, employees are free to express their thoughts and views.

6. Applicability

Autocratic leadership is most appropriate in organizations that have employees with low levels of education and experience, but who show submissiveness to their employers. In addition, it is also applicable in organizations that require a rapid turnaround. On the other hand, democratic leadership should be used in organizations that have skilled, well-educated and experienced employees. In addition, it is pertinent to situations that require operational changes or when individual or group problems need to be resolved.

Autocratic leadership vs democratic leadership – tabular comparison

A tabular comparison of autocratic leadership and democratic leadership is given below:

Autocratic leadership vs Democratic leadership
Tasks and rules are laid down by the leaders, and the employees are supposed to follow them without asking any questions The participation of employees in organizational tasks and decisions is encouraged
Decision making
Centralized Decentralized
Task-oriented Employee-oriented
Degree of control
High degree of control Low degree of control
Freedom of expression
Absent Present
In organizations that have employees with less skills and education; rapid decisions need to be made In organizations that have educated and experienced employees; regulate operational changes; solve issues among the employees

Conclusion – autocratic leadership vs democratic leadership

There is no clear-cut answer to which approach is most appropriate and should be adopted by leaders. The correct approach depends on the situation. Even though it seems on the surface that democratic leadership is a more suitable approach, this is not always true. In times of economic turmoil, autocratic leadership styles are adopted to a large extent as leaders want to encounter least resistance in their operations, which would lead to short-term outcomes and profits for the organization.

Top-down, command-and-control situations are generated by autocratic leaders. On the other hand, collaborative, employee-focused settings are created by democratic leaders to facilitate their style of leadership. There needs to be a balance among these two approaches if organizations wish to sustain profits as well as retain employees.