Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Autocratic Leaders and the effect on culture innovation and growth.

From pricing of offers to clients, to the cost of  coffee cups, to paper clips: "I can't say yes to that I need to ask the MD." - when this is said on nearly every issue  then an organisation has a potential problem.

When that controlling behaviour is at the centre of the company than what does it mean.

Kurt Lewin describes autocratic leadership style as one of the three types of leaders he uses the word authoritarian as opposed to autocratic but the meaning is the same. It means that decision making is centralised and control is the "name of the game".

On a positive note you definitely have control - there is no doubt about it with accountability remaining centralised and clear. In times of financial hardship, where watching the pennies and keeping the big picture in one head is required then it might be justifiable.

In an organisation that cries out for innovation, agileness and empowerment then an autocratic style becomes a disaster. The culture of non delegation, the fear of making decisions without the say so of the leader suppresses "get up and go", saps the environment of energy and disengages staff. With higher paid knowledge workers the higher levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs get erased by the leaders behaviour and the employee gets "hacked off" fast and leaves.

In an organisation that is based on a cost leadership strategy it may well have its place, but in a model that thrives or needs to thrive, on invention and differentiates through doing things differently then life is going to be tough. In fact there is a high chance of terminal failure.

One of the key problem with this issue is that often autocratic leaders grow within businesses that were once small and have grown up and out from the one man bad SME world. Often the leader that was needed at set up isn't the leader when things get a bit bigger, more complex  and the skills required are at a different level. Of course large businesses have autocratic leaders too but you do see this so much in family or small businesses that have outgrown their origins,

In a history book "The Rules of the Game" by Andrew Gordon he describes the flamboyant independent leaders of the 1805 British Navy where ships captains had to innovate and think on their feet because communication between vessels and command was impossible. He contrasts this to the 1916 British Navy at Jutland when central autocratic control had in his view emasculated the innovated and independence of junior leaders resulting in a battle of indeterminate results and attrition, where even today, scholars debate who won. I like this different way of looking at leadership and often we can learn much from different areas of study.

The message from this post is that leadership types or styles need to be appropriate to the business you are in and the *generic strategy you choose.

* Generic Strategy   "Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance." Michael Porter in 1985

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