Mark Craemer 4 Comments

Leadership among other things is the power or ability to lead others. It is also about setting a direction and inspiring others to accomplish goals. Perhaps the word “inspiring” is the difference between those who operate from an authoritarian vs. authoritative leadership perspective.

Though they may sound similar, authoritarian and authoritative leadership styles vary greatly. While authoritarian leaders essentially operate from a “do as I do” perspective, authoritative leaders operate from “come with me” perspective. The first is more command and control and the other is let’s do this together.

Authoritarian leaders are most often found in military, street gangs and the mafia. We can also find them in politics (Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump) and in business (Roger Ailes, Martha Stewart, Donald Trump). As you can see by the (in)famous names, authoritarian leaders can be very successful.

The authoritarian or coercive leader uses an extreme top-down decision-making style, which can leave those being led feeling disrespected and without a clear sense of ownership or accountability for their performance. This leadership style should be used sparingly—perhaps only when the figurative ship is sinking and requires extreme measures.

Meanwhile, the authoritative leader fosters a culture that is more collaborative and affirms each team member’s importance to the work being done. This encourages people to invest in the long-term prosperity of the organization. It is a more aspirational approach and produces the kind of success that builds on itself over time.

While the authoritarian leader uses fear, force or coercion, the authoritative leader attracts followers based on their knowledge, wisdom and experience. Let’s look at each in more detail:

Authoritarian Leaders

Authoritarian leaders typically make choices based on their own ideas and rarely accept advice from others. And because the people they lead are unable to contribute their own ideas, they often feel that their knowledge and expertise are undervalued. This can result in disengagement among individuals and a lack of creative solutions for the entire group.

The authoritarian leadership style may be beneficial in certain situations, however, where decisions need to be made quickly and the leader is the most knowledgeable person to make those decisions. If the ship is literally sinking, you don’t have time to call a meeting to collaboratively determine how best to save the people on the ship.

However, most of the time, the ship isn’t sinking and the authoritarian leader, rather than inspiring people to deliver their best instead drives them away either by belittling, blaming or simply ignoring their input. This is harmful to both individuals as well as the organization.

Authoritative Leaders

The authoritative leader engages the energy of individuals to accomplish organizational goals and readily admit that they don’t have all the answers. They point the direction of what needs to be achieved and trusts the individuals to join him or her to collectively determine the best approach for getting there. In this way, authoritative leaders inspire enthusiasm and build the confidence of the entire team.

In his data analysis, author Daniel Goleman found that authoritative leaders are far and away the most effective leaders for long-lasting prosperity and success.

Goleman suggests the authoritative leadership style is most effective in situations where the company seems to be drifting aimlessly. For example, when the overall strategy is no longer clear to everyone. This is when the authoritative leader can demonstrate strength and courage to communicate a way forward.

According to Goleman, the authoritative leader motivates people by making it clear to them how their work fits into a larger vision for the organization. The standards for success are clear and people are given the freedom to innovate, experiment and take calculated risks.

This authoritative style tends to work well in many business situations, but it can fail when a team consists of experts or peers more experienced than the leader. While the leader needs to have the experience and aptitude to see the larger picture, he or she does not need to be (or pretend to be) an expert at every aspect of the challenge before them.

The authoritative leadership style can be very effective in business. Though there has been a rise in authoritarian leaders on the political front around the world, business leaders would be wise to embrace the virtues of the authoritative style in this age of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.


  1. Several of your leaders you say are authoritative are actually autocratic. Some of your authoritarian and authoritative I believe is confused with autocratic as well.

    • Thanks for commenting on my blog post. I respectfully disagree with your assertion that I was in error. According to what I understand autocratic to mean, it has to do with demanding others completely obey without asking or caring about other opinions. I stand by the examples I described in the post regarding them being authoritarian and those who I believe are authoritative.

  2. Mr. Craemer:
    I’m interested in knowing if you still feel the same given the current state of our government/leadership. I do believe that Trump is autocratic in both business and governing. While Mr. Trump might listen to people with half an ear, he certainly has proven he has no patience, nor care, for those opinions that differ from his own. In his own words, “you’re fired!” Of course, I’m joking and really do appreciate your voice in this topic and people clearly need to be informed and educated.


    Alan Larson

    • Thanks so much for writing Alan. The last couple of days have certainly done nothing to change my sentiments in this post.

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