Wanted: Authoritative Leaders

July 27, 2020

Authoritative leadership is especially important now because so many organizations are aimlessly adrift due to the health risks and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened focus on racial inequality. We need leaders who understand that these are things that require inspiring everyone to collectively do their part.

A year ago I wrote a post titled “Authoritarian vs. Authoritative Leadership” and it became one of my mostly widely read blog posts. Perhaps this is a sign of the times when so many are interested to read about the rise of authoritarian leaders around the world.

I now want to expand on the authoritative leadership style as I think this is one to model in both business and politics—especially at this point in time.

Authoritative leaders, according to Daniel Goleman, are those who use a “come along with me” approach to leading others. They point a direction or describe a vision, and then provide the freedom and confidence in those who follow to determine the best means to achieve it.  Goleman says this style of leadership is especially important when a business is adrift—when organizations require the leader to set a new course and inspire people to help reach it.

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

According to Goleman, the authoritative style of leading provides a high level of clarity, commitment and flexibility to keep people motivated and successful. Examples of some authoritative leaders include Bill Gates, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Clarity

The authoritative leader is able to clearly articulate a vision and motivate each individual to contribute to that organizational vision. People feel inspired when they are able to see that what they do really matters, and this brings about greater productivity. This clarity of vision contributes greatly to becoming a reality.

Commitment

The commitment authoritative leaders demonstrate comes through when they are able to define the standards on how individual actions lead to success. Performance feedback can then directly point back to these previously defined standards and on whether the individual met or did not meet expectations.

Flexibility

Flexibility in how one does the work is extremely empowering. This is about allowing people to experiment, innovate and take on calculated risks. It is about allowing for occasional mistakes with optimal learning and improvement. Authoritative leaders state the goal and enable people the flexibility to best determine the means to reach that goal.

An authoritative leadership style for some may mean letting go of the “command and control” of coercive or authoritarian leadership. If the ship is literally sinking and the person in charge is best able to save it, then by all means be that coercive leader. Most of the time and especially now, coercive leadership is inappropriate.  

Instead, we need leaders who are able to articulate a compelling vision as well as embrace the collective intelligence, talents and abilities of those around them to bring it to fruition. This means the CEO is able to bring along her leadership team to execute on the strategy most effectively. It means a government leader is able to recognize that a pandemic and social unrest cannot be wished or commanded away, but requires the best science and collective intelligence to do the hard work and make the sacrifices necessary to achieve safety, stability and meaningful change.

The authoritative style may not be appropriate in all situations, but it is one that works most of the time and is perhaps necessary more now than ever.

Authoritarian vs. Authoritative Leadership

July 30, 2019

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.