Autocratic leadership has it place, but you have to know when and how to use it.
When an entrepreneur starts a business it is absolutely necessary to be an autocratic leader for the organisation to develop. After all, it’s the commitment, energy and passion of the entrepreneur that gets the business off the ground in the first place. But what happens if you apply the same leadership approach as the business grows?
It’s like becoming a parent . There’s no consultation or debate with your baby. It’s too young to take care of itself so you make all the decisions and do what you think is best for your child to grow and thrive.
As the baby begins to develop into an infant it starts to express likes, dislikes, make choices and assert its opinions.
While you still have authority, you find that you need a change of approach to secure co-operation.
When the infant is an adult, what happens if you continue to employ the same approach you used when your son or daughter was a baby?
It’s unlikley that your son or daughter will be a well-adjusted, self-sufficient adult.
Now apply this to the context of leading a business
Staff are treated like children. They cannot make any decisions and must ask permission for everything – even buying pencils and paper. They are “told off” daily. They only do what they are told to, never take the initiative or question decisions.
Well this is the description of a twenty two year old business where the mother is the owner and, together with her three children, runs the company.
For two years the business has been losing market share and is now in rapid decline.
Although some of this decline could be attributed to market conditions, it is clear that there are problems that can only be resolved with a major and radical change of approach, otherwise the company will be out of business within eighteen months.
Faced with this reality what is the response of the owner? Even more autocratic leadership.
The son and two daughters feel frustrated as they see the need for change, but feel powerless to act. Stress levels throughout the business are off the chart. There are stand up rows between the mother and her children on a daily basis.
The workers watch with both despair and amazement. Some see these arguments as a source of amusement and it distracts everyone from the real problems that need to be addressed. Staff turnover and sickness absence is increasing and the more talented employees are being snapped up by competitors or simply leave to get away from the negative environment.
“Presenteeism” has replaced productivity, creativity, strategic thinking and entrepreneurial spirit.
Neveretheless the owner continues to say “I’m the boss. It’s my business, I know what’s best and what I say goes around here.”
What will it take to change things?
Unfortunately experience shows that only a major incident like illness or even the death of the owner will jolt a business like this to take action. But by then it’s usually too late to revive the company.
And the moral of the story?
As an entrepreneur you have to know when and how to change your leadership approach for the success of your business. Because while change is painful, it’s vital for success. The alternative is even more painful.