July 21, 2024
Hexavia Business Club
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The Rare Value of Autocratic Leadership

Whenever I have to interview managers for any top executive role, I always ask, “So what’s most important to you, result or relationship”?

 Over to you, what’s most important to you, result or relationship?


In the workplace, democratic leaders seem to care more about relationships than results. On the other hand, autocratic leaders care more about results than relationships. They’d break an egg anytime to make us all an omelet. Just like when the military moves in during a riot, we owe the calm after the storm to them. We owe the necessary drastic changes in times of chaos to them. How valuable is that concept in the workplace?


Few weeks ago, the world was shocked with the news of the demise of the former Ghanaian president, Jerry Rawlings. Born to a Scottish father and Ghanaian mother, Jerry Rawlings is considered the longest-serving leader in Ghana. He masterminded two military coups in Ghana with the first happening in 1979. Going forward, he oversaw the transition from the military junta to multiparty elections in what is now one of Africa’s most stable democracies. Jerry Rawlings is one of the most charismatic political leaders in Africa, seizing power railing against corruption and was responsible for executing several former heads of state for their alleged graft and mismanagement. The most disruptive action taken by Jerry Rawlings was the execution of the former head of states for graft and finance mismanagement. He also masterminded the execution by firing squad of Supreme Court judges. These actions were hit with diverse opinions, largely negative, criticizing the abuse of human rights.  But that paved the way to Ghana’s progress. The question and answer we’d always assume is, if the drastic measures of violently eliminating the root cause of the Ghanaian problems weren’t done, could they have gotten the desired result that effectively. 


In the boardroom we still see fierce characters with a genius drive. From Donald Trump to Ellon Musk, from Adenuga of Glo to Aig Imoukhede of AccessBank, some businesses do have them. Take for example, Ellon Musk, a dogmatic and controversial leader; Elon Musk is one of the most influential CEOs and entrepreneurs in the world today. Having exercised an autocratic leadership style at each of his various enterprises, including car manufacturer Tesla and space exploration agency SpaceX, he has regularly overseen prosperity and success like no one else in his industry. Aside from his strong personality and innovative genius, Musk is ambitiously insistent, setting exceptionally high standards for his hires. This includes intense scrutiny of the products that they create, even if it means changing his mind and discarding an idea after months of effort and in-depth planning without caring what anyone thinks. Now, that’s autocratic!

There is a place for being stubborn and assertive. Sometimes we need to be direct and drastic as leaders, especially when things or people’s behaviors have gotten really bad. While we agree that democracy is a people oriented leadership style, I think democracy is a very slow and civil form of government that backfires in uncivil societies and corporate world. To say in metaphors, you’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet. This world is yet to find any other way, or do you know one?


Democracy and democratic leadership in the workplace is built on freedom and majority. But the majority can be wrong too. Outcomes of freedom can be disastrous when handed over to people who don’t understand that it comes responsibility; to when to stop.  We see how the majority gets it wrong through the Theory of the Abilene Paradox. We all preach freedom. Give it all to all and see it go out of control and be abused. We know freedom abusers by how they infringe on that of others. Take for example in a political context; we attribute the stability of countries like China and Dubai by how they undemocratically control media and popular views. 

The world of today is very democratic. Generally, while the very democratic western world has been busy trying to fight the chances of nuclear weapons thinking the trigger is a bomb, they forget to see that the next world trigger for a world war will be social media, whatsapp broadcasts and unguided fake news. That’s the side effect of freedom of speech without the responsibility of caution.    There are people who do not understand freedom. That’s why jails are created. 


This article is really about the ignored side of autocracy and its rare view. The truth is that the authoritarian style is useful based on the situation, the type of task the group is working on, and characteristics of the team members. For a sophisticated, mature and civil system, democratic leadership works best. But when dealing with disruptive, chaotic, uncivil and misguided individuals in a system, autocracy may help cloth the bleeding and then set the stage for the fruitfulness that the negotiation of democracy brings. It delivers results faster and creates highly structured environments for the directing function of management.


Instead of wasting valuable time democratically consulting with less knowledgeable team members, the expert leader can quickly make decisions that are in the best interest of the group. Autocratic leadership is often most effective when it is used for specific situations. Balancing this style with other approaches including democratic or transformational styles can often lead to better group performance. The stubbornness of an autocratic leader can be the saving grit. I feel that sometimes, we need to threaten the existence of what isn’t working 9whether a country or a team) for it to reset itself. There comes a time where every business owner must make rational decisions that are fierce and direct for the sake of the long term. There are times when you have to stand up and stay strong, act, move on and don’t turn back at the slightest care. Know when to.


Written by

Eizu, ©Hexavia!

Strategy. Business StartUps and Corporate Restructuring Consulting

T: 08035202891

Uwaoma Eizu is the lead strategist at Hexavia! He is a graduate of Mathematics with a PMP®, two MBAs and over a decade of experience working with startups and big businesses. His core is in building startups and in corporate restructuring. He is also a certified member of the Nigerian Institute of Management, Institute of Strategic Management of Nigeria and the Project Management Institute, USA. By the side, he writes weekly for the Business Day newspaper.


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